The Cleveland Cavaliers, after a long break, are set to kick off their second round series against the Atlanta Hawks tonight in Cleveland. For a number of reasons, the Cavs enter the series as heavy favorites.
Will the Cavs be able to advance or will the Hawks pull the upset? Below, most of the FtS staff makes their series picks and answers that question.
Chris Manning (@cwmwrites): Cavs in six. The Hawks, in my opinion, are better equipped for the playoffs this year than last. They are playing more physical defense, they are healthier and Paul Millsap is having a career year. The problem, though, is that they don't have a real way to guard LeBron James over a seven game series. Atlanta's solutions are hypothetical ones and that's not nearly enough to pick them in an upset.
Trevor Magnotti (@IllegalScreens): Cavs in five. The Hawks will be a threat if they remember how to shoot, which they haven't proven they can consistently. If the Hawks can't hit off of the open looks the Cavs give them, they're going to have a tough time keeping up with the Cavs, who can exploit every weakness of their strong overall defense.
Carter Rodriguez (@Carter_Shade): Cavs in five. I think there will be a game in which the Hawks lock down and hit most of their threes, but this is just a pretty brutal matchup for them. Paul Millsap has a really, really hard time with Tristan Thompson, and he needs to win that matchup consistently. The Hawks don't really have enough great shooters to kill the Cavs, and man, do they have nobody that can really guard LeBron James.
Mike Mayer (@MikeMayer1964): I hate to seem like I'm just following the crowd, but... Cavs in five. The Hawks can be scary if get hot from the floor, but the Cavs are just a better team and should win most of the individual matchups. My only real worry is that the Cavs might come out a little bit flat in Game 1 after the long layoff, and if they give away the first game, then this could turn into a series. But otherwise I don't expect them to have too much trouble.
Daniel Rowell (@DanielJRowell): I'll take the Cleveland Cavaliers in six. This is a different Atlanta Hawks team than the one that the Cavs swept last year. I don't know that a perfect storm of injuries and hot shooting is repeatable. Kyle Korver has rehabbed from his injury in last year's postseason and his shot looked great against the Celtics, 48% from the field (25-of-52) in six games. They are without the defensive chops of DeMarre Carroll, but instead have contract-year (and Chance the Rapper lookalike) Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha. The keys here will be if a Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson frontcourt can stay with Paul Millsap and Al Horford (which Thompson did well last year), and if the Hawks try out the dual- threat of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroeder against the Cavaliers middling perimeter defense. I have to think the streaky shooting of the Hawks will come up for them in two games but cost them in six by the end. (And one more thing: LeBron James in the second unit was great in three games against the Pistons, but I'll be curious to see what Budenholzer draws up for this and if Lue will keep this going or conserve James for later series.)
David Zavac (@davidzavac): Cavs in six. Jeff Teague hasn't really been all that good this year, and the Cavs will force him to beat them. He might be able to do it a couple times, but it's unlikely he'll sustain it. I think Paul Millsap will have a good series, and LeBron James might struggle a little bit (by his standards). Kyle Korver will need to seriously outplay J.R. Smith, but that wouldn't surprise me. The Cavs are heavy favorites, but it wouldn't surprise me if we are sweating it a bit.
Ryan Mourton (@Ryan_Mourton) Well...... I'll be that guy. I'll pick the sweep. Cavs in four. NOW HOLD ON. If the Hawks win 1 or 2 games it wouldn't be surprising, but I'm not betting on it here. They match up poorly with LeBron and Kevin Love as a pair, with only one defender for the two. They don't rebound well. Dennis has been a nightmare. The Cavs need a lot of things to go their way to get a sweep, and I'll step out on the ledge and say they will.
Justin Rowan (@cavsanada): I'll pick Cavs in five. I would not be surprised by a sweep, but I think there's still a learning curve for Lue and any mistakes made vs Atlanta won't be as easy to recover from as they were against Detroit. Atlanta is probably the second best team in the East and has arguably the best coach in the conference. Cleveland just presents a ton of matchup problems and Tristan Thompson has managed to lockdown their best player (Paul Millsap) in the past.
Alex Raulli: Reeling off two sweeps in a row should be a difficult task, but the Cavaliers play in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks had a solid season, and appear to be in better form than when the Cavs played them in the Conference Finals last year. However, the Cavs have match-up problems for them all over the court, while they have a bunch of great role players. The one guy that is arguably a star would be Paul Millsap, but he's been, uh, less than productive against the Cavaliers recently. Cavs in four, with greater margins of victory than the series against Detroit. That was a warm up. Expect the Cavs to make a statement in this series.
Alex Ralston (@aralsto): Cavs in six. The Cavs matchup well against the Hawks and have played at a high level against them this season, sweeping the regular season matchup. The playoffs are a different animal and I expect that some of the Hawks poor shooting against Boston bounces back against Cleveland. In the end,though, the Cavs have a great option to defend the Hawks best player, while the Hawks don't really have a great option to guard LeBron.
Brett Zelman (@BLouisZelman): Cavaliers in four. The Hawks are a very good defensive team, and from Jan. 1 on were 1st in the East in defensive efficiency. But I don't think they're going to be able to contain the Cavaliers offense. Of every team that made the Eastern Conference Playoffs this year, Atlanta probably has the worst options on an individual level for guarding LeBron James (better than Atlanta's options: Carroll, Powell - Toronto, Deng, Winslow - Miami, Crowder - Boston, Batum, Williams - Charlotte, George - Indiana, Johnson, Morris - Detroit). Guarding LeBron is never just an individual effort but you still need one guy at the point of attack to make LeBron work. Thabo Sefolosha is probably their best hope but he's giving up too much strength and any time the Hawks have him out there is offensively deficient for them. Kent Bazemore and Paul Millsap will get shots at LeBron too but Millsap on James creates a mismatch for either Kevin Love in the post or Tristan Thompson on the offensive glass and Bazemore will battle but ultimately doesn't have the size. I think LeBron will have a dominant series and lead a sweep over the Hawks for the second year in a row.
Scott Recker (@scottmrecker): I'll say the Cavs in five. My inclination is that even though the Hawks are overmatched here, and a healthy big three with LeBron in playoff mode is not ideal for this Atlanta team, they'll steal one game with a good shooting night. The Cavs did show poise versus the Pistons when they were shooting inordinately well, and defensively the Hawks struggle to find an answer to slow down LeBron, so it could be a sweep, but, most importantly, I hope it's a clean, injury-free series that reflects the sort of fluidity that we saw from the Cavs in the first round.