Welcome to our first ever NBA Playoff Blogger Faceoff, where we pit our favorite team-related writers against each other to let them tell why the teams they represent will win their first round matchups. We gave them no set format, no style guide – we just told them to do their thing. Check it out and join in the debate in the comments section.
Next up: 1. Cleveland vs. 4. Atlanta
WHY THE CAVS WILL WIN
Written by the crew from ClevelandFrowns
It seems like decades since the Cavaliers last played an NBA basketball game, having finished off the Pistons a full nine days ago in Detroit. Rest is nice, but rhythm is important too, and the layoff has to be at least somewhat disruptive to the very good thing the Cavaliers have had going here in 2008-09. Wally Sczerbiak admits that the team has gone “stir crazy” waiting for the Hawks, and is himself tired of “going up against [LeBron] in practice trying to keep him sharp.”
The idea that going up against Wally in practice might keep LeBron sharp is exactly what we as Cavs fans are concerned with here. Nine days of everyone telling you how good you are (capped by an MVP award for your best player) can’t do much for the playoff edge either. (We can’t help but think of Heisman winner Troy Smith‘s Gator-bitten football Buckeyes of a few years ago here.) According to this Plain Dealer report, “on average, the team with fewer days rest early in the playoffs has performed better in the postseason.”
It would be especially tragic if the rhythm of the 2008-09 Cavaliers’ was disrupted by a decision made to maximize TV revenue at the potential expense of quality competition. If the LeBrons are knocked out here, Commissioner Stern will surely realize that he can’t have his cake and eat it too, and will re-evaluate the way the playoffs are scheduled. Of course, it would be a familiar lot for the Cleveland fan if the Cavs turned out to be the sacrificial guinea pigs here.
But still not likely. Yes, the Hawks are a nice young team. They have bigs in Smith, Horford, and Pachulia that could expose the Cavs’ lack of frontcourt muscle, and Joe Johnson always has the potential to explode, but based on what we’ve seen from the Hawks this season, they don’t have the maturity to play consistently well enough to overcome LeBron and these Cavs. Delonte West is an underrated defender that should keep Johnson off his game, and the Hawks don’t have anyone who can even pretend to stop ‘Bron.
All season, these Cavs have beaten the teams that they’re “supposed to beat.” Of course, a team stops being a team you’re “supposed to beat” once they start beating you. But the Curse of Chief Wahoo tends to play out in ways most painful to the Cleveland fan, and as we know, the NBA Playoffs are a loooooong road. We’ll take the points with the Hawks in Game 1 as the Cavs shake off some of that rust, but we suppose the Native ghosts will take their sweet time and let Cleveland fans’ justified anticipation build for at least one more series before taking their brutal cut. Cavs in 4. 5 at the most.
WHY THE HAWKS WILL WIN
Written by Dime’s Hawks expert Andrew Katz
We learned this lesson last year: the Hawks are a different team when April rolls around. The petty strife in their locker room, which makes headlines during the offseason, vanishes into thin air once the real season starts. The occasional whining and complaining we see during the regular season turns into toughness. After allowing about 96 points per game during the first 82, Atlanta clamped down on Miami, giving up only 88.1 per in Round One. Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson are both sinking more than 40% of their tries from three during the post-season.
But even if the Hawks are a different team right now, is this new-look squad good enough to compete with the East’s top seed?
Yes. Though they weren’t exactly consistent, the Hawks played great team defense against Dwyane Wade when they needed to. It’s a great model for dealing with LeBron. Here’s what Wade – the League’s leading scorer who put up 30.2 ppg on 49% shooting during the regular season – did in Miami’s four losses to Atlanta:
* 8-21, 19 pts.
* 9-26, 22 pts.
* 9-19, 29 pts.
* 10-25, 31 pts.
Sure, Wade’s point totals look great, but he wasn’t nearly as efficient as he’s been all year, shooting 39% from the field. In Round One, Detroit didn’t care enough to try to apply Boston’s defensive model from last year’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavs. However that is essentially the philosophy that the Hawks used against Wade. Just as D-Wade slowed down, the same could happen to James. And if he’s not converting at his current 50.9% FG rate, who knows what will happen to Cleveland’s offense?