Two months into the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks are two of the most surprising teams in the league. The Cavaliers, however, have earned that distinction by how poorly they've been playing.
Cleveland hopes to get its season back on track in the new year, while the surging Hawks look to build off their stellar start as these teams meet at Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday.
The Cavaliers (14-17) finished with the Eastern Conference's second-best record last season, and LeBron James led the franchise to its first NBA Finals before being swept by San Antonio in four games. With James and company back, most expected a fast start to this season, but that has not been the case.
Cleveland is 10th in the East, 10 games behind first-place Detroit in the Central Division and finished December with the ninth-worst record in the NBA at 5-9.
James leads the league in scoring at 28.8 points per game, but had 21 on 8-of-21 shooting, six assists and five rebounds in Saturday's 86-76 loss to New Orleans.
The Cavs trailed by just four points at halftime on Saturday, but they never recovered from a 12-0 run by New Orleans to start the second half.
"The bottom line was the turnovers and we came out flat in the third quarter,'' Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "They had something to do with that but we came out flat and it was hard to dig us out of a hole that big.''
James, who turned 23 years old on Sunday, is averaging 23.8 points in his last four games after averaging 32.0 in his previous three. He averaged 28.8 points in four games against the Hawks last season, as the Cavs won the final three meetings by an average of 19.4 points.
Cleveland has won 12 of its last 14 over Atlanta, but the Hawks are in the midst of an impressive turnaround.
After finishing 13th in the East and last in the Southeast Division last season, Atlanta (15-13) has the fourth-best record in the East and is in second in the Southeast, trailing Orlando by 4 1/2 games.
The Hawks finished last month with the fifth-best record in the league at 9-4, after going just 3-13 in December 2006. They went 9-20 through two months last season.
Atlanta is coming off a 97-84 loss to Dallas on Saturday, snapping a five-game winning streak - its longest in eight years.
"If we're going to be a playoff team, we have to play them the same way they played us," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said.
Atlanta's offense struggled to get in sync against the Mavericks after averaging 106.0 points during its winning streak. The Hawks scored just 35 points in the first half - one less than Dallas scored in the first quarter.
Joe Johnson, who averages a team-high 22.1 points, had 17 on just 6-of-18 shooting on Saturday after averaging 28.2 points during the team's five-game run. He averaged 22.0 points in three games against the Cavs last season.
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