Dribbles: Cavs-Hawks ‘means a lot,’ Kyrie Irving says

Kyrie Irving and LeBron James know Friday's game against the Hawks is a great chance to measure the Cavs climb.

Steve Mitchell/Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Tipoff: Philips Arena, Atlanta, 7:30 p.m.

Records: Cavaliers 38-24; Hawks 48-12.

TV: FOX Sports Ohio. Radio: WTAM 1100, 100.7 WMMS, 87.7 FM La Mega, AM 1590 WAKR (Akron)

Projected Starters

Cavaliers: C Timofey Mozgov; PF Kevin Love; SF LeBron James; SG J.R. Smith; PG Kyrie Irving.

Hawks: C Al Horford; PF Paul Millsap; SF DeMarre Carroll; SG Kyle Korver; PG Jeff Teague.

Injury Report

Cavaliers: SF Shawn Marion (hip) out; C Anderson Varejao (Achilles) out.

Hawks: SG Thabo Sefolosha (calf) out.

Dribbles

1. OK, this is one of those rare regular-season games that feels like something more. "These games mean a lot," says Cavs guard Kyrie Irving.

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2. It’s easy to blow off or disrespect the Hawks. They don’t have a super-duper star. They don’t have anyone who’s a candidate for league MVP. They don’t have much tradition — at least not along the lines of the Celtics, Lakers, Knicks, etc. But those teams currently stink. This is the new NBA, one dominated by non-traditional powers. The Hawks are for real.

3. Anyone who watched the All-Star game could get a feel for what the Hawks do well. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer was the coach of the East team, and inserted four of his own players (Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Kyle Korver) with Irving. Guys moved the ball, found the open man, passed up easy shots to hit a teammate for an easier one. That’s been the Hawks all season.

4. Following a 7-6 start, the Hawks have gone 41-6. Think about that. In a league full of inconsistency and injury, they’ve practically been unbeatable. You may say it means little and the Hawks will collapse in the playoffs. But that’s utter domination and the Hawks are giving their fans a regular season full of fun. And no one really knows what the postseason will bring. Instead, fans tend to say what they WANT to happen, as opposed to making unbiased predictions.

5. As for this game, LeBron James put it this way: "(The Hawks) have been playing the most consistent, along with Golden State, all year. So we’ll see where we are. If we keep getting better, we keep playing defense like we’ve been playing the last couple of months, we’ll give ourselves a great chance."

6. But LeBron added: "It shouldn’t be about the team we’re playing. It’s about our process."

7. Right now, that process is going well. The Cavs have won 20 of 24. That includes wins over the Warriors at home and Raptors on the road. Those are two of the league’s best teams. A win in Atlanta would be a serious trifecta.

8. Now, quite frankly, the Cavs aren’t going to catch the Hawks for the top seed in the East. No one will. The Hawks could go into a major tailspin and still hang on. But that’s OK. In order to win a championship, you basically need to win one road game (sometimes more) per playoff series. If the Cavs play like they have lately, winning on the road shouldn’t be a problem. And guess what? Same goes for the Hawks.

9. During the 20-4 stretch, the Cavs lead the league in point differential (plus-11.5), made 3-pointers (270) and field-goal percentage (47 percent). This is the teams’ fourth and final meeting of the regular season — and first since the Cavs obtained Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in January trades.