Dribbles: Defense can lift Cavs regardless of who’s hurting

Random dribbles heading into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Cavaliers and Hawks:

1. Kyrie Irving may not play. DeMarre Carroll may not play. I don’t know. All I know is the Hawks could really use a win here. Leaving your own arena and trailing a series 2-0 is no way to get to the Finals. So the Hawks will be extra determined, and history is on their side. It’s extremely rare for a team to win both of the first two games in enemy territory.

2. Then again, the Wizards did it in these very playoffs (at the Raptors). So it’s not impossible. Especially when you have a guy such as LeBron James on your team — as the Cavs do. The Hawks struggled to defend James when Carroll was healthy. I doubt it goes much better if Kent Bazemore has to fill in.

3. The bigger issue is Irving. Things only seem to be getting worse with his injured knee. Here is what the Cavs said in a written release: "After continuing his treatment following Wednesday night’s game, symptoms related to his left knee tendinitis had not diminished and additional evaluation was recommended."

4. Without Irving, the Cavs will need Matthew Dellavedova to be much better than he was in Game 1. He sort of came back to earth after that huge Game 6 in Chicago. The Cavs don’t need Delly to have another Game 6. But they do need more production than they got in his scoreless Game 1.

5. It seems to me that it’s time to start J.R. Smith again. I love Iman Shumpert, and I’d never write that he should come off the bench. But without Kevin Love and a healthy Irving, the Cavs are having trouble scoring from the start. It happened again in Game 1, and the Cavs spent the rest of the first half playing catch-up.

6. But no matter who’s on the court, the Cavs can give themselves a chance with defense/rebounding. It’s served them well in the playoffs, and Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov only need to stay focused at that end. It doesn’t seem much of a problem, as Thompson himself mentioned how the Cavs just keep winning when they out-rebound the other team.

7. Overall, the Cavs have limited opponents to 41-percent shooting and 92.3 points in the postseason. For all the talk about the shooting of J.R. Smith, the offense occasionally coming to a halt, and the greatness of LeBron — well, elite teams can overcome a lot with those type of numbers on D.