With the Cavaliers up 3-2 in the Eastern semi-conference finals against the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland was able to close Chicago out in Game 6 of Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Cavs have made so many personnel changes going into and during this season that anything short of a Finals appearance would be a failure. With that being said, the Cavs will face the winner of the Atlanta Hawks (1) vs. Washington Wizards (6) series, which the Hawks currently lead 3-2 with Game 6 on Friday night.
Why We Want/ Don’t Want To Play Washington
The Wizards had a rough post-All Star game stretch, dropping from a top three seed in the East down to #6. In the playoffs, they were able to sweep the fourth seeded Toronto Raptors with ease, to the surprise of many. Their recent success on the court makes them an opponent the Cavs would not be too willing to face. This is especially true due to the season ending injury to starting PF Kevin Love, and nagging injuries to PG Kyrie Irving.
Here are the statistical averages for the Cavs against the Wizards this season:
As it is for every opponent the Cavs face, they must modify their offensive and defensive playcalling to take advantages of their opponents’ weaknesses. They shifted focus on Jimmy Butler, so that he would commit fouls and get into foul trouble. Playing against the Wizards, the Cavs would have to focus on John Wall, despite his fractures in his left hand. Especially with Kyrie on the mend, Shumpert would probably see more time guarding Wall. Also, playing the Wiz may work out well for LeBron, who has historically performed well against Paul Pierce, the Boston Celtic who is now a member of the Wizards. The Wizards have relied on Paul Pierce heavily in late-game situations, and he has performed thus far. But it is safe to say that it seems like he has run out of clutch shots in his arsenal, especially if Lebron is guarding him.
With the way that Tristan Thompson has been playing, along with Kendrick Perkins and Timofey Mozgov, it is safe to say that the Wizards front-court will not be a problem. Nene and Marcin Gortat are both getting old, and their only great backup is Kris Humphries (who isn’t that great). The Wiz may stick Otto Porter Jr. on LeBron, but if James can get him frustrated and into foul trouble, it will be smooth sailing for the Cavs. Despite this, the Wizards surprised the NBA world twice- against the Raptors and so far against the Hawks. Its safe to say they are capable as any other team.
Here’s the shooting chart for the Cavs against the Wizards this season:
Prediction If Cavs Play The Wizards: Cavs in 7
Why We Want/ Don’t Want To Play Atlanta
The Atlanta Hawks also had an average second-half of the season, such that the Cavs almost caught up to their one seed. Despite this, the Hawks roster bosts a group in which four of the five starters made the All-Star game, and the fifth starter being DeMarre Carroll- an elite defender capable of shutting down LeBron. With that being said, it is hard to gauge LeBron in the playoffs, as it seems like there is a fire within him that really no one can shut down.
Here are the statistical averages for the Cavs against the Hawks this season:
The Hawks had trouble with the Nets, and now with the Wizards, as both series have been close. This is surprising, coming from a #1 seeded team playing against the #8 and #6 seeds. Playing in the east allowed the Hawks an easy path to the #1 seed, especially with the Cavs working out the kinks early-on in the season. Despite this, it seems like the Hawks recent play doesn’t make them worthy of the 1st seed.
Also, the Hawks often find themselves losing badly due to their inability to play team ball, and their lack of a scoring threat. Yes, all five starters are capable of scoring, but they lack a star player. Jeff Teague is the closest thing they have to one, and it will be Kyrie and Shumpert’s job to shut him down. Another thing going against the Hawks is the recent play of Kyle Korver. If these playoffs are any indication, its looking more and more like Korver is merely a 3 and D player, and when you take away the three-point shot from him, as the Wizards have, he struggles to score.
Here’s the shooting chart for the Cavs against the Hawks this season:
Despite everything going against the Hawks, they have recent proof that they are better than the Cavs. They put down the Cavs three times in the regular season, by fairly large margins. Many will argue that the Cavs are a much different team than before, which is true. J.R. Smith has showed up strong in recent games, despite his two-game suspension, and has always had a knack for being clutch. He will probably be the X factor in helping the Cavs reach the finals, especially with Kevin Love out.
Prediction If Cavs Play The Hawks: Cavs in 6
Every time it seems as if someone will knock down the Cavs, LeBron or Kyrie or J.R. has an answer. Which makes it less significant as to which team the Cavs play. Ultimately, if the Hawks can knock off the Wizards, it will be an easier path to the Finals for the Cavs. The Wizards, led by Paul Pierce, are hungry to make the Finals, especially since Pierce is edging close to retirement. They seem to have more drive than the Hawks, and Al Horford’s game winner in Game 5 was mostly luck. They will have no such luck against the Cavs, which makes them the preferred opponent for the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals.