For the first time in the 2015 NBA playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers will begin a series on the road as they visit the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night. LeBron James and Co. will take on the No.1 seed in the East in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Cleveland is favored by both oddsmakers and experts to win the series, but Atlanta has been given the edge in the opener. The Cavaliers are the underdogs in Game 1, getting one point at multiple sportsbooks in Las Vegas.
The Hawks will look to slow down James, who has been asked to carry a heavy load this postseason. With Kevin Love out for the year and Kyrie Irving battling injuries, James averaged 25.5 field-goal attempts per game in Cleveland’s second-round series against the Chicago Bulls. In the regular season, the four-time MVP only put up 18.5 shots per game.
James continued to fill up the stat sheet, but he struggled from the field, being guarded by Butler. After going up against the shooting guard that was named to the 2014-2015 NBA All-Defense Second Team, James will look to score on DeMarre Carroll.
"They're similar in their own ways," James told reporters after practice Monday. "The best thing about it is they have some very active bigs behind them. It gives them the ability to push up on me and trust that those bigs behind them are going to protect them.
"I relish the challenge, I love the challenge in both of them."
Head coach Mike Budenholzer trusts in Carroll’s ability to be a force on the defensive end. The coach helped make Atlanta one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, and he was named this season’s Coach of the Year.
"DeMarre all year has taken the challenge of guarding the opponent’s best wing, best perimeter player, Budenholzer said after Tuesday's practice.
"He has a high, high belief in his ability to guard and I think he knows his teammates are there to help him. He just loves the challenge, he's a great competitor and that's why he's been so important to us."
Carroll is better known for his defense, but it was his offense, as well, that helped propel the Hawks past the Washington Wizards in the last round. Carroll was the team’s fourth-leading scorer in the regular season, but no Atlanta player has put up more points in the playoffs. He scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Game 6 clincher in Washington.
The Hawks defeated the Cavaliers in three of their four regular-season meetings, including both games in Atlanta. The two teams last met on March 6, and the Hawks held James to 18 points on five-of-13 shooting. Kyrie Irving led the way for Cleveland with 20 points, and Al Horford’s 19 points led Atlanta.
Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: TNT
Online Stream: TNT Overtime
Point Spread: Hawks by 1 point
Over/Under: 198.5 points
Prediction: Atlanta over Cleveland, 95-90