Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks preview: did Santa bring us a better basketball team?

Mike Lawrie

The Cavs have been pretty bad. The Hawks have been pretty ok.

Who? Atlanta Hawks (15-13) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (10-17)

When? 7:00 PM ET

Where? Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland OH

Where on my eyeballs? Fox Sports Ohio/ NBA Leaguepass

Music?

Well I hope everyone enjoyed their Christmas or their holiday of choice. If you don't celebrate a holiday, at least the 25th represented a break from a Cleveland Cavaliers team that has been underwhelming and frustrating. It is said the NBA season doesn't really get started until the Christmas day slate of games. I would gladly accept a reset on the 27 games Cleveland has played. Thus far, the team is 10-17 and have the 4th worst point differential in the NBA. The offseason additions haven't exactly panned out thus far.

Here is a fun (it isn't fun) play that Ben Cox of Waiting for Next Year (and sometimes FTS) isolated from the Pistons game the other night:

I have seen that play about 100 times. I can't stop watching it. Jarrett Jack is lazy on the play, Earl Clark is lazy on the play, and then Andrew Bynum is either lazy or can't move or both. It's fantastic!

I don't know you guys. I don't know.

The good news about tonight's game is that it is a home game. The Cavaliers are 8-5 at home. That's pretty good! The problem? They play the Atlanta Hawks, a team that has been decidedly better than them this season. The Hawks are 4-9 on the road though. The Cavaliers might be able to sneak a win here.

How have the Hawks been good? Their frontcourt tandem of Al Horford and Paul Millsap has been really good. Horford continues to be one of the most underrated players in the NBA, and the price at which the Hawks got Millsap remains criminal. Millsap has even added a three point shot to his arsenal. The Hawks are outscoring teams by 3.8 points per 100 possessions when Millsap and Horford share the court. There is a view out there that Horford is a power forward. This isn't true. The numbers suggest he is much better as a center. If you look at lineups where Kyle Korver, Millsap and Horford share the court, they outscore teams by 5.1 points per 100 possessions. That's pretty good, and Danny Ferry did a good job of bringing in Korver and Millsap in the offseason.

Why have the Cavaliers been bad? Lots of reasons. As Sam wrote the other day, Andrew Bynum has been pretty awful. The Cavaliers can't score at the rim at all. When Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, and Tristan Thompson share the court the team gets outscored by 2.6 points per 100 possessions. Not good considering those are probably the three best players on the team. Dion Waiters has missed time this season after missing time last season. I have yet to hear if Waiters will play tonight.

It isn't all awful though; some of it is mediocre!

And if you look at this chart Jacob constructed about Tristan Thompson, you will see that he is better than league average from midrange.

Now, teams aren't guarding him at all at this point on the perimeter, but that's real progress. Given his solid shooting percentage from the free throw line, it seems likely to continue to improve. He has, however, regressed badly after making really impressive strides finishing at the rim last season. Some of this has to do with a lack of spacing. For all of this faults, Tyler Zeller provided more spacing and room for Thompson to operate than Andrew Bynum does. Now, you sacrifice Thompson's offensive output without thinking about it if Bynum is producing. He isn't, which makes this awkward.

Fear the Sword's Fearless prediction: The Cavaliers get Cavs fans off the ledge, get a nice home win. I don't know why or how.

stats used courtesy of nba.com/stats

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