1. The Hawks did a great job moving the ball to create open looks the first matchup between these two teams. How can the Cavaliers disrupt Atlanta’s offensive flow this time around?
Kris Willis, Peachtree Hoops EIC: Since the season has gotten underway we have seen teams adjust their approach to defending the Atlanta Hawks. More and more teams are trying to take the ball out of Jeff Teague’s hands and limit his opportunities in the pick and roll. When Teague is able to put pressure on the defense players like Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Al Horford do a wonderful job of finding open space. Teague has been the key to Atlanta’s attack and the Cavaliers would do well to focus on him defensively.
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid EIC: I think there are two ways to go about this. The first option is to pressure Jeff Teague and try and force to make bad passes. That will prove difficult for the Wine & Gold, as A) Kyrie Irving/Jarrett Jack/others aren’t even above average wing defenders. And using, say Alonzo Gee, to defend the primary ball handler means someone else will be responsible for manning up on Kyle Korver and Atlanta’s other wings. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. Thus, I think the Cavaliers will need to force the Hawks’ bigs to make bad passes out of the post. That means seeing heavy minutes from Tristan Thompson, Earl Clark and Anderson Varejao, which is the Cavaliers top defensive unit per 82games.com.
Trevor Magnotti, Staff Writer: I think the key is to trap and double the Hawks’ bigs. Between Al Horford, Paul Millsap, and Pero Antic, all three are decent passers, and the Hawks’ ball movement involves an inside/outside component more so than many other quality passing teams. I think the key here is to try to disrupt that by trapping Horford and Millsap in the high post, and disrupting their decision-making and vision so that it interrupts the offense’s fluidity. This would likely mean more Varejao and less Bynum for Cleveland, because you need speed from your bigs for this plan to work, and Bynum just can’t dream of being an effective defender on the Hawks in the high post.
2. The Hawks are outstanding at defending pick-and-rolls, forcing jumpers 54 percent of the time. What can the Cavs do to avoid getting sucked into this on offense?
KW: If Atlanta has had a struggle defensively it has been from the perimeter and in transition. They do pretty well in a lot of one-on-one situations but when the ball is moving they sometimes get lost in their rotations and fail to close out to shooters. The Hawks have also struggled at times in transition and controlling the pace is a key for their success. Many times Atlanta might be able to recover in time to stop the layup but fail to close out to the perimeter. Teams hurt them with this tactic a lot more often early in the season.
CM: The more the Cavaliers can get out in transition against Atlanta, the better. That means very little Andrew Bynum and lots of Anderson Varejao (with a dash of Tyler Zeller) at the center spot. If you watch any Cavaliers lineup with Bynum in it, the Wine & Gold automatically slow down and become a half-court team that runs far too many plays through Bynum on the block. Thus, I suggest that the Cavs run lots of lineups featuring Irving, Waiters, Clark/Miles, Clark/Thompson and Varejao/Zeller. This lineups will probably struggle on defense, but they are built to run and get out in transition ahead of Atlanta’s defense, which is anchored in the middle by the superb Al Horford. And in transition, it will be essential for the Cavaliers to A) finish at the rim and B) hit open threes. That is their only way to handle Atlanta’s defense.
TM: This is just patented Spurs-style defense. The Hawks are incredibly active on defense, and are great at forcing teams to take inefficient shots, particularly out of the pick and roll. This is not good for the Cavs, who like to shoot mid-rangers and completely got sucked into taking a ton of them in the teams’ last meeting. To combat this, the Cavs might want to try more three-point attempts, and increase their ball movement, rather than relying on pick-and-rolls and ISOs. Granted, that’s just playing better offensively, which the Cavs have not proven they can do, but that would be very important in this game. I’d hope to see Kyrie take a few threes, as well as a little more playing time for Dion Waiters and Earl Clark, as it would be great to see the shooters that are actually hitting shots on the floor against a defense as good as Atlanta’s.
3. The Hawks have settled into the East’s Third overall spot, but where do they rank in the NBA’s overall hierarchy?
KW: That is a tough question considering the imbalance between the two conferences. The Hawks should not be confused with the legit contenders in the league which includes Miami and Indiana in the East and a small group from the Western Conference. However, I do think that they can be a team that sits firmly in that next tier of teams. I’d be surprised to see them make the conference finals but an appearance in the second round of the playoffs is not that far fetched.
CM: As it stands, I think Atlanta is on the outside looking in at the likes of Miami, Indiana, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. While the Hawks have some very good players and are better than their Joe Johnson-era teams, they don’t have enough firepower and star power to take that next step up. Considering the state of the East, I think it’s fairly likely that they make it the second round after defeating someone like Washington or Detroit in the first round. A longer run would be a shock, but if they play a banged up Indiana or Miami team, they might be able to make a deeper run than expected.
TM: The Hawks are this year’s Memphis Grizzlies in my opinion. The team isn’t too flashy, lacks a true superstar, and talent-wise is a cut below the Pacers and Heat. However, they have a deep bench, are a good defensive team, and they are perhaps one of the best hustle teams in the league. That can get you pretty far, especially when you have an elite shooter in Kyle Korver as well to supplement your offense. Talent wise? They’re probably the 10th or 11th best team in the league. But with their excellent coaching and defensive play, I might put them 7th or 8th, and I’m not sleeping on this team shocking someone in the playoffs, like we’ve seen this type of team do in the past.