(1) Cleveland Cavaliers v (4) Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks’ celebrations after easily dispatching the Miami Heat in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference first round series on Sunday must have been somewhat muted.

After all, with that win came the right, the honour even, of trying to find the answer to the biggest question in the NBA these days: how do you stop Lebron James? And the Hawks only 48 hours to figure that out.

James, who was yesterday named the league’s Most Valuable Player, will be a hard cover for the Hawks.

The most obvious solution would be for Mike Woodson to put Josh Smith on James. The former Slam Dunk Contest champion can match the All-Star in terms of sheer athleticism…but lacks the strength and power to slow down the “L-train”.

Marvin Williams? Too undersized and still recovering from injury? Al Horford? Big and strong enough but too slow and also not 100 percent healthy after suffering an ankle sprain against the Heat.

So it looks like it will take a combination of Smith’s, Williams’ & Harford’s best attributes as well as having Zaza Pachulia clogging the lane to slow down James.

And if the Hawks do succeed in this mission, there is no guarantee that will result in a win.

For the first time since his arrival in the league, James boasts a supporting cast worthy of his talents and skills.

His right-hand man Mo Williams is the perfect example of this. Long underrated in his time with the Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks, the guard has made defenses pay for double and triple-teaming James with his dead-eye shooting.

And while he no longer takes care of the playmaking duties (James still handles the ball most of the time), his presence allows the Cavaliers to rest their star player and not suffer as big of a drop in level of play in the process.

If you look at the rest of Cleveland’s roster, they have every possible area covered: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varajeo, Joe Smith and Ben Wallace combine to provide the scoring, rebounding, shot-blocking, overall grit and intensity generally expected from your low post players.

On the perimeter, Delonte West, Daniel Gibson, Wally Szczerbiak and Sasha Pavlovic can make sure defenses are made to pay if they choose to close down on James, Williams or Ilgauskas.


On paper, the Atlanta Hawks are a good team, but they do not match up well against Cleveland.

The loss of Josh Childress last summer has affected their versatility at the 1-2-3 positions. Flip Murray and Maurice Evans are good pick-ups, but don’t provide the same intangibles.

Despite all of his highlight reels, Smith has failed to show signs of maturity and still hasn’t made the best of his potential. He has stagnated and his poor shooting is the Hawks’ Achilles Heel.

The backcourt of Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson will be Cleveland’s main concern. If Mike Brown’s crew can stop them, they can already look ahead to the next round.

Trivia: The Atlanta Hawks last reached the Eastern Conference semi-finals in the lockout shortened 1999 season…LeBron James should take note of this stat: no MVP has gone on to win the title in the same season as he took home the prestigious award since Shaquille in 1999-2000.

Verdict: Cleveland in 4.



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