Cleveland (41-18) at Atlanta (34-26)
When: Friday, March 3rd 2017
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA
Time: 7:05 ET | TV: ESPN
The Cleveland Cavaliers look to rebound from a tough loss on Wednesday when they visit the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night at Philips Arena. Cleveland went into the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference – the Boston Celtics – and fell short in a 103-99 defeat. Veteran point guard Deron Williams made his Cleveland debut on Wednesday and ended up playing all but a few seconds of the fourth quarter and 24 minutes total, but his potential go-ahead 3-pointer in the final seconds just missed. Cleveland is about to get even more veteran experience from center Andrew Bogut, who is expected to sign with the team and join Williams to create a very deep bench. The Cavaliers are still waiting on the returns of starters J.R. Smith (thumb) and Kevin Love (knee) but are beginning to feel confident as the playoffs near. LeBron James recorded his second triple-double in his last three games with 28 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists against Boston on Wednesday. The Cavs still hold a three game lead over the Celtics for top spot in the East. Cleveland will play five of their next six games on the road including a home-and-home with Miami beginning Saturday.
The Hawks broke a three-game losing streak on Monday by dominating the Celtics in Boston 114-98 and followed that up with a 100-95 home win against Dallas on Wednesday to start a six-game homestand. Those home games won’t get any easier beginning with Cleveland tonight and continuing next week with visits from Golden State and Toronto. The Hawks are 1.5 games behind the Raptors for the No. 4 seed in the East. Atlanta dealt away sharpshooter Kyle Korver to Cleveland back in January, but are still streaking toward the playoffs as younger players take on bigger roles. Tim Hardaway Jr. has received more playing time with the departure of Korver and knocked down a key 3-pointer late in Wednesday’s 100-95 win to finish with 10 points – his 15th straight game scoring in double figures. The Hawks made their own moves at the trade deadline and brought in veteran power forward Ersan Ilyasova, who went 4-of-4 from 3-point range on Wednesday and finished with 18 points. Center Dwight Howard recorded his third straight double-double on Wednesday while going 5-of-5 from the field.
Cleveland is still trying to find chemistry with their new players while Smith and Love get healthy and they’ve lost two of their last three road games. Atlanta is very streaky and they seem to be on the good side right now. Atlanta won at Cleveland back in November and have enough talent to keep this one close.
Pick: Hawks +3
HEAD TO HEAD
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