Team effort: Hawks need more to slow James
The Atlanta Hawks got some good news Thursday when X-rays on small forward DeMarre Carroll came back negative and revealed a sprained left knee. Carroll had to be helped off the floor in the second half of Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday night.
The Hawks officially list Carroll as questionable for Friday night's Game Two vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even if he can play at a little less than full speed, the Hawks still have questions to answer as they try to recover from a 1-0 series deficit.
One of the first questions: Carroll or no Carroll, how do the Hawks guard LeBron James?
The Hawks were already thin on the wing following the loss of Thabo Sefolosha, a veteran backup and solid defender who suffered a broken leg in an early-morning scuffle with New York police in early April. The 6-foot-7 Sefolosha has said police are responsible for his injuries. Sefolosha and teammate Pero Antic were both arrested following the incident.
After Carroll went down in Game One, backup guard Kent Bazemore provided the Hawks with scoring and energy. Bazemore is listed at 6-foot-5, 201 pounds, which makes guarding the 6-foot-8, 250-pound James a tall -- and heavy -- task. There aren't many who consider the multi-talented James, a four-time NBA MVP, a "good" matchup, but Carroll, who's listed at 6-foot-8, 212 pounds, did a solid job on James in three regular-season meetings this season.
ESPN's Next Level statistics chart James as 5-of-11 shooting while being defended by Carroll in Game One and just 8-of-26 for the season with Carroll on him. Against all other Hawks defenders, James is 30-of-49.
ATL can't afford to lose DeMarre Carroll for much time. He's the only Hawks player who's been able to limit LeBron. pic.twitter.com/hJ0TxV25P7— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 21, 2015
Carroll, who had five points before suffering the injury, is averaging 16.2 points per game during the playoffs. James is averaging 26.9 points per game in the playoffs and had 31 in Game One, sparked by a 14-point second quarter.
"That's great news," James told reporters Thursday, after being informed Carroll had no ligament damage. "If he's able to go (Friday) I'll be very surprised."
The Hawks could use All-Star power forward Paul Millsap (6'8, 245) on James, at least in some stretches, but Millsap generally guards the opposing power forward. The Cavs start James at the small forward spot with 6-foot-9 Tristan Thompson at power forward and 7-footer Timofey Mozgov at center and have been going to smaller lineups in the playoffs as the games go on.
When the Hawks are healthy, they start Jeff Teague at point guard, Kyle Korver at shooting guard and Al Horford at center along with Carroll and Millsap. Point guard Dennis Schroder is the most productive bench player, but neither Schroder nor Teague are big enough to defend James in the halfcourt setting. James is too quick and strong for Korver, too.
With or without Carroll, the Hawks need to get Korver going at the offensive end to have a chance to win the series. After shooting an NBA-best 49.2 percent on 3-pointers in the regular season, Korver is shooting 35.6 percent in the playoffs.
In eight playoff wins, Korver is shooting 39 percent on 3-pointers. In five playoff losses, he's shooting 30 percent.
Bazemore averaged 5.2 points in a little under 18 minutes per game during the regular season. His 10 points in Game One matched his playoff high.