Cleveland at Atlanta
Time: 6 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: CLE -3
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Atlanta Hawks have won its past two contests to surge to 34-26 and now trail the No. 4 Toronto Raptors by just 1.5 games in the Eastern Conference standings. Atlanta hosts the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first of an ESPN Double-header Friday night, and the Hawks are 3-point underdogs in the game. Cleveland has won seven of its past 10, but is coming off a 103-99 loss to the Boston Celtics and will again be without starting forward Kevin Love.
The Cavaliers have been getting it done without Love, largely because of how much better the team is than its nightly opponents, even without its third superstar. But Cleveland also made some wise additions as the NBA’s trade deadline passed, in acquiring Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut. Both will add some veteran leadership and give the Cavs a little more depth. Williams fills a specific need for a second unit playmaker, and Bogut adds some strength and six more fouls behind Tristan Thompson at the 5-spot. While both certainly have fallen off a lot as players, their talents and leadership will fit perfectly on a championship-caliber team like Cleveland.
Williams had 13 points and three rebounds while shooting 5 of 10 from the floor in the loss to Boston. But Cleveland shot just 40.7 percent as a team and the team was out rebounded by six by the Celtics. Boston also shot 46 percent from the floor and 13 of 31 from three-point range, while the Cavaliers also had their struggles at the free-throw line (15 of 22). Cleveland need not look at this as any statement game by Boston, but without Love the Cavaliers are simply trying to get by with Kyrie Irving’s usage rate through the ceiling.
Irving shot 10 of 19 for 28 points, but he had just one assist in the game while LeBron James put together a triple-double with 28 points, 10 assists, and 13 rebounds. Irving and James are certainly two stars sufficient to carry a team, but it just was not enough with Boston getting 31 from its star point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Atlanta is 17-12 at home this season and is coming off wins over Boston and Dallas. The Hawks had lost four of five prior to this two-game sprint, so turning it around is still a major focus for a 34-26 Hawks team that is looking so mediocre. The Hawks have received strong play from its main trio of Dennis Schroder, Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap, but are not getting a lot of production once its starters leave the game.
Tim Hardaway Jr. has struggled recently, and Kent Bazemore is undersized at the 3-spot. Ersan Ilyasova has been a nice aid with his three-point shooting, but the Hawks still really miss Kyle Korver. Atlanta lacks the depth and scoring to put scares into the elite teams in the East, and even at home, it should have its hands full with the Love-less Cavaliers tonight. Irving and Schroeder should be an entertaining battle at the point guard spot, but Schroder is known to struggle with the elite scoring point guards and Irving really could get it cooking in this game. Expect the Cavaliers to be able to cover the 3-point spread and win this by at least six or seven points.
James has been cruising largely, but Atlanta lacks any major firepower to turn this heavily in their favor at any point. Even with Irving having his own defensive issues, Shroder has his distributive responsibilities, and James should be able to keep Millsap in check. Howard has a favorable matchup against Thompson, but the Cavaliers 5-man is a better defender than giving credit for and plenty mobile to cover Howard in any pick and roll sets he runs with Schroder.