Scouting Report: Cleveland Cavaliers
The Hawks (32-42) will host the Cavaliers (31-45) Friday night in an important matchup in the Eastern Conference standings. The Cavs, currently 10th in the East, are two games behind the Hawks and Knicks (33-43) who are tied for the eighth seed with just six games left for Cleveland and New York and eight left for Atlanta. The Cavs have been playing well of late, winners of two in a row and five of their last six games.
Kyrie Irving leads the Cavaliers in scoring and assists with 21.1 points and 6.3 assists per game, but the All-Star point guard missed eight games with a biceps injury prior to returning for the Cavs last game, a blowout win over the Magic. Irving is an excellent ball-handler and has the ability to penetrate, and is a threat from three-point range (36.6% from three this season) if defenders go under screens or sag off of him to prevent drives.
In Irving’s absence, the Cavs relied on veteran Jarrett Jack to carry the load at point and, after a tough start to the season, he has come on of late and was a big reason for the Cavs recent hot streak despite them being without Kyrie. Along with Jack, Dion Waiters — the Cavs second leading scorer this season at 15.6 points per game — has looked strong of late. During the last nine games — the game after Kyrie’s injury until now — Waiters is averaging 22.4 points and 4.9 assists per game.
With Irving back, and having Jack and Waiters in good form, the Cavaliers’ backcourt is as dangerous as it has been all season. In the first matchup at Philips Arena early this season, the Hawks held Irving scoreless while Waiters had a big 30-point night in a 19-point Hawks victory. In the second meeting in Cleveland, Irving had 40 points to avenge that earlier performance, but even still, the Hawks got a two point victory.
The Hawks’ success against the Cavs has come in their ability to turn Cleveland over to get out in transition, and in the halfcourt they were able to work the ball inside-out. Where the Cavs backcourt is strong offensively, they are not a particularly good defensive unit. Jeff Teague will have opportunities to probe the Cavs defense and get into the paint to score for himself and help create looks for others. Paul Millsap has a favorable matchup with Tristan Thompson and will have opportunities to score in the post and from the outside.
Finding themselves in a fight for the postseason, the Hawks are in need of wins coming down the stretch. The Hawks know what they have to do to beat the Cavs, having done it twice already this season, and they will need to look back at what gave them success in those previous meetings to get a very important win at home.
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