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Hawks at Cavs preview: Atlanta starts a home-and-home in Cleveland

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After a huge win against Boston last night, the Hawks head north to play the Cavaliers

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: The Hawks have pulled the plug on several players with injury concerns on Friday, including Dennis Schröder and Kent Bazemore. Tim Hardaway Jr. will play despite a “doubtful” distinction.

Thursday night’s victory was a huge win for the Atlanta Hawks. Clinching the season series over the Boston Celtics isn’t terribly meaningful, but it brought Atlanta a step closer to finalizing that elusive playoff berth. It was also a rare win (at least in recent weeks) against a quality opponent, and the Hawks need all the momentum they can get going into this weekend series.

On Friday, the Hawks play the Cavaliers in Cleveland. This is a difficult task under any circumstances, but the team’s recent slide makes it even more daunting. Paul Millsap will also miss this game as he continues to recover from a knee injury, and we’ve all seen Atlanta struggle without him.

However, last night’s win still brings reason for optimism. FiveThirtyEight’s latest projection gives Atlanta a 93% chance of making the playoffs. Perhaps even more importantly, it also gives Cleveland a 95% chance of the top seed in the East. While I doubt that the Cavaliers are going to rest starters tonight, they may feel more inclined to do so on Sunday in Atlanta if their position is even more secure by then. This is all speculation of course, but the logic behind it is pretty straightforward.

If Cleveland plays at full strength tonight and Sunday, though, the Hawks will be in for a difficult ride. The Cavaliers’ recent evisceration of the Celtics showed the familiar story of LeBron James and his entire team turning up the intensity for the playoffs, and Hawks fans are undoubtedly tired of seeing “playoff LeBron” in April and May. Again, it’s possible that the team may elect to rest players on Sunday, but that cannot be counted on right now.

Even with two difficult games coming up though, the Hawks are in a decent position. They’re two games head of Miami (who sits in ninth place), and may still be able to hold on to a playoff spot with two losses this weekend. Getting at least one win would be fantastic though, especially in terms of holding on to a spot in the 5/6/7 range to avoid a first-round matchup with Cleveland. Milwaukee is only a half game out of Atlanta’s fifth place right now, and is eagerly waiting for the Hawks to slip up.

In any case, this weekend will be a nice chance to see Kyle Korver again, even if his primary goal in this two-game set is to rain three-pointers down on the Hawks’ heads.

Game Info

Location: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH

Game Date/Time: Friday, April 7, 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA TV

Radio: 92.9 “The Game” FM