The Cavaliers have had a rough time following a former Cav’s departure to South Beach. Since the 2009-10 season, the Cavaliers are 47-131, barely winning a quarter of their games.
They have had 4 lottery picks since 2011, two by way of the sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat, and those picks have brought Tyler Zeller, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving to North Ohio. Three are still finding their way while one has emerged as a budding NBA star.
Prior to losing the game the final day in November, the Hawks had a 7 game winning streak against Cleveland, dating back to Lebron James’s last regular season game in a Cavalier jersey.
It has basically been a two man show this year for the Cavaliers, with both Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao sporting PERs greater than 20 but no other Cav even above 14. Irving has pretty much replicated his outstanding rookie year, despite missing 11 games with injury. His only knock remaining since coming into the league seems to be his defense, but he remains an adept shooter, tricky dribbler and shown great leadership in the extremely tough position of trying to close a gap left by the best player in the NBA.
Like Irving, injuries have slowed Varejao down in recent years. This year, however, has seen him play in 25 of 30 games, rebounding a ridiculous 14.4 rebounds per game in 36 minutes a game. He leads the league in rebounds per game, rebound rate, offensive rebounds and is in the top 5 in virtually all other rebounding metrics. Anderson has found himself in many trade rumors due to have a team friendly 3 year salary remaining and a Cavalier team still trying to rebuild.
Fitting players around Kyrie and Anderson has been a massive struggle. Last year alone 21 players saw time for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Thompson, Zeller and Waiters have shown flashes but none have consistently played like a third option. Others like Alonzo Gee, Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, and CJ Miles are mainly contributors in only one major area, defense for Gee and three point shooting for the latter two. Former Hawk point guard Donald Sloan was just waived earlier today for Shaun Livingston, who the Hawks last saw with the Wizards earlier this season, but it is unknown if he will play.
Atlanta had no answer for Anderson Varejao in an earlier meeting this season, as he exploded for 20 points on 12 shots and 18 rebounds. In total, it was a complete thrashing on the boards, as the Cavaliers almost doubled the Hawks 49-28 in that area. Oddly enough, that loss was the only defeat in a ten game stretch spanning November and December that has propelled the Hawks to their spot at 3rd in the Eastern Conference.
Keeping the Cavaliers off the boards will be key, and the task just got a whole lot easier with the news that Varejao will not play due to injury. A front court of Samardo Samuels and Tristan Thompson should be a mismatch for the Hawks star duo of Smith and Horford. The Cavaliers give up the third most free throws per defensive field goal attempts so taking it straight to the young post players should be a winning strategy.
In addition, Jeff Teague has to stay in front of Kyrie Irving and fight through screens, as Irving can both step back and knock down long range shots at a high rate but also explode to the rim. Devin Harris will not suit up, which means Lou is also on the hook for slowing down Uncle Drew. Without Varejao, this Cavalier team is extremely undermanned. Irving will most likely get his despite the attention paid on him, but the Hawks should leave tonight with an easy win.