Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Do LeBron's Cavs Have a Chance Against the Rising Hawks?

Due to an injury to Heat star Dwyane Wade, Atlanta's Kyle Korver was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team, giving the Hawks four All-Stars for the first time in franchise history.

By Adam Lowenstein (@StatsAdam)

With their 117-105 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center on Monday night, the 43-10 Atlanta Hawks once again avoided a losing streak. Mike Budenholzer’s squad has not lost consecutive games since mid-November when the Hawks lost their fourth and fifth ballgames of the season.

They enter Wednesday evening’s contest in Boston having played 38-5 basketball since that two-game losing streak, their longest skid of the season.

Al Horford, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and newly-added all-star Kyle Korver scored 97 of the Hawks’ 117 points in the victory. With Dwyane Wade sitting out the 2015 All-Star game, commissioner Adam Silver chose Korver to replace the Miami Heat veteran to give the Hawks their first year with four all-stars in franchise history.

The Hawks’ starting five shared Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors in January for accomplishing the first 17-0 month in NBA history. Horford, Carroll, Millsap, Teague and Korver all posted double-digit positive plus/minuses in those games, while the bench did not have one better than negative four.

The rich could get richer as the Hawks face three consecutive Eastern Conference opponents. They take on just three non-conference opponents, all at home, before going on their longest road trip of the season in mid-March. The six-game stretch will mostly be on the West Coast and will be all against Western Conference squads. Although Atlanta will take on some difficult opponents and will return home from the trip to face the San Antonio Spurs, there is not much reason to worry for Hawks fans.

Not only do the Hawks lead the suddenly hot second-place Toronto Raptors by 7.5 games in the Eastern Conference standings, but the road stretch also might not be as much of a tough test as some think. From December 27 to January 31, Atlanta had its longest winning streak in franchise history. For the first 13 of those 19 straight wins, the Hawks did not play consecutive games in the same building. In addition, they are 15-4 against the Western Conference this season.

The intriguing part of the Eastern Conference playoff race has to be where the Cleveland Cavaliers land as far as seeding. Since there is no reseeding in the NBA playoffs, the Cavaliers, who are 11 games out of first place, would need to avoid the fourth or fifth seed in order for the Hawks and LeBron James’ team to meet in the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals.
Although there continues to be an odd Kevin Love saga in Cleveland, the Cavaliers recently had a 12-game winning streak, their longest this season.

It would be very interesting to see King James take on Budenholzer’s junior San Antonio Spurs, especially after seeing Gregg Popovich’s senior squad dispatch the Heat in last year’s Finals. The Hawks have won two of their three meetings with the Cavaliers, and their fourth matchup will be on March 6 in Atlanta.

The Hawks might not have a star, but they do have quite a lot of playoff experience, unlike Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, whose combined number of playoff games is a giant goose egg. LeBron has the championship experience (Mike Miller does, too) while Atlanta (outside of injured Thabo Sefolosha) does not, so a series between the Hawks and Cavaliers could be the ultimate test for an Atlanta team that has dominated the NBA thus far this season.

For more sports coverage, follow Adam Lowenstein on Twitter at @StatsAdam.

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