Cavs begin home-and-home series against Hawks Tuesday
By BRETT HUSTON
A perfect four-game stretch against Western Conference opponents has
let LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers serve notice that defense
is still their top priority.
The Atlanta Hawks don’t need a reminder.
Suffocating defense keyed the Cavaliers’ playoff sweep of Atlanta last
spring, and they’ll look to continue that dominance Tuesday night to
win their seventh straight over the Hawks as the teams open a
home-and-home series at Philips Arena.
Cleveland (24-8) allowed a league-low 91.4 points per game last season
and held opponents to 43.1 percent shooting en route to a 66-16 record.
The Cavaliers have yielded an average of
93.9 points while lowering their opponents’ field-goal percentage
(43.0) this season, but they’ve taken their defense up a notch over the
past week. Cleveland closed a four-game western road trip with a 102-87
win over the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas, then
returned home Sunday with a 108-83 victory over Houston.
The Rockets shot 32.9 percent – the lowest of any Cavaliers opponent
this season – after the Lakers were limited to 36.5 percent against
them. The four-game win streak started in Phoenix with Cleveland
holding the league’s highest-scoring team to 91 points, then the Cavs
held Sacramento scoreless in overtime two nights later.
They’ve outscored their past four opponents by an average of 17.7 points while limiting them to 40.4 percent shooting.
“(Defense) is our staple. That’s something I’ve been stressing for the
last few weeks,” said James, averaging 29.5 points during the past four
wins. “We’ll make our mark with the defensive end, then the offense
will take care of itself because we have enough scorers.”
Atlanta (21-8) has seen enough of what the Cavaliers can do
defensively. After averaging 94.0 points in losing three of four to
Cleveland in the 2008-09 regular season, the Hawks were held to 78.3
points and 38.5 percent shooting in the Eastern Conference semifinals
and lost four straight to the Cavs by an average of 18.0 points.
Cleveland has won three in a row at Philips Arena – including two
playoff victories – but Atlanta is 12-2 there this season and has won
its last four at home by 21.0 points per game.
The Hawks have been far less consistent away from home, but they capped
a 2-2 road trip with a 110-98 victory at Indiana on Saturday. Four
Hawks scored at least 19 points, led by 25 from Al Horford, who also
had 19 rebounds and five blocks.
saying we’re an elite team, but we’re a team I know that if we come
committed to play, for 48 minutes, we can beat anyone in this league,”
coach Mike Woodson said. “We’ve got to go home now and handle our
business. We’ve got Cleveland coming in and they’re playing pretty well
and this is a good win for us to go back home again.”
Horford, who has averaged just 7.7 points and 8.4 rebounds in 10 games
versus Cleveland, was held to 10 points in three playoff games against
the Cavaliers while nursing a sprained ankle.
James, meanwhile, averaged 33.8 points during the series, but perhaps Mo Williams should concern Atlanta nearly as much.
Williams scored at least 20 points in each of Cleveland’s
regular-season meetings with Atlanta last season, just as he’s done
during the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak.
Cleveland is 21-3 when Williams scores at least 13 points, and 14-1 when he hits three 3-pointers.
Received 12/28/09 01:47 pm ET