It feels like forever ago, but the year LeBron James came back to Cleveland, the Cavaliers entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the East. The Mike Budenholzer-led Atlanta Hawks sat atop the conference, winning a franchise-best 60 games, looking like a southeastern version of the San Antonio Spurs. They shared the ball. They executed off of screens. They were versatile. They rattled off a 19-game winning streak. They had four members on the All-Star team.
They lost to the Cavaliers in four games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
To be blunt: Since his return, James has obliterated the Hawks. The Cavs have a boat load of three-point-related records—regular season marks, postseason marks—that have the Hawks on the other side of that coin. On Tuesday night, the Cavs sank 20 three-pointers. Their high-water mark for this season was 18, set against the Hawks earlier this year. Their high-water mark as a franchise is 25, again done against the Atlanta Hawks. According to Elias, James has at least 20 points and 10 assists in his last four games versus Atlanta, tying his longest such streak versus any team.
Need a little more perspective? James’s current stretch of 20-point, 10-assist games against the Hawks is tied for the longest by any player since the Hawks franchise relocated to Atlanta for the 1968–69 season.1 James is also the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1968 to tally at least 25 points and 17 assists in a game with a field goal percentage of 84 percent or better. And while Robertson was great, it’s tough to envision a scenario where he delivered a crisp, behind-the-back bounce pass for a three-pointer in transition at any stretch of his game.
Just your run-of-the-mill behind-the-back bounce pass right to the shooting pocket of a teammate. pic.twitter.com/IZtKF3Yspj
— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) December 13, 2017
The Cavs—specifically Ty Lue and LeBron James—were very modest when it came to how they picked the Hawks apart this most recent contest. Lue said the three-point barrage was merely a function of how the Hawks were defending them. James said his ridiculous assist total was simply a function of his teammates making shots.
A lot is made about what the Cavs have done to teams like Toronto and Washington (twice), but if the rest of the East is arguing over who has had it worse, it’s tough to not give Atlanta a long, hard look. They were on top of the world just 2.5 years ago. Atlanta was booming. Sir Foster was getting featured for his work on the organ. Gear was being printed that said “True Atlanta” and “This is Atlanta.” Then LeBron James came along and pulled the rug out from under the feet of an entire franchise.
This Hawks team is much, much different from that one. Al Horford and Paul Millsap left in free agency. Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague were traded. They’re now in the hands of players like Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore, focusing on the growth of players like John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon. Unfortunately for them, however, James and company cares little for who is wearing the uniforms. James had 25. Korver had 19. Kevin Love and Jeff Green each added 17. Even Jose Calderon got in on the fun, dropping 14. While I’m not sure what it is, when ATL rolls into CLE, odds are you’re going to see one hell of a show.
As Mike Budenholzer said best, “They were good tonight.”
This Week in #ActualSportswriting:
- “How Joel Embiid is Trolling the NBA” by Ramona Shelburne (ESPN The Magazine)
- “José Altuve Defied Odds to Bring Houston Hope… and a Title” by Tom Verducci (Sports Illustrated)
- “Downward Spiral: A fan’s notes on the decline of the NFL” by David Roth (The Baffler)2
- “How a midlevel school became The University of Adidas at Louisville” by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada (ESPN The Magazine)
This Week in #ActualNonsportwriting:
- “When Grunge Was Fake News” by Alan Siegel (The Ringer)
- “This Moment Isn’t About Sex; It’s About Work” by Rebecca Treister (The Cut)
- “Amazon Wants the Key to Your House. I did it. I regretted it.” by Geoffrey Fowler (Washington Post)
This Week in Bleacher Report:
This Week in Picks:
With first-round byes in both fantasy football leagues, the only thing I had to focus on were how the Browns would fair against the Packers (Spoiler: Not very well), and how these picks would shake out. It was going to be nearly impossible to do better than a 13-3 week, but the trick is to not give it all back with a 3-13 follow-up. This week ended up being 9-7 overall with Seattle being the only loss in the three posted here. Given that they almost pulled it out, I still feel good about that selection, but man—Jacksonville may be for real, you guys.
This week brings us a handful of one-point spreads and a smattering of those in the teens. As injuries pile up, Vegas will start to operate at the extremes. It’s up to us to figure out which ones are the overreactions.
New England (-3) at PITTSBURGH
Green Bay (+6) at CAROLINA3
DETROIT (-5.5) over Chicago
YTD ATS: 26-16 (61.9)
Last Week: 2-1
- Jerry West, Nate Archibald, and Kevin Johnson have also done this. [↩]
- “We are talking about the NFL, which is to say that we are talking about a league that increasingly sees itself as presenting not only the most popular American sport—which football demonstrably is, at least going by television ratings and profits—but the most American American sport.“ [↩]
- Assuming Rogers returns. Rams (+1) gets the nod here if he does not. [↩]