The Cleveland Cavaliers (9-8) wrap up Group Play of the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament with a matchup against the visiting Atlanta Hawks (8-8). The Cavs need a win tonight, plus some help from others, to advance to the next stage of the tournament.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks
Where: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse - Cleveland, Ohio
When: 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: Bally Sports Ohio
Spread: CLE -4.5
Expected Cavs Starting Lineup:
Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Max Strus, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen
Cavs Injury Report: Ricky Rubio (Personal, OUT), Ty Jerome (ankle, OUT), Isaiah Mobley (G League, OUT), Dean Wade (ankle, OUT)
Expected Hawks Starting Lineup:
Trae Young, DeJounte Murray, De’Andre Hunter, Saddiq Bey, Clint Capela
Hawks Injury Report: Kobe Bufkin (thumb, OUT), Jalen Johnson (wrist, OUT), Gueye, Mouhamed (low back, OUT), Seth Lundy (G League, OUT), Miles Norris (G League, OUT)
What to watch for
At full strength defensively?
The Cavs’ opening night starting lineup has only logged about 10% of the team’s total possessions for the season so far, one of the key reasons why the team has looked relatively pedestrian out of the gate. But the starting lineup, plus most of the usual bench rotation, is expected to be available tonight against Atlanta. That means we should get a good look at the rotations in a pseudo-playoff setting.
Atlanta has given the Cavs fits over the last few years, namely Trae Young. The Hawks are sporting one of the league’s best offenses in terms of efficiency and points per game, so the Cavs’ defense will have to do something they have not done as often this season as last: play lockdown defense. Having Isaac Okoro healthy and back in the rotation will help dramatically, but the Cavs have to target Atlanta’s playmakers and turnover-prone tendencies. The Hawks are bottom-ten in turnovers per game and, without Jalen Johnson, are a little thin on playmakers. Cleveland will have an advantage with quality big men as well, as the Hawks have to play smaller without Johnson. The Cavs have not had a tremendous defense so far this season, but they certainly have the personnel to be a lockdown unit on any night.
Not having Johnson, who is having a breakout season, is a big deal, especially against the Cavs who roll with a double-big lineup. That moves Saddiq Bey or De’Andre Hunter to the four, which is a mismatch against the taller Mobley. Atlanta could opt for a double-big lineup of their own with Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu, but that combo has only played nine possessions this season.
One stat to watch
Slow down the engine
Young has been a thorn in Cleveland’s side for essentially his entire career, averaging 26.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 9.3 assists per game in 15 career games against the Cavs. As one of the most electric playmakers and shooters in the league, the Cavs are going to have to target Young to ensure he does not do too much damage. Somebody like Okoro may need to run around and cover Young and force someone else to make a play.
Defensively, Atlanta is constantly looking for somewhere to hide Trae Young. That becomes harder with a shooter at the three for Cleveland in Max Strus. There really isn't anywhere for Young to hide on that end of the floor compared to the last few years, where the Hawks would stick him on whoever the Cavs were playing at the three. By slowing down Young and making him work on both ends of the floor, Cleveland can expose the lack of wing and big depth on Atlanta’s roster.