After a tough loss to the (40-40) Chicago Bulls, the (56-24) Cleveland Cavaliers return home for the remainder of the season with their first game coming against the (48-32) Atlanta Hawks who are coming off a big win against the (47-33) Boston Celtics on Saturday night (7pm ET, Monday).
This is just the third meeting for these two teams this year with the Cavaliers taking each of the previous two. The first game, which was played back in November, was a blowout, Cleveland winning by a score of 109-97 at home. The second game, which was played at Philips Arena in Atlanta, GA, was decided by just two points, needing an overtime period to find a winner. These two games counted, the Hawks are still 6-3 against the Cavaliers ever since the 2013-14 season.
For Atlanta, who have clinched their ninth consecutive postseason appearance, the most of any team in the Eastern Conference, playoff seeding is still a piece of the picture. If the season ended today, the Hawks would enter the postseason as the third seed. While Atlanta can’t go any higher than that as both Cleveland and the (53-26) Toronto Raptors are too far ahead, the Hawks could fall to the sixth seed if they aren’t careful as from seeds 3-6, the teams are separated by just two games. That’s why Atlanta has to keep winning and why they have a chance to make a real statement in advance of the postseason against the Cavaliers.
The Hawks are one of the most balanced teams in the league with all of their starters averaging at least nine points. All members of the starting five are also shooting 43 percent on the season, which is right around the league average. Leading the way among the starting five is Paul Millsap (pictured), a 6’8 forward who is averaging 17.1 points per game and 8.9 rebounds. He is followed closely by Jeff Teague, the hot hand as of late, with 15.5 PPG and a team-high 5.9 assists per game on the season and an average of 23 points and close to 45 percent from behind the arc in his last five games. Al Horford, the 6’10 center, who averages 15.2 PPG and 7.2 RPG is also one of the top scorers on the team.
In the last four games and in six of the last seven, Atlanta has held their opponents to below .400 FG%. Their opponents are shooting a combined .384 from the field in the last four games and .393 in the last seven. Overall this season, Atlanta has held opponents to that sub-.400 mark 23 times this season, posting an 18-5 record in those games.
Against Cleveland, this is not going to be an easy task as the team has scored at least 100 points in 12 of their last 13 games, averaging 108 points over that stretch. Since early February, the Cavs are the 5th highest scoring team in the league, averaging just under that 108 points per game mark. Additionally, Cleveland, which set a franchise record for threes made this year, has drained 10 in 49 of the team’s 80 games played this season.
Offensively, the Cavaliers are led of course by Lebron James, who averages 25 points per game, good enough for 5th best in the league. James also averages 7.5 rebounds per game and 6.8 assists, 9th best in the NBA. Behind him in scoring is Kyrie Irving who has a 45% made FG mark and 19.5 PPG on the season. The Big Three is completed with Kevin Love who averages 16.1 points, third best on the team, and 9.8 RPG, 12th best in the NBA.
The last time these two teams met was actually just 10 days ago. James led all scorers with 29 and just missed a triple double, adding 16 rebounds and nine assists. He had three steals as well, including a critical one late in the game that put the Cavaliers on top for good. Irving added 20 points and Love another 15. Cleveland outrebounded the Hawks 57-48.
Millsap matched James with 29 points, shooting over 50 percent on the night. He also had 12 rebounds. Teague, who made all eight of his free throws to contribute to Atlanta going 23-26 from the charity stripe on the night, added 28 points and a team-high nine assists.
The biggest takeaway from this game for the Hawks was that they were competitive and good enough to beat Cleveland. If not for the final sequence involving the crucial turnover, one of the 15 had by Atlanta on the night, the Hawks very well could have been the team that came out victorious.
Our Preview’s Atlanta Hawks vs Cleveland Cavaliers Betting Picks
Atlanta will look to right this result on Monday. As I mentioned, it won’t be easy as Cleveland is a top-notch scoring offense and despite the loss to the Bulls, has been playing some of their best basketball of the season lately. Atlanta needs to really play their best defense to have a chance to win, especially given Cleveland is at home and is one of the best teams in the league when it comes to playing at Quicken Loans. Cleveland is also just one of two teams to be undefeated, a perfect 26-for-26 when scoring at least 110 points.
So that’s really what it comes down to. If the Hawks can keep the Cavs on the lower end of the scoreboard, there is a good chance they should get the win. If Cleveland continues to get the ball in the basket at that level of proficiency however, it could be a long night for the road team. So this is our preview’s betting picks selection:
- Take the Cavs -6pts on the spread @ odds of -110 with BetOnline Sportsbook to get the win and in the process, to lock up the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & 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.