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NBA Playoffs: Cavaliers vs. Hawks Game 1 preview

After a break off, the Cavs are set to face the Hawks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

After sweeping the Detroit Pistons in the first round, the Cleveland Cavaliers have had a bit of a break. While they've been off, they've simply had to wait. Not much has happened in that week for Cleveland.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks advanced the second round on the heels of a 4-2 series win over the Boston Celtics. It took a bit for the Hawks to separate themselves, but the Hawks eventually advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

The Cavs and Hawks will now square off in a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals. The tables, though, are turned a bit. Last year, the Hawks were the East's No. 1 seed. This time around, the Cavs are the No. 1 seed and are the clear favorites to advance.

Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks

When: Monday, May 1 at 7 p.m.

Where: Quicken Loans Arena - Cleveland, Oho


Enemy Blog: Peachtree Hoops

Music: OutKast - So Fresh, So Clean

Keys to the game

  • Last year, LeBron James was an absolute beast against the Hawks. in the Cavs' sweep, James averaged 30.3 points. 11 rebounds and 9.3 assists. At all times - especially with Kevin Love out and Kyrie Irving not at full strength - James with the dictating force of the series. The Hawks, quite simply, couldn't defend LeBron.
  • This year, the Hawks face the same problem. If the Hawks match-up with the Cavs straight up, Kent Bazemore will be tasked with stopping LeBron. When DeMarre Carroll was hurt last year, Bazemore was the one defending LeBron most of the time and, well, it didn't go well. They also can use Paul Millsap, but that means leaving one of Love and Tristan Thompson defended by Bazemore and Kyle Korver. That probably leaves Atlanta vulnerable on the offensive boards. It could also lead the Cavs to post up Love more and force the Hawks to change their strategy.
  • In the last regular season matchup between the Cavs and Hawks, Mike Budenholzer went to Al Horford to defend LeBron a bit. Thabo Sefolosha will also see time on LeBron island. In short, the Hawks have a LeBron problem and will throw a lot of different solutions at it. Brad Rowland wrote about this problem from the Hawks perspective over at Peachtree Hoops.
  • Another key matchup in this series will be the battle of point guards. Irving was great in the first round - he averaged 27.5 points, 47.1 percent from three and dished out 4.8 assists in the sweep - and really came alive after struggling a bit at the end of the regular season. Jeff Teague, who did tweak his ankle against the Celtics, can do some things to press Irving. Dennis Schroder, though, was a bit inconsistent in the first round and the Cavs would be wise to find times to let Irving work directly against Schroder.
  • The Hawks, for what it's worth, think they are better this year than last and are equipped to handle LeBron this around. SB Nation's Paul Flannery wrote about it here and there are a number of interesting quotes in his very good piece.
  • The whole Fear the Sword staff will over up their picks tomorrow, but mine is Cavs in six, maybe five. Atlanta is a little different than last year and perhaps a bit more equipped for the playoffs. Game 1, though, might be pretty indicative of how this series will play out. If the Cavs win easily despite coming in off a long rest, this one might end quickly.

Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction

The Cavs, even with their long rest, should come out firing. And it's hard to se the Hawks finding a solution for defending LeBron in Game 1, if at all. Cavs 101, Hawks 93.