Last week, the Hawks were 3-0 to stretch their new win streak to five and had excellent wins resting starters against Miami and coming from behind to beat Houston, but all anyone seems to talk about is the upcoming matchup with the Cavs! So I thought I'd mix it up this week and use the Stat Geek Five to look at four ways to beat the Cavs, plus one stat celebrating Nique Week.
Love LeBron off the boards.
Yes, Kevin Love is a monster rebounder and the Hawks will have to deal with that, but LeBron is also an excellent rebounder, averaging more than seven per game in his career, which is good enough to put him in the top 150 all-time (and climbing, of course). He has cracked the double-digit plateau seven times this year - and the Cavs have won all but one of those. In the rout Atlanta had in December, James was limited to just three rebounds in his 29 minutes. In his last 10 games, he has averaged 7.2 per game, which is a big step up from the 5.4 he averaged before this run. The Hawks will have their hands full keeping a rejuvenated King away from the glass and will definitely have to...
2. Keep Kyrie off the line.
Irving has been very consistent from the charity stripe, knocking down 84 percent - that is, until February 20th. After that, he has been INSANELY HOT (if this were the internet in 1996, I would have a spinning fire GIF here). In fact, in the six games he's played in that span, he hasn't missed a single one! That might be easily dismissed if he weren't getting to the stripe often, but in that span he's shot and made 37 free throws. He averaged 4.6 attempts before this recent barrage (and 6.2 during it), so if Atlanta can keep his attempts to four or less, that could be a key to a win. Of course, if he has to shoot...
3. Make Kyrie beat you from distance.
This may seem crazy since Irving is percentage-wise the best three-point shooter the Cavs have, but even though his free throws are heating up, his threes are icing over. In those last six games, he has taken exactly 28 threes but only made eight - that's not even 30 percent. The Hawks will have to be willing to let him launch a few if it means keeping the driving lanes closed (which often also leads to free throws). Hopefully Atlanta can hold strong with the starters and then...
4. Take advantage of the bench!
The Hawks bench has been solid this year and has given Atlanta a chance to stay close or take a lead in several games where the starters were struggling (the Dallas game really comes to mind, where every Hawk off the bench who played more than 10 minutes was on the positive side of their +/-). The first three shooters off the bench (Dennis Schröder, Mike Scott, Kent Bazemore) are shooting a collective 43.7 percent this season, compared to Cleveland's first three shooters off the bench (Iman Shumpert, Matt Dellevedova, James Jones) who are only shooting a combined 37.2 percent. If Atlanta can keep the starters under control, the bench may be the key to taking control of the game.
5. BONUS NIQUE WEEK STAT!
Dominique Wilkins played 43 games against the Cleveland Cavaliers during his tenure as an Atlanta Hawk, and in those games he averaged 26.2 points on 47 percent shooting. It's that kind of production that made him 14th all time in scoring and the Atlanta legend he is today. Congratulations on the statue here in Atlanta! All of this leaves me with one major question:
Thinking about suiting up for the game, Nique?
Korver watch: .492 FG% ▼ / .496 3FG% ▼ / .907 FT% ▲
If you hear or come up with your own cool stat about the Hawks, tweet to @peachtreehoops or directly at me at @themarkphelps or leave a comment. I used basketball-reference.com's search engine for some of these stats.