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Hawks Get Another Playoff Shot at King James and Cavaliers

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

nytimes.com | April 30, 2016

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks were a work in progress much of the season, a team that went from relying on a dazzling, spread-the-ball offense to a grittier, defensive-minded bunch.

They're hoping that will serve them well heading into an NBA playoff rematch with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Feeling confident after an opening-round win over Boston but a big underdog against the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks returned to practice Saturday to begin preparations for the best-of-seven series.

Game 1 is Monday night in Cleveland.

"Defense has been our staple throughout the season," said Atlanta's Kent Bazemore, who figures to have the unenviable task of guarding James much of the time. "When you aren't making shots, you have to continue to get stops and weather the storm."

A year ago, the Hawks set a franchise record with 60 wins and claimed the No. 1 seed in the East. For much of the season, they were unstoppable at the offensive end, spreading the wealth among all five starters (four of whom made the All-Star Game), working the ball inside and out for the open shot, making defenses look as though were playing a man short.

By the playoffs, though, Atlanta was no longer a dominant team. The first two rounds were a struggle, and it really wasn't that much of a surprise when Cleveland took out the Hawks with a dominating sweep in the conference final.

This season, the offense never really got going. Much of that was due to the struggles of 3-point specialist Kyle Korver, who fought to regain his shooting touch after two offseason surgeries. Atlanta slipped to 48 wins and the fourth seed in the East, heading into the playoffs viewed more as an afterthought than a serious championship contender.

But a renewed commitment at the defensive end kept the Hawks from slipping even more. The Hawks surrendered the sixth-fewest points in the league (99.2 per game), while ranking 12th in scoring (102.8). The transformation was more gradual than sudden, the team slowly coming around to the idea of stopping teams rather than outshooting them.

"For a while, we were just waiting for last year to happen again, like all of a sudden we're going to get open shots and things are going to be easier for us," Korver said. "There was a good healthy realization that, hey, we've got to evolve. We've all got to evolve in life, right? You can't just keep doing the same thing forever."

In the playoffs, where teams have to slog it out for every basket, the Hawks are counting on their defense to keep things competitive against the multi-talented Cavaliers.

It won't be easy. Cleveland beat the Hawks in all three regular-season meetings.

"We feel like we're playing our best basketball," Korver said. "But this is a huge challenge. We know that."

The 6-foot-5, 201-pound Bazemore will be giving up 3 inches and nearly 50 pounds when matched against James, which means a lot of defensive help will be required on the King. Led by Tristan Thompson, the Cavaliers wiped out the Hawks on the boards in last year's series, and that could be an issue this time around as well. If Atlanta attempts to pack the lane, Cleveland has plenty of players — J.R. Smith and Kevin Love among them — capable of knocking down the long-range shot.

The Hawks, it would seem, are still trying to figure out the best way to handle Cleveland's myriad options.

Paul Millsap suggested that everything starts with stopping James, or at least limiting his offensive chances. Even then, he can still break out as he did in the next-to-last game of the regular season, scoring 34 points in three quarters of work against the Hawks.

"You start from the top," Millsap said. "You go for the head of the snake, which is LeBron, make it tough on him. Get out to the shooters when possible, but just make it tough on him all around. I think we have the ability to do it."

Korver, on the other hand, said the Hawks can't just focus on James.

They learned that lesson the hard way in last year's playoffs.

"He just found every shooter, and they 3-pointed us to death," Korver said. "There are a lot of other things we need to worry about."

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4 hours ago, blkbigdog35 said:

I ruly want to see Hawks win this series!!! 

Me too but I'd also settle for taking out one of Delavendova's knees :ninja:

 

Seriously though the games we win in this series will be because we turned the game into a grind. Play physical, chances are we won't get any calls anyway. Don't need to get into shootouts with these guys.

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9 hours ago, atl falcon 89 said:

Me too but I'd also settle for taking out one of Delavendova's knees :ninja:

 

Seriously though the games we win in this series will be because we turned the game into a grind. Play physical, chances are we won't get any calls anyway. Don't need to get into shootouts with these guys.

Sounds like a great idea give him numerous forearm shivers :D. I agree that the hawks need to play physical and attack the basket. They also have to dominate the boards. They will have to focus on those things because you're right they won't be getting any favorable calls.

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Kent Bazemore not afraid to take on LeBron James

11:30 PM ET
  • Youngmisuk_Ohm_m.jpg&w=80&h=80&scale=cro
    Ohm YoungmisukESPN Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- Not long after the Atlanta Hawks eliminated the Celtics on Thursday night, Kent Bazemore sat in a cramped TD Garden visitors locker room with a sizable crowd of reporters and cameras around him.

“****, [he's] over there like LeBron!” teammate Jeff Teague cracked as the Hawks point guard had the path to his nearby locker stall blocked by the Bazemore media throng.

The next question to Bazemore happened to be about facing James again in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals, starting on Monday.

Teague smiled and chimed in, “Heyyyyy” before intently listening for Bazemore’s answer.

“I’m ready,” Bazemore said of seeing James, who led the Cavs to a four-game sweep of the Hawks last spring. “I’m excited. We got a rematch from last year. They swept us so ... [we] definitely have a chip on our shoulder about that.”

 

When it comes to James, Bazemore seems to have a LeBron-sized chip on his shoulder. Whether it was shoving James off of him in Game 2 last year or posting less-than-flattering tweets about James back in 2010 when Bazemore was at Old Dominion, he clearly shows no trepidation when it comes to one of the game’s all-time physically imposing players.

Bazemore respects James, but he clearly won’t bow down to King James, as evidenced by this tweet from 2012.

“Lebron is equivalent to 7eleven,” Bazemore tweeted to someone else on his @24Bazemore account. “He doesn’t close ... ”

Bazemore, who is a die-hard Under Armour client, also was recently quoted as saying that he hoped to face a less-friendly James due to the Under Armour-Nike sneaker rivalry.

For an undrafted swingman, Bazemore isn’t afraid to poke The King.

“Yeah, whatever helps you wake up in the morning,” Bazemore said on Saturday when asked about not shying away from James. “... You got to amp yourself up and you can’t go in humble, I guess. You got to make yourself angry and do whatever you got to do to accept that challenge, because he is a freight train and brings it and comes with everything he has, so you have to do the same to hang in there.

“I love to compete,” he added. “However it comes out, maybe it’s those tweets from 2010, 2011 that resurface. But it’s for the love of the game. This game has opened a lot of doors and I get to guard and have some photos with one of the best players that ever touched the basketball and can show my kids one day. It is all fun and games.”

Bazemore was respectful of James on Saturday as the Hawks continued preparations for their rematch with the Cavaliers, who host Game 1 on Monday. After all, the Hawks really can’t say anything disparaging about James, who demolished them in the East finals last year.

James averaged 30.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 9.3 assists in those four games. And in two regular-season meetings in April against Atlanta, James torched the Hawks for an average of 31.5 points, 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists in the Cavs' wins. During one of those wins, on April 1, James attempted to take a charge on a soaring Bazemore, who was ready to throw down a thunderous one-handed dunk but took a frightening spill after James slid in front and underneath him.

“No,” Bazemore said when asked if there’s any dislike with James from his end. “I respect him. He has opened the doors for a lot of young African-Americans like myself. He has done a lot for the game. He has taken it globally. He has actually gotten me a couple of followers on Twitter and social media.”

The pleasant-natured Bazemore smiled when asked if he was referring to those tweets from 2010 and 2012.

“Yeah,” Bazemore said. “He has done a lot for the game of basketball and you can’t [underestimate] that, and I respect that. But by the same token, he is an opponent and we are not teammates -- so if he falls, I won’t help him up.”

Bazemore has brought a certain toughness and attitude to the Hawks, who believe they are playing their best defense in the past two years and are a better team than the one Cleveland saw last postseason.

Of course, smothering 5-foot-9 Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas is one thing. Trying to slow down the 6-8, 250-pound James might as well be “Mission Impossible” for Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

“That is what we tried to do in the last series with [James], and he just found every shooter and they 3-pointed us to death,” Atlanta’s Kyle Korver said of trying to send multiple defenders at James as the Hawks did with Thomas to get the ball out of his hands. “... You can’t give [James] angles. You can’t give him easy baskets, momentum plays.

"He’s too big, strong and too good. You can’t shade him one way. You can’t force him one way. You just got to square your shoulders at his shoulders and try to make it tough on him, and even if you do that he probably is still going to get 30 points.”

The 6-5, 201-pound Bazemore gives up quite a bit of size to James, as does almost every other wing defender in the league. And while Bazemore has taken on difficult defensive tasks this season for the Hawks, he knows Atlanta might be best-served by throwing multiple defenders and looks at James.

“It is LeBron James,” Bazemore said. “And I’m Kent Bazemore. It is a huge opportunity [for me] obviously, but I can’t really focus on a mano-a-mano matchup.”

But Korver says Bazemore is “light years” ahead of where he was a year ago, when he was forced to play heavy minutes for the first time in the postseason in Games 3 and 4 against James due to injuries to the Hawks.

When Bazemore first came into the league, he was “raw,” Korver said of the four-year veteran who will be a free agent this summer. “All these arms, talent, energy and passion for the game. But he had to learn a lot.”

 

Bazemore, who averaged 14 points and 7.0 rebounds in the first round, is now a full-time starter for the Hawks and is ready to face James again in the playoffs.

It wasn’t that long ago that Bazemore remembers being part of what was then the largest crowd to ever watch a high school game in North Carolina when James and his St. Vincent-St. Mary’s team visited Greensboro in 2003.

“He is obviously one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” Bazemore said. “Here I am, watching him [while] growing up. I remember watching him when he was in high school in Greensboro against Reyshawn Terry -- a game I will never forget. He was amazing.

“It is great to see life come full circle and you actually have the opportunity to play against somebody you watched growing up.”

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10 minutes ago, blkbigdog35 said:

Kent Bazemore not afraid to take on LeBron James

11:30 PM ET
  • Youngmisuk_Ohm_m.jpg&w=80&h=80&scale=cro
    Ohm YoungmisukESPN Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- Not long after the Atlanta Hawks eliminated the Celtics on Thursday night, Kent Bazemore sat in a cramped TD Garden visitors locker room with a sizable crowd of reporters and cameras around him.

“****, [he's] over there like LeBron!” teammate Jeff Teague cracked as the Hawks point guard had the path to his nearby locker stall blocked by the Bazemore media throng.

The next question to Bazemore happened to be about facing James again in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals, starting on Monday.

Teague smiled and chimed in, “Heyyyyy” before intently listening for Bazemore’s answer.

“I’m ready,” Bazemore said of seeing James, who led the Cavs to a four-game sweep of the Hawks last spring. “I’m excited. We got a rematch from last year. They swept us so ... [we] definitely have a chip on our shoulder about that.”

 

When it comes to James, Bazemore seems to have a LeBron-sized chip on his shoulder. Whether it was shoving James off of him in Game 2 last year or posting less-than-flattering tweets about James back in 2010 when Bazemore was at Old Dominion, he clearly shows no trepidation when it comes to one of the game’s all-time physically imposing players.

Bazemore respects James, but he clearly won’t bow down to King James, as evidenced by this tweet from 2012.

“Lebron is equivalent to 7eleven,” Bazemore tweeted to someone else on his @24Bazemore account. “He doesn’t close ... ”

Bazemore, who is a die-hard Under Armour client, also was recently quoted as saying that he hoped to face a less-friendly James due to the Under Armour-Nike sneaker rivalry.

For an undrafted swingman, Bazemore isn’t afraid to poke The King.

“Yeah, whatever helps you wake up in the morning,” Bazemore said on Saturday when asked about not shying away from James. “... You got to amp yourself up and you can’t go in humble, I guess. You got to make yourself angry and do whatever you got to do to accept that challenge, because he is a freight train and brings it and comes with everything he has, so you have to do the same to hang in there.

“I love to compete,” he added. “However it comes out, maybe it’s those tweets from 2010, 2011 that resurface. But it’s for the love of the game. This game has opened a lot of doors and I get to guard and have some photos with one of the best players that ever touched the basketball and can show my kids one day. It is all fun and games.”

Bazemore was respectful of James on Saturday as the Hawks continued preparations for their rematch with the Cavaliers, who host Game 1 on Monday. After all, the Hawks really can’t say anything disparaging about James, who demolished them in the East finals last year.

James averaged 30.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 9.3 assists in those four games. And in two regular-season meetings in April against Atlanta, James torched the Hawks for an average of 31.5 points, 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists in the Cavs' wins. During one of those wins, on April 1, James attempted to take a charge on a soaring Bazemore, who was ready to throw down a thunderous one-handed dunk but took a frightening spill after James slid in front and underneath him.

“No,” Bazemore said when asked if there’s any dislike with James from his end. “I respect him. He has opened the doors for a lot of young African-Americans like myself. He has done a lot for the game. He has taken it globally. He has actually gotten me a couple of followers on Twitter and social media.”

The pleasant-natured Bazemore smiled when asked if he was referring to those tweets from 2010 and 2012.

“Yeah,” Bazemore said. “He has done a lot for the game of basketball and you can’t [underestimate] that, and I respect that. But by the same token, he is an opponent and we are not teammates -- so if he falls, I won’t help him up.”

Bazemore has brought a certain toughness and attitude to the Hawks, who believe they are playing their best defense in the past two years and are a better team than the one Cleveland saw last postseason.

Of course, smothering 5-foot-9 Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas is one thing. Trying to slow down the 6-8, 250-pound James might as well be “Mission Impossible” for Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

“That is what we tried to do in the last series with [James], and he just found every shooter and they 3-pointed us to death,” Atlanta’s Kyle Korver said of trying to send multiple defenders at James as the Hawks did with Thomas to get the ball out of his hands. “... You can’t give [James] angles. You can’t give him easy baskets, momentum plays.

"He’s too big, strong and too good. You can’t shade him one way. You can’t force him one way. You just got to square your shoulders at his shoulders and try to make it tough on him, and even if you do that he probably is still going to get 30 points.”

The 6-5, 201-pound Bazemore gives up quite a bit of size to James, as does almost every other wing defender in the league. And while Bazemore has taken on difficult defensive tasks this season for the Hawks, he knows Atlanta might be best-served by throwing multiple defenders and looks at James.

“It is LeBron James,” Bazemore said. “And I’m Kent Bazemore. It is a huge opportunity [for me] obviously, but I can’t really focus on a mano-a-mano matchup.”

But Korver says Bazemore is “light years” ahead of where he was a year ago, when he was forced to play heavy minutes for the first time in the postseason in Games 3 and 4 against James due to injuries to the Hawks.

When Bazemore first came into the league, he was “raw,” Korver said of the four-year veteran who will be a free agent this summer. “All these arms, talent, energy and passion for the game. But he had to learn a lot.”

 

Bazemore, who averaged 14 points and 7.0 rebounds in the first round, is now a full-time starter for the Hawks and is ready to face James again in the playoffs.

It wasn’t that long ago that Bazemore remembers being part of what was then the largest crowd to ever watch a high school game in North Carolina when James and his St. Vincent-St. Mary’s team visited Greensboro in 2003.

“He is obviously one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” Bazemore said. “Here I am, watching him [while] growing up. I remember watching him when he was in high school in Greensboro against Reyshawn Terry -- a game I will never forget. He was amazing.

“It is great to see life come full circle and you actually have the opportunity to play against somebody you watched growing up.”

I sure hope baze can get some revenge on lebron. Lebron has a serious grudge against him. Every time we play them It seems like lebron is trying to hurt him any way he can. Maybe I'm taking it too far, but it sure seems like he tries to get baze injured.

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This series is going to have to be won by every other player not named Horford, Millsap, Teague, Shroeder, Korver! Consistent play from the bench is a must. We can win in 6 but might have to take it the distance.

This will be our mini-finals.

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11 hours ago, Drew4719 said:

I sure hope baze can get some revenge on lebron. Lebron has a serious grudge against him. Every time we play them It seems like lebron is trying to hurt him any way he can. Maybe I'm taking it too far, but it sure seems like he tries to get baze injured.

It's not that serious.

Honestly, I don't expect Bazemore to stop LeBron. Nothing against him, but LeBron has 3 inches and 50 lbs on Baze and he's just as quick. That's about as lopsided a mismatch as you'll see in these playoffs.

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I just hope we don't get swept.

If Bud continues to let Humphries sit then we probably will get swept. Not like he is a saviour but his physical inside presence will be greatly needed and him and Hardaway were key to our late season surge. Both players need alot more playing time this series.

Edited by MAD597
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Well after winning 3 of 4 last year we've dropped 7 so a sweep is certainly within the realm of possibility but for one reason or another I'm feeling pretty confident we'll avoid it. I'm thinking worse case scenario it's Cavs in 5.

My personal prediction is Cavs in 6 but I think we steal one of these first two away games and after that will have plenty of opportunities to really grab control of this series at Phillips. Just don't know that we will.

We know their players are plenty capable of turning it up for crunch time, and while they may have a cold game or two (games we can't afford to drop) the Cavs are pretty reliable when they need a 3 to cut into an opponent's run or else to really drive the dagger home.

If we're going to do this we'll need some uncharacteristic consistency from Teague and Sap. We can't be leaving points at the basket, can't have entire quarters where we take a break on offense, can't be dribbling into to turnovers. Add to that we'll need to pray for a little benovolance from the refs not to call a penalty every time one of our guys gives LeBron the wrong look meanwhile our guys get cut down with no call.

All that aside I'm feeling optimistic we're in for an entertaining series we'll all be able to really get into to. An advantage of being the lower seed is if we can but win one of these first two it'll all be in front of us.

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Figure out a way to take Kyrie Irving out of things offensively. If that is a success, these games will be surprisingly close to some outsiders that think this game will be Cleveland winning four 30 point blowouts in a row (and some that are fans or are supposedly) and really, available to steal.

 

If he's hot all series then this is really please don't make this worse than the futility of the Orlando 2010 series.

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I'm not worried about limiting the Cavs offensively. At least in that regard, the Hawks have shown that they can slow down even the most potent of offenses on a relatively consistent basis. What I'm most concerned about is these untimely scoring droughts that seems to plague this team and it's really the only thing keeping them from being a truly elite team. Considering the hawks are one of the league leaders, if not #1 in wide open shots, it shouldn't happen as often as it does.

 

Edited by JerseyNo12
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If we can just keep them under 100 points we have a good shot. On offense we have a team of shooters that can't make open looks. Very frustrating. But I really can't stand the missed layups. How many layups did we miss in the last series? I remember Paul missing a layup, getting the rebound and missing again. Then the exact same thing the next time down the floor. The biggest question to me is which team shows up? Hopefully the team from the last two games

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Man it would be so sweet to win this series. A win tonight would definitely set the tone. No one is giving us a shot. And I really mean no one. Hawks nation needs to show we're not lying down. I really think we can do this with our defense. Just gotta not miss those offensive opportunities like the Celtics series

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4 minutes ago, RING OF HONOR said:

Let's go Hawks...let's take game one and put the pressure on the Cavaliers. .in my mind...game one is crucial. ..we need to win...or if we to lose..it has to be a close game...if we lose in a blow out. ..this series could be over before it starts. ..

agree this game is huge they have had a huge layoff and we are fresh after 3 days off lets go

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