The Cleveland Cavaliers’ season is officially on the brink.
They’re in a must-win scenario Friday when they play host to the Atlanta Hawks after succumbing to the Brooklyn Nets, 115-108, on Tuesday. The loser will be eliminated from postseason action while the winner advances to take on Eastern Conference No. 1 seed Miami.
DraftKings and Caesars sportsbooks have the Cavaliers as 3-point underdogs against the Hawks, while FanDuel has them as 2.5-point underdogs. DraftKings and FanDuel list the over/under at 223.5 while Caesars has it at 225.
Atlanta (43-39) won three of four regular season meetings with Cleveland (44-38). The last time out, the Hawks posted a 131-107 victory on March 31 in Atlanta. The Cavaliers won 101-95 at home when the two teams met the first time on Oct. 23.
Garland vs. Young matchup
This meeting is a matchup of similar teams, both led by dynamic young playmakers. For the Cavaliers, Darius Garland serves as the catalyst, while Trae Young fills that role for the Hawks. Garland averaged 24 points and 8 assists in the two games he played against Atlanta. Meanwhile, Young has been a handful for the Cavaliers to handle this season. He averaged 32.5 points – shooting 41.2% from 3-point range – and 9 assists against Cleveland.
🗣 Be early!
🗣 𝗕𝗘 𝗟𝗢𝗨𝗗!
We need that Junkyard Dog energy ALL. GAME. LONG. on Friday 🐶#LetEmKnow
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) April 14, 2022
As much as each team relies on a prolific scoring guard to get things going offensively, it’s the defensive play for both teams that makes them competitive most nights. Cleveland is outscoring its opponents 107.8-105.7, while Atlanta outscores its opposition 113.9-112.4.
Playing above the rim
Cleveland’s frontcourt players Kevin Love (13.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Evan Mobley (15.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg) will be key against a Hawks frontcourt that includes Clint Capela (11.1 ppg, 11.9 rpg) and De’Andre Hunter (13.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg).
Despite the setback against the Nets, expect the Cavaliers to be ready to go Friday night, as they’re a team that has not quit all season. That showed even against the Nets, after they fell behind by 20 points by the end of the first quarter but steadily fought back, getting within within five points of the Nets late in the game.
Garland delivered a memorable performance in his first postseason game, dropping a team-high 34 points against the Nets. However, Brooklyn’s dynamic duo of Kyrie Irving (34 points, 12 assists) and Kevin Durant (25 points, 11 assists) proved to be too much for the Cavaliers to deal with.
Mobley finished with 19 points and Love added 14 points and 13 boards. They played without center Jarrett Allen, who has been sidelined with a fractured finger.
The Hawks enter the win-or-go-home matchup coming off a 132-103 rout of Charlotte Wednesday. Young pumped in a team-high 24 points, leading six Hawks who scored in double figures.