“The game, it has magic, you know you can catch it, if you let the refs take control...”
Tonight, we return to the scene of the crime: Quicken Loans Arena, where it seems like everyone within a mile of Lake Erie got a three-point shot up against the Atlanta Hawks. LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Shawn Marion, Dion Waiters, Joe Harris, James Jones, Will Cherry, Usher, Elka Ostrovsky, Nick Gilbert, Bone, Thugs, Harmony…
In all, 19 three-pointers were drained by the Cleveland Cavaliers (7:00 PM Eastern, SportSouth, FSN Ohio), including the first 11 in a row on the way to a 71-43 first half blowout on November 15. Only Matthew Dellavedova (back from an MCL sprain) and South Dakotan shoe-dropper Mike Miller (in for just two minutes; available tonight after missing time with a concussion) were unable to pile on.
Three-point carpet-bombing isn’t necessarily Cleveland’s forte, though. On the season, their shooting (22 3FG attempts per game, 15th in NBA) and accuracy (36.0 3FG%, 13th in NBA), unlike LeBron’s surprise announcement this past summer, hasn’t been much to write home about. The very next game, they took nearly as many attempts (29) as they did against Atlanta (32), but shot just 34.5 3FG% and fell at home to the then-reeling Nuggets.
Still, the Hawks game helped the Cavs (14-9) right their ship and prompted Clevelanders to search elsewhere for the most-overhyped professional athletes in town. The Hawks (17-7; 33.4 opponent 3FG%, 6th lowest in NBA) will want to do all they can (short of fouling, we hope) to keep from experiencing some early déjà-vu tonight.
As The Rock would inquire of random jabronis, “Do you like… PIE?” If so, Dennis Schröder is your kind of guy. Despite a recent swoon (9-for-35 FGs in last four games) as defenders adjust to his drives, Schröder’s NBA-created Player Impact Estimate (PIE) of 14.0 ranks 8th among NBA guards (2nd among all NBA reserves, min. 15 MPG) and remains slightly ahead of Jeff Teague’s 13.6 for tops on the Hawks.
Will we get to see Schröder’s first NBA start tonight? The prospects are looking pretty good, as Teague will probably sit this one out to rest a strained hammy. If so, Dennis will be just the guy to give Kyrie Irving fits on offense, while Shelvin Mack (3.1 assist/turnover ratio, 10th among NBA reserves, min. 10 MPG) serves as a change-of-pace ball-control option off the bench. Schröder is also less likely to fall (literally) for Uncle Drew’s many dribbling tricks.
The Cavs take 20.0 FGAs per game on catch-and-shoot plays (3rd fewest in NBA) and the 16.1 team miles traveled per 48 minutes ranks only ahead of the Clippers. Instead of a complex motion offense, in the halfcourt they seem to place emphasis on getting to their designated spots on the floor and delivering the ball to their predetermined playmaker, crashing the glass (27.1 O-Reb%, 1st in the East; Tristan Thompson 16.4 O-Reb%, 1st in NBA) when they’re not getting the shots they planned.
That predetermined playmaker isn’t necessarily the point guard. Irving is averaging a career-low 5.2 APG, but any guard would be fine with that, what with LeBron (7.8 APG, 5th in NBA) firing cross-court passes for strikes and Love lobbing the ball down the court on outlet passes as precisely as anybody wearing orange-and-brown -- a league-high 18 “touchdown passes” as described by ESPN using STATS SportVu data (passes off defensive rebounds that travel at least 20 feet and lead to fastbreak baskets). James has 5 himself. The Hawks might catch another break, though, as Love missed today’s shootaround due to flu-like illness and is questionable for tonight’s action.
When the Cavs’ Big 3 are not crashing the glass, they’re just fine crashing into whoever’s in front of them. They’re the only trio of teammates in the NBA’s Top-25 for free throw attempts per game, leading a Cavalier team that gets fouled on 3.1 more occasions per game than their foes (2nd most in NBA), resulting in a league-high 7.0 freebie attempts per game.
DeMarre Carroll missed out of the November game with a groin injury, and while he’s had a penchant lately for losing track of his man along the baseline, he won’t have that same issue tonight with James (25.6 PPG, 2nd in NBA) constantly looming to make big plays. He’ll be needed to take some of the defensive pressure off of Paul Millsap and keep James from scoring 11 points before the fourth minute of the game, as was the situation in November. Pero Antić will be back to help seal the interior, but we may see a continuation of expanded floor time from Elton Brand, who has been a superior defensive rebounder.
Only Minnesota, the Lakers, and Philly allow opponents to score points in the paint (44.3 in-the-paint PPG, 2nd most in the East; 13.2 at-rim FGs per game, 2nd most in NBA) with greater proficiency than the Cavs (55.7 in-the-paint opponent FG%, 4th highest in NBA; 56.2 at-rim opponent FG%, behind only Atlanta’s 57.0% and Minnesota’s 56.7%).
Both Paul Millsap and Al Horford can open things up for their teammates by drawing James’ attention away from the perimeter. Horford ran circles around Pau Gasol during Atlanta’s victory over the Bulls on Monday, and he should have similar success playing keep-away with Anderson Varejao by beating him repeatedly down the floor (preferably, without the ball). Millsap, meanwhile, should have little problem working around either of Love or Tristan Thompson on halfcourt sets.
Sap should not be surprised to find hound dog Dellavedova switched up on him around the perimeter and elbows. LeBron’s favorite hustle guy, the 6-foot-4 Delly has been seen guarding Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis. Still, that switch probably means there’s a mismatch on the floor somewhere worth exploiting.
When James comes to help, that opens up opportunities for Carroll (5-for-18 3FGs in his past four games) to shake out of his funk. Kyle Korver (4-for-8 3FGs versus Chicago) will be blanketed by Marion (career-low 42.9 FG% and 5.3 PPG). For defensive purposes, The Matrix has maintained the starting 2-guard spot in place of Waiters, who has worked out better as an occasional offensive spark off the bench.
On perimeter shots, whether made or missed, the Hawks wings must get back on D to help blunt the Cavs’ runouts. Particularly with his chasedown abilities, Teague’s presence would be missed on a Hawks team that still gives up the fewest fastbreak points in the league (9.1 opponent fastbreak PPG).
One commonality that raises the cream above most of the Eastern Conference crop is an ability to play at-or-above .500 on the road. The Hawks (5-5 away from Philips) can help their own cause tonight by avoiding silly fouls, as they want the clock to continue running out on the Cavs. Atlanta resorts to 5.2 additional personal fouls per game on the road, allowing opponents playing from behind the opportunity to keep the game close at the end.
Let’s Go Hawks!