Jekyll and Hyde does not begin to describe what has taken place when the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers have faced off this season. In the first meeting between the two teams, the Cavaliers ran the Hawks out of the building with hot shooting early, and that resulted in a 127-94 blowout for the home team. However, the second meeting was the complete inverse, with Atlanta racing to a giant lead and never looking back on the way to a 127-98 victory of their own.
Now? The scene shifts to Atlanta.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers invade Philips Arena for the first time on Tuesday night, and the atmosphere should be electric in front of what should be a sellout crowd. Cleveland enters as a wounded team, as they have lost two out of three games (including an embarrassing 21-point home defeat to Detroit) and the media has taken liberties in pegging the Cavs as a team with infighting and ugliness with regard to their head coach in David Blatt.
However, Cleveland is still a very talented bunch, led by the duo of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, and there are match-up concerns for Atlanta. DeMarre Carroll should get the first (and main) responsibility of dealing with LeBron here, but with the Cavs going with a small lineup that features Love at center, that could shift the way that Mike Budenholzer elects to defend Cleveland's high-powered offense.
The other side of the ball should be less problematic, as the Cavaliers rank in the bottom ten of the NBA in defensive rating, allowing more than 105 points per 100 possessions. Still, the Hawks have struggled mightily on offense in the last two games (even in victory on Saturday), and it will be interesting to see if Budenholzer and his crew have any tweaks after two days off. From an individual perspective, the winner of the Jeff Teague-Kyrie Irving battle could give their team the upper hand, but Teague often plays up to his competition, which should be encouraging to Hawks fans on Tuesday.
Atmosphere is a tricky thing in Atlanta, and it should be noted that the Georgia Bulldogs are in bowl action on Tuesday evening as well, but regardless, this should be a fun night at Philips Arena. The Hawks enter as "favorites" in this game, which is something that takes some getting used to, but there is no reason that Atlanta can't emerge victorious if the offense clicks from the downbeat of the night. Stay tuned.
Game Date/Time: Tuesday, December 30, 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: 92.9 The Game