After two hard fought semifinal series, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks will meet in the Eastern Conference Finals with a spot in the NBA Championship series on the line (Game one is 8.30pm ET, Wednesday).
Picking up where they left off in the regular season, game one will mark the fifth meeting of these two Eastern Conference powerhouses this year. The Hawks were victorious in three of the four and enter this series on a three game winning streak against the Cavs. Cleveland’s last win came all the way back in November, a dominant performance won by a score of 127-94.
Despite this, the playoff tested and veteran Cavaliers, are odds-on favorites with the USA offshore sportsbooks to win the series and advance to the Finals for the first time since 2007. For LeBron James (pictured) however, this would be his fifth consecutive berth in the Championship round, a mark that surely will cement his legacy as one of the best of all time.
Can LeBron James do it Again?
In 2006-07, James led a rag tag group of players all the way to the franchise’s first Eastern Conference title and a shot at the NBA Championship. Ultimately, the Cavs lost in shutout fashion to the San Antonio Spurs, but that wasn’t for lack of trying on James’ part. The truth was, he didn’t have the right pieces around him and he wasn’t able to carry the load all his own.
When James came back to Cleveland it was to join a roster that was built exactly how he wanted it. He was joining one of the NBA’s best young stars in Kyrie Irving and his handpicked rim protector in Kevin Love. James’ newest trio was arguably better than what he had in his final season with the Miami Heat and it was a trio that had the Cavs suddenly move to the top of oddsmakers’ lists for which team might win the title.
But it wasn’t Love or Irving who got the Cavaliers four wins away from the promised land. It was James. With Love out indefinitely and Irving only 50% likely to play at best, James recaptured the spirit he had back in his first stint with Cleveland. He put the team on his back like a good leader does and thus far, doing so has worked to great results.
But can James continue to prove why he is the best player in the league, why he is one of the best of all-time both past and present? History seems to say yes.
In 37 career games in the conference finals, James has won 23 times. He is averaging 29.4 points, the highest of his career in any round of the postseason. Additionally, he’s averaging 8.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists while shooting 49% from the field and getting to the charity stripe at least 10 times a game.
This is the sixth conference finals in the last seven years for James. He is no stranger to the stage and no stranger to being a big play maker. He has also brought a high level of intensity and competitiveness to the postseason and seems to get better the deeper his teams go. If the Cavs are to make the NBA Finals, make no mistake, it will be because of James, dependent on James and a complete result of just how much he can carry the load of his bruised and battered teammates. He’s done it before to pretty significant results. There’s no reason not to expect a repeat performance in 2015.
Atlanta’s Team Effort
There is no doubt that the surprise team of this season was the Atlanta Hawks. Not only did the Hawks surpass all expectations left by their sub-.500 record and first round playoff exit from the year prior, but they did so with the East’s best record and an incredible 60-win season.
The Hawks consistently defeated the NBA’s best teams this year. In addition to taking three of four from the Cavs, Atlanta recorded series wins against fellow playoff teams, the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and LA Clippers, among others. On top of that, Atlanta sent four players to this year’s All Star game.
And that explains the team’s season and is a large part of why they are where they are. Atlanta has spent the entire year playing the opposite of the Cavs. While Cleveland has James, the Hawks don’t quite have a star. Rather, they have five of them.
The Hawks, just like they did in the regular season, have all five of their starters averaging double digit point totals. Unlike the Cavs or teams like the Golden State Warriors, no one player is averaging over 20 points. For a team to reach the finals without that star power is somewhat of an anomaly but when you watch the team basketball the Hawks play, you can understand, this is no ordinary team.
The biggest drawback for the Hawks right now is that almost all of their points are coming from just six guys. Their bench has been all but non-existent this postseason. In a way, this mirrors the Cavs, who have lost much of their scoring output due to injury.
One main difference though is that the Hawks are a better defensive and three point shooting team, two factors that have been essential in their success this year. If they can continue to do those things well like they have so far, Atlanta could give Cleveland a run for their money in the conference finals.
Cavaliers vs Hawks Betting Picks
Deciding this series isn’t easy. The Cavaliers are favorites for good reason but picking against the Hawks might not be wise. The team does have home field advantage which seems to factor into basketball games a great deal. They also have solid team performances and have yet to go cold from behind the arc. But in the end, are those factors enough to offset the star power of James and his incredible conference finals past?
As much as I’d love to see the surprise Hawks continue their Cinderella story, I do think it ends here. There is something about James that makes it hard to bet against. His teams find a new gear in the playoffs and while winning the championship round has proven elusive at times, getting there really has not.
- So for game one, I like the Cavs +1pt on the spread to get off to a good start @ -110 best betting odds with BetOnline or 5Dimes.
- As for the series, I fancy Cleveland to win in six. Bet on Cavs to win the series at best odds of -205 with BetOnline. Atlanta might not emerge victorious but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give the Cavaliers absolutely everything they can handle in this series.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.