Key factors for Cleveland Cavaliers against Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers
Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers / Jason Miller/GettyImages

The Atlanta Hawks, minus Trae Young because of an undisclosed illness and De’Andre Hunter due to right knee inflammation, spoiled Udonis Haslem’s jersey retirement with a close win against the Heat in Miami on Friday and then flew back home to gear up for its next rival on Saturday: the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will be without Darius Garland and Evan Mobley from the main rotation.

The Hawks have won six of its last 10, and its second-best player, Dejounte Murray, is acting like he wants out of town by posting about another club. Still, he is putting up 23.6 points on 50.5 percent shooting, with 5.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists over the last 10 matches.

The Cavaliers last played on Wednesday, thrashing the Milwaukee Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo by 40 points on prime-time television. The night included a star showing from new Cavalier forward Georges Niang who scored a career high with 33 points on 13-of-14 shooting on the night.

Fortunately for the visitors, the Hawks are one of the worst defenses in the NBA. Its marks are 28th of 30 in paint protection and 25th in 3-point defense. Even without Cleveland's stars in Garland and Mobley, the new-look Cavs offense should have a fair share of open opportunities.

But if the Hawks are without Young, it is a slightly better group defensively. Young dies on too many screens, has short arms and isn’t very tall. Additionally, the Hawks permitted 123 points per game through its first 40 outings. In its three matches without the balding assassin, it allows 117.7 points.

Hawks opponents average 11.2 offensive rebounds for 15.9 second-chance points for the season. On the other side, the Cavaliers are a top-five outfit at scoring on second tries (16). After Jarrett Allen, Tristan Thompson will be depended on to wear down Capela and Okongwu pursuing rebounds.

Defensively, the Cavs secure 71.7 percent of boards and permit 13.5 points on extra opportunities. With Allen's recent surge toward the All-Star roster, Cleveland enters the game with a substantial advantage on the boards. Outside of Allen, the Cavs' starting power forward in lieu of Mobley's absence, Dean Wade, has added 4.8 rebounds per game in that span.

Dominating the inside and outside action will be key for the Cavaliers

Against the Hawks, Donovan Mitchell should not encounter too much resistance at the point of attack. Trae Young will get hidden in the corner (matchup zone), or if Bogdan Bogdanović starts in his place, he will check Isaac Okoro; Jalen Johnson likely tags mad Max Strus; Clint Capela will be on Allen; Saddiq Bey defends Dean Wade; and this leaves Murray on Spida.

Allen should easily find scoring opportunities on rim rolls or the fake handoff. On switches, feeding Allen is ideal to potentially put the opponent, who has the fourth-fastest pace in the NBA, in foul trouble. Aside from putting Hawks on the bench, penalty problems make it harder for a quick team to establish control if it cannot get stops and has to check the ball in constantly.

Off the bench, Caris LeVert will draw extra help into the paint as well when looking to score and set up the drive and kick. LeVert has averaged 16 points, 4.1 assists and a steal in 28.8 minutes as the second unit leader this season.

Stagger screens should shield to get looks on the outside and an open window to the cutter for the pass inside. Okoro will likely be the beneficiary of the latter.

Outside of the paint, the Hawks are not good at protecting the arc, allowing rivals to hoist 35.3 trays at a 38.3 percent rate. It is a pity for the residents of Hotlanta that Georges Niang, who bombarded the Bucks with 33 points, splashing five-of-six trifectas off the Cavs’ bench, is coming with his eyes on another dazzling performance. The chances of him having an encore are slim, but the Hawks will overhelp on drives, so the opportunities will be there G-Wagon.

This is also another opponent for mad Max Strus, who has not made any triples in the last three games, to re-calibrate the iron sights on his jumper. While Strus' shooting efficiency has dipped this season, his overall impact and volume has given the Cavs an edge in numerous matches this year.

Sam Merrill will be active working around screens, hiring triples against late switches and drop coverage. His off-ball movement adds another layer of dynamism to Cleveland's offense, finding the hole in late defensive rotations and punishing it with a near instant shot release from deep.

Cleveland cannot give Atlanta open shots

The Cavs will have to deal with rising star Jalen Johnson taking the ball up the court occasionally. This gives Murray (and/or Young if he plays) the chance to get lost by the defense. If Johnson breaks inside the arc with the ball, the Cavaliers cannot help off the 3-point line.

Blitzing Murray is more difficult than doing it to Young. He is bigger, and it is easier for him to get the pass off to the middle. The Miami Heat tried it unsuccessfully in the first quarter on Friday. The Cavaliers cannot afford to make the same mistake, given the Hawks' perimeter threats on a kickout if the Cavs have to overcommit with help defense on a Murray drive.

When the Hawks’ backcourt sits, Bogdan Bogdanović is the go-to scorer. The Cavaliers will have to lock and trail as getting open behind an Onyeka Okongwu or Capela screen provides enough space for a jumper.

Murray will be defended by Okoro and LeVert, but his speed is not a good matchup for them. Timely rotations and communication will be the determining factor for the Cavaliers' efforts to contain the versatile Atlanta guard.

In total, the Cavaliers are fresh and facing-off with a team that has an 8-11 record at home. Since January began, the Wine and Gold has been on a tear, losing once in seven games and holding opponents to 102.6 points nightly in that span.

Even incomplete from injuries, the Cavaliers are a stronger unit than the Hawks and should earn its 25th victory of the season. The Cavs tip off in Atlanta at 7:30 pm Eastern Time.

dark. Next. Cavs make their bid for contention in bold deadline proposal. Cavs make their bid for contention in bold deadline proposal