The Atlanta Hawks may be the 1-seed in the East, but the NBA odds at press time have them as slim 1-point home faves for Wednesday's opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Jason’s record as of May 18: 76-78-5 ATS, 14-19 Totals, plus-0.15 units ML, 6-2 Series (plus-4.0 units)
No respect, I tells ya. The Atlanta Hawks are the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, winning 60 games during the regular season and putting together the most profitable record in the league at 50-30-2 ATS. It's been five years since anyone in the East racked up 50 ATS wins. But this Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT), the Hawks are laying just one point at home to the No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers. And our early consensus reports show 57 percent of bettors putting Cleveland in their NBA picks.
Is this yet another case of the Hawks getting overlooked? Or is the betting public correct to run into the arms of LeBron James and the Cavaliers? If you've read our Eastern Conference Finals preview, you probably know what our answer is going to be. We've got the Hawks at +180 to win the series. We're almost certainly going to ride them in Game 1. But let's take a closer look and see if the ground has shifted at all.
Try a Little Tendinitis
First and foremost, it looks even more likely that Kyrie Irving (21.5 PER) will play Wednesday night. Irving put in another full practice on Tuesday, although he took it relatively easy, and the three-time All-Star has confirmed he's good to go for Game 1. How effective Irving will be with tendinitis in his left knee – and a sore right foot – remains to be seen.
There doesn't appear to be much concern over James (25.9 PER) and his sore back, either. And we haven't heard anything in a while about Iman Shumpert (11.1 PER, plus-1.3 DBPM) and his strained left groin. If we give all three of these players the benefit of the doubt, Cleveland's improved perimeter defense might have enough jam to slow down the Hawks. The Cavaliers lead all playoff teams at 30.5 percent on opponent's trey attempts.
Then again, the Cavaliers have yet to play Atlanta. The Hawks have their own All-Stars in the backcourt, with Jeff Teague (20.6 PER) providing the dribble penetration and Kyle Korver (49.2 3P%) bombing away from outside. Don't forget about DeMarre Carroll (39.5 3P%) on the wing, either. The Washington Wizards were able to get up in Atlanta's grill and contain Teague early in their Eastern semifinal, but Teague found his way through and led the Hawks to three straight wins to close out the series. Cleveland's perimeter defense isn't nearly as good as Washington's.
Things get a little more interesting in the paint. Timofey Mozgov (18.7 PER, plus-0.8 DBPM) has made a big difference for the Cavs since arriving in early January, and Tristan Thompson (15.6 PER) has been a steady source of blocks and rebounds. But without Kevin Love (18.8 PER) and Anderson Varejao (17.7 PER), there's very little frontcourt depth to go around in Cleveland.
This is where things go awry for the Cavs. As ESPN stat guru Bradford Doolittle has pointed out, Cleveland allowed the Hawks to hit 59.7 percent of their 2-point attempts, more than any other team during the regular season. That's what All-Stars Al Horford (21.4 PER) and Paul Millsap (20.0 PER) can do for you. Atlanta went 3-1 SU and ATS in their four games; when they met in March, with both teams at close to full strength, the Hawks won 106-97 as 1.5-point home dogs on the NBA odds.
That was with Love in the lineup. And while the Hawks have been missing the defense of Thabo Sefolosha (plus-2.5 DBPM), he wasn't available for Atlanta that day. Given the results from the regular season, plus Cleveland's injuries and the arrival of so many casual bettors into the marketplace, we see no reason to change horses at this point.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Hawks