The Atlanta Hawks epitomized team play last season, surprising everyone on the way to the Eastern Conference’s best record. The team without a brand name superstar won coach Mike Budenholzer NBA Coach of the Year — and sent more players to the All-Star Game than any other. But by the time the Hawks met the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs, they looked spent. And the notion that an evenly balanced team could beat one with superstars took a hit as hard as a LeBron James screen. James averaged nearly a triple double (30.3 points, 11 boards, 9.3 assists) in sending Atlanta home in a four-game sweep.
This year the Cavs will have homecourt advantage, and a healthier roster too — since Kevin Love missed last year’s Hawks series with a shoulder injury. But the Hawks Al Horford awoke from his recent slumber toward the end of the Celtics series and the Hawks play the best consistent defense in the Eastern Conference. Most oddsmakers have the Hawks as a big underdog, with just a 20% chance to win in some estimations. On top of last year’s sweep, Cleveland was 3-0 against Atlanta this season with a different player (Love, Kyrie Irving, James) leading the scoring in each victory. Still the Hawks have something to prove and a defense to prove it with. (They ranked #1 in the East in defensive efficiency). Game 1, Monday, May 2, 7pm ET on TNT.