Cleveland Cavaliers (-1, 201 o/u) at Atlanta Hawks
Most NBA followers are expecting tonight’s matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers (39-24, 16-15 away) at the Atlanta Hawks (48-12, 28-4 home) to be a preview of a post-season series.
Though Atlanta has already met Cleveland three times this year (winning two), the Hawks know this is a different Cavs team than the one they faced earlier. After adding J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov, Cleveland has been a beast.
“They’re going to test us, they’re going to challenge us,” said Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer. “That’s what you want. You want to be tested and you want to be challenged in a big way. I think our guys, and all of us, look forward to that test and that challenge. But it’s not really sending … any messages or anything like that, where we stand or where anybody stands.”
Added Hawks guard Jeff Teague, “It’s going to be a good challenge. As long as we’re playing well at the end of the season and going into the playoffs, as long as we’re playing at a high level on both ends, that’s all that really matters to me.”
The Hawks, who had four players in this year’s All Star game, own the NBA’s best record and are miles ahead in the Eastern Conference (sitting ten games up on second-place Chicago). Looking ahead, Atlanta needs to win just 12 of its last 22 to guarantee itself home court throughout the Eastern Conference.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are half a game back of Chicago for first in the Central Division; but the team is charging hard, taking six of their last eight.
“Obviously, we have some great teams in the league that are ahead of us,” said Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving. “We’re trying to use that as a barometer and test for us when we come out to play, especially on the road. These games mean a lot. Seeding is a big thing. We just want to take care of business.”
Tonight, that business will get nasty for the Cavs with the Hawks 28-4 SU and 19-13 ATS at home. That’s why the play is Atlanta and the points (+1).
(Photo credit: Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA (LeBron James) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped from its original.)