On December 30, the Cleveland Cavaliers came to Philips Arena to square off against the Atlanta Hawks in what was a highly anticipated match-up. Then, LeBron James decided to begin his two-week "vacation" approximately an hour before tip-off, and some of the luster eroded from the event.
This time? It appears that LeBron is playing, and all eyes are on Atlanta for Friday night's tilt on the hardwood.
The Hawks welcome the Cavaliers for a game between the two hottest teams in the East, and the home team has an opportunity to claim the season series against the team that most consider its biggest challenger. Cleveland won the first match-up between these two clubs by 33 points, but since then, the Hawks have outscored by 37 points over two games, and there is no "fear factor" for Mike Budenholzer's team.
With that on the table, this is a different Cavs team, as LeBron is back in full force, and Cleveland has posted a 20-5 record (20-2 when Kyrie Irving plays) since he emerged from his mid-season absence. For further reference, David Blatt's club has the best net rating in the NBA (+10.3 points per 100 possessions) over the past 15 games, and virtually every pundit on earth believes that Cleveland is (somehow) the "favorite" to reach the NBA Finals.
Quite obviously, fans of the Atlanta Hawks take issue with that statement, and with good reason. The Hawks continue to hold a double-digit lead in the Eastern Conference standings by nature of their 48-12 record, and if the team went by a different name (i.e. the Chicago Bulls or, yes, these Cleveland Cavaliers), the national media would almost certainly be crowning the top seed as the unquestioned front-runner.
Friday's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers will almost certainly become a spectacle, and that is what happens when LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love come to town. However, any sweeping judgments about season-long aspirations must be couched with the fact that this is simply a 48-minute game.
Who am I kidding? A lot of people will overreact to this one, whether positive or negative, but we can all enjoy it. The eyes of the NBA universe are on Philips Arena, and this should be fun.
Game Date/Time: Friday, March 6, 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM