The Pick: 103-94
Since losing to these very Hawks 108-89 less than three weeks ago, the Cavaliers have split their eight games, indicating to those who just look at win/loss total that they are improving.
They are beating bad teams and losing to good teams. While that should be good enough to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, it’s not good enough to hang around with the Hawks who have also beaten up on bad teams but have looked better in doing so.
Nearly every statistic is pointing in favor of the road team and in convincing fashion. Atlanta’s offense ranks fourth in FG percentage (47 percent) while Cleveland’s ranks 28th (42.4 percent). Both teams have taken on the identity of their star player as Al Horford is scoring 18.3 points on 56.3 percent shooting and Kyrie Irving is scoring 21.5 points on 41.5 percent shooting. Kyle Korver has the Hawks among the top six teams in the league in both 3PM and 3P percentage, a place on the floor that the Cavs struggle in ranking below average in both categories. In addition to not being able to make the long-ball, the home team hasn’t proven capable of chasing opponents off the three point line, ranking in the bottom third of the league in 3P percentage against (37.2 percent).
I often preach about the importance of assist-to-turnover ratio and a balanced offensive attack, two more statistical areas that suggest a convincing Hawks victory. Atlanta leads the league in both total assists and assist-to-turnover ratio (surprising given their focus on interior scoring) while Cleveland is in the bottom five in both. As far as balance is concerned, the Hawks have five players who average at least 30 minutes and 13 points when playing on the road, making them unlikely to struggle as an entire team. On the other hand, the Cavs only have two such players (at home) and rely heavily on perimeter scoring. Cleveland’s shooters are good enough to catch fire, but the lack of help increases the difficulty of those shots, resulting in inconsistent scoring efforts.
At the bare minimum, the Hawks average 102.4 points on the road and the Cavaliers average 99 points at home which is enough of a difference to cover this small number. I expect the Hawks to approach 100 points (they hold an eight-point advantage on average when they reach triple digits) and the Cavaliers not to (they hold a 13-point disadvantage on average when they fail to reach triple digits), thus resulting in my 11-point prediction.
Fun Fact: The Cavaliers have one starter (Irving) who averages better than one assist per turnover; the Hawks have five.