May 22, 2015 (Posted at 5:00 PM ET)
Picks will be posted at 2:00 PM ET on Saturday.
Take Atlanta Hawks at -2 spread (buy half a point) against Cleveland Cavaliers risking 3%.
Game 2 in a series is all about making adjustments from Game 1 and that is exactly what we expect the Atlanta Hawks to do. Entering Game 1, the Hawks had one clear advantage over the Cavs and that was their frontcourt versatility which we don’t believe they took full advantage of. For the most part, Timofey Mozgov plays like a traditional "Big". He moves like a Big and defends like a Big while Atlanta’s Al Horford is anything but a traditional big man. He has the footwork and athleticism to outmaneuver a traditional Center and for the most part he did just that in Game 1. He pulled Mozgov out of the middle with a couple of early mid-range jump shots and then went to work on the interior later in the contest. While the rest of Atlanta's starters shot just 19 of 47 from the field, Horford converted eight of his 12 attempts for 16 points. The quality was there but for some reason the Hawks opted away from what was working and essentially abandoned getting the ball in Horford's hands. In 38 minutes, he only took 12 shots while reserve point guard Dennis Schroder put up 10 in less than 20 minutes. As a whole, Atlanta's guards were overly aggressive with their shots. Schroder and starter Jeff Teague combined to take nearly half of the Hawks' total field-goal attempts. For Game 2 we expect Atlanta to maximize their advantages, and they don't have a bigger one than Horford on whoever's guarding him. If Cleveland has to help on Horford, which should open up more looks for Atlanta’s shooters, especially Kyle Korver considering the Hawks perimeter shooters obviously need a boost after going just 4-of-23 from downtown in Game 1.
Then there is the issue of slowing down LeBron James. James averaged 23.7 points on 53% shooting during three regular-season matchups, then again piled up 31 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists in the series opener. The Hawks must keep James away from the basket. He made nine of his 12 field goals inside the paint so that is something that we expect Mike Budenholzer to concentrate on for tonight’s matchup. During the first half of Game 1, Atlanta tried switching on Cleveland's pick and rolls. That left James working against a much smaller defender which allowed him bullied his way to the basket or punished Atlanta's helpers with pinpoint passes to open shooters which were a big reason why JR Smith had the breakout game of his postseason career. The Hawks did abandon that strategy in the second half but never found a comfortable matchup for James. Paul Millsap did a decent job on James after DeMarre Carroll's injury, but if Carroll can't go tonight, we expect Mike Budenholzer to play more of Kent Bazemore in his place. Simply put, the Hawks have to take something away from James. They can't continue to let him be the sole source of the Cleveland offense. They must either let him get his points and focus on stopping the others, or concede his production while selling out on shutting down his supporting cast. James is a defensive assignment for Atlanta's entire team, even more so now after Carroll's injury. The Hawks can't let him breathe on defense and whoever he's defending on offense should keep him on the move, either by attacking him off the dribble or forcing him to chase him around screens. Consistently pressuring James has been the key to slowing him in the past and that's what we expect the Hawks to do in this contest.
Other than James, the Cavaliers do not currently have a consistent second scorer. Kyrie Irving is still injured and JR Smith simply cannot be trusted to remain shooting the ball consistently. Cleveland found a way to squeeze out enough offense to survive its second round matchup with the Chicago Bulls but Cleveland basically got all four wins on a surprise scorer surfacing at the right time. James Jones had 17 points in Game 2. Mozgov contributed 15 points during Game 4. Shumpert and Smith combined for 25 points the next time out, and Dellavedova exploded for 19 in the series clincher. Cleveland has complementary scoring options, but none that would be considered reliable. It's not a question of "If", but when the Hawks manage to hit their offensive groove at some point and they will considering they are tied for 6th in efficiency during the regular season they the Cavs will need someone other than James to step up to the plate.
For the most part the Hawks played a solid game in Game 1. They kept pace with Cleveland on a number of fronts, but they will need to be much better on the glass tonight. They were absolutely killed on the boards in both offensive and defensive rebounding. Allowing Cleveland a +12 advantage on the glass is not a mark of championship basketball. We expect Atlanta to be much more aggressive on the glass and not allow Cleveland as many second chance opportunities as they received in Game 1. We also expect Kyle Korver to do a much better job of defending JR Smith and the perimeter. Smith absolutely torched the Hawks in Game 1 coming away with a career postseason high of 28 points and went 8 for 12 from 3 point range. Smith was essentially the difference in the game and the Hawks will have to do a much better job defending him. Smith was the only contributor off of the Cavs bench in Game 1 and that has to give Atlanta hope heading into this contest. Even though Smith broke out in Game 1, he has been one of the most inconsistent shooters in his career. Yes he essentially won Game 1 for Cleveland with his shooting; however he could just as easily lose Game 2 for them if he has one of his off-shooting nights. We also can't expect the Hawks to continue to shoot 4 of 23 from three as a team again in this contest and a couple of more made shots can make all of the difference.
This is essentially a must win game for Atlanta and we expect them to play like it. As we had mentioned earlier, the Hawks for the most part played a rather solid game in the opener. If they can get cleaner offensive production and have their role players like Millsap and Horford step up and make an impact tonight they should manage to even things up before the series shifts to Cleveland. Much like Game 1 this should be a closely contested battle but this time we believe it will be the Hawks who open things up late in the game and come away with the much needed win. With this spread being just 2 points, a win should ultimately get us the cover.
Other notable facts to consider:
- Atlanta is 16-6 ATS on Friday nights this season.
- Cleveland is 5-13 ATS as an underdog this season.
- Atlanta is 11-3 ATS off a upset loss as a favorite this season!
- Atlanta is 9-2 ATS when revenging a home loss vs an opponent!
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