Last year, the Atlanta Hawks rolled over the entire Eastern Conference in the regular season en route to winning 60 games. But their campaign ended in disappointment when they got matched up with a wounded but fighting Cleveland Cavaliers squad who swept them in the conference finals.

What used to be a team known for their offense, has taken on a new identity as a developing defensive dynamo. This sort of evolution has given the Hawks a new source of confidence entering their rematch with Cleveland.

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In an ESPN article by Ohm Youngmisuk, Kyle Korver, who suffered a high ankle injury that cost him to miss the rest of their series, chimed in on how they are better prepared now defensively against the Cavaliers.

I think we are a better team than last year. I really do. I think the identity is more on the defensive end than offensive end this year. I think we know that we are going to have to play really well to beat them.

The Hawks’ main headache was none other than LeBron James who dished out a performance for the ages in last year’s East finals, averaging 30.3 points, 11 rebounds, and 9.3 assists. This time around, Kent Bazemore will be the primary man to hold the unenviable task of having to guard the four-time Most Valuable Player. While he has risen to become arguably the Hawks’ best wing defender, he also recognizes the help they have down low.

We added new length this year, added a little bit more size with Kris Humphries. Every player has gotten a lot better. Paul and Al are blocking shots at an alarming rate. That rim protection definitely helps. We trust each other defensively.

Interestingly enough, the Hawks have this amount of confidence in their current defense despite losing their best stopper from last year in Demarre Carroll.

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However, it’s going to take more than great defensive effort to beat the Cavs four times. As good as they are on that end and no matter what their regular season series against Cleveland says, the reigning Eastern Conference champions, led by their superstar, are now in a different zone.

But no one’s sleeping on the Atlanta Hawks, and Cleveland knows that for a fact.