The Cavs and the Hawks are all set to square off for the second time in as many years. Last year it was the conference finals, but this year it will be one round earlier in the Eastern quarterfinals. While there has been some player movement, at the end of the day this series should be similar to what we saw the year before.
The key here is that no one on the Hawks can consistently guard LeBron James. The Hawks only chances last year came when Damarre Carroll was healthy, and when he went down the series got extremely one sided. Carroll is now in Toronto and it leaves the Hawks with a void to fill. Paul Millsap can defend James, he is a stud defender, and the only player in the NBA to average 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals per game. He can handle James, but the problem is he is mainly playing power forward. The Cavs can choose to stick James on the wing, and if Millsap is watching him out on the wings, the Cavs will expose the Hawks size in the paint. Al Horford is a plus defender, but the Cavs can roll out Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, and if they want to add Timofey Mozgov they can even do that. Horford obviously can only defend one man at a time, and it will leave the Hawks exposed unless Millsap is guarding a forward like Frye or Love outside of the paint. Wing defenders Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore are too small to defend James, so there is no question that Love can put the ball on the floor and power either of those two down when they are on him. In stretches, they can throw one of those defenders on power forward, but the size will be too much if they expect to do it in the majority. When they switch Millsap onto Love or Frye, it should be time to eat for James.
If the Hawks want to keep this close it will be by attacking Kyrie Irving early and often. Dennis Schroder and Jeff Teague will have to be constantly attacking. Irving is not a strong defender, and he is hardly an effort defender either. Both of the two should be able to attack Irving, and may be forcing the Cavs to play more of Matthew Dellavadova. The Cavs can also throw Irving on shooters like Bazemore or Kyle Korver, but those two are really good at moving without the ball, and in either situation Irving should be doing a lot more running than he typically likes on defense.
The bottom line is while the point guards can score, and while forcing Irving off of the court is their only real chance, it will not be enough. Dellavadova has actually produced a more consistent offense for the Cavaliers than Irving has this year, mainly because Delly does not try to do too much. With the Cavs having major advantages outside of the point position, it should be smooth sailing for them to weather whatever it is the Hawks throw, and the Cavs should be heading to back to back Eastern Conference Finals.
Cavaliers in 5