Keys to the Game
Five Keys: Cavaliers at Hawks
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
Key: Southern Hospitality
The Cavaliers get back on the road on Thursday night, looking to run their winning streak to 10 games when they travel to Atlanta to take on the Hawks.
On Tuesday night at The Q, the Cavaliers wrapped up their first back-to-back in over a month with a wire-to-wire win over the Heat – utilizing Kevin Love’s monster first quarter and coasting the rest of the way, despite LeBron James getting his first career ejection late in the third quarter.
The Hawks have dropped eight of 10 since upsetting the Wine & Gold back on November 5 in an eye-opening loss for the Cavaliers. Along with Chicago and Dallas, the rebuilding Hawks are light years from the team that won 60 games and faced Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015.
The Hawks squad Cleveland will face on Thursday night is coming off a 34-point beating at the hands of Toronto one game after dropping the Knicks at home.
The Hawks have been off since Saturday night’s loss against Toronto; the Wine & Gold are playing their third game in four nights. But either way, Tyronn Lue’s squad won’t be taking Atlanta lightly when they roll into Philips Arena looking to extend their run to double-figures.
Key: Heavy is the Head
LeBron James likes to say that, over the course of his 15-year NBA career, he’s seen everything. But even he had a new experience a decade-and-a-half in, getting booted by referee Kane Fitzgerald after a brief, but animated complaint after a non-call. The fact that James had made just a single trip to the stripe after 16 shot attempts probably contributed to his frustration.
Regardless, the Wine & Gold were up 23 when he was tossed and cruised to the finish line from there – so it turned out to be a matter of ‘no foul, no harm.’
Even with the fourth quarter off, the four-time MVP finished with 21 points and team-highs of 12 boards and six assists, leading both squads with five steals.
LeBron has been the Cavaliers catalyst over the course of their prolonged streak – doubling-up in each of his last three outings and nine times this month – averaging 30.0 points on 58 percent shooting, including a .425 mark from long-distance, adding 8.9 boards, 8.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1.blocks.
One of those double-doubles was a 26-point, 12-rebound performance in the November 5 loss to the Hawks. But if the King puts up those numbers tonight, he’ll expect to get on the plane to Cleveland with a W.
Since his arrival in Cleveland before the 2014-15 season, the Cavaliers have made a concerted effort to get Kevin Love’s engine going early in the game – and every now and again, he can’t turn it off.
That was the case on Tuesday night at The Q, as Love tallied 22 of his season-high 38 points in the first period – the highest-scoring opening quarter by a Cavalier this season.
On the night, the four-time All-Star went 10-for-16 from the floor, including 4-of-8 from long-range, and 14-of-17 from the stripe to go with nine boards and a pair of steals in just 25 minutes of work.
Over the course of Cleveland’s nine-game run, Love is averaging 20.1 points and 9.4 boards – doubling-up in five of those contests, part of his team-high tying 13 on the season.
Love has had some huge success over the Hawks in the past, notching 10 double-doubles against Atlanta as a member of the Cavs. But he struggled mightily in Cleveland’s loss earlier this season – finishing with just four points and four boards on 1-for-6 shooting, leaving the game at halftime with an illness that eventually sent him to the hospital.
Love will be back in the middle tonight, taking on an improved Dewayne Dedmon, who’s more than doubled his scoring average as a starter with the Hawks this season. The undrafted big man from USC has notched double-figures in 12 of his 20 appearances this season – including a 15-point, 7-rebound performance on November 5 in Cleveland.
Dwyane Wade might be the second unit’s leading man, but Cleveland’s ensemble cast off the bench has been one of the season’s brightest spots.
Wade was stellar again on Tuesday night against his old squad – once again packing the boxscore with 17 points, going 8-of-16 from the floor, adding five boards, four assists and a pair of steals in 27 efficient minutes of work.
The 12-time All-Star has tallied double-figures in six of his last eight games, including each of the last four, and dating back to November 13 – one game after Cleveland’s streak began – Wade’s averaging 14.1 points, shooting 46 percent from the floor and 43 percent from deep, to go with 5.4 boards, 4.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.9 blocks over that stretch.
The Cavaliers second unit was solid again on Tuesday night, combining for 36 points – the group’s 17th game this season of more than 30 – and are averaging 40.3 points per this season, good for 5th-best in the NBA.
Despite the embarrassing loss to Atlanta back on November 5, Cleveland’s second unit posted a season-high 64 points – with Wade (25 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) and Kyle Korver (23 points, five boards) becoming the first Cavs tandem to each score at least 23 points off the bench since February 2, 2002
Key: Dennis the Menace
As the Hawks full enter and embrace the rebuilding phase, they still have a couple holdovers from the 60-win team that led the Eastern Conference just three seasons ago – most notably point guard, Dennis Schroeder.
The German import, now in his fifth season with Atlanta, has improved every year – and that trend has continued into 2017-18, upping his scoring average to 19.7 ppg to lead the Hawks. So far, Schroeder has posted nine 20-point games, notching double-figures in 17 of his 18 appearances, and at 6.8 apg is one of the league’s top 10 assist men.
He was definitely a handful for the Wine & Gold in their November 5 meetings, pacing both squads with 28 points – going 9-for-13 from the floor and 8-of-8 from the stripe.
Jose Calderon, who spent part of the second half of last season with the Hawks, will likely get the start once again for the Cavaliers.
It’s no secret that the 12-year vet isn’t going to put up numbers to match Schroeder. But what Calderon has done is restore order to Cleveland’s starting unit, provide some relief while Iman Shumpert works his way back into the rotation and make life somewhat difficult for the man he’s checking – as he did with Goran Dragic, the Heat’s leading scorer who finished with just seven points, on Tuesday night.