Cavs vs. Hawks Game One Pick – NBA Playoffs

It was Rudy T who gave Houston the famous “never underestimate the heart of a champion” quote in 1994. I am not sure that quote will ultimately be applicable in 2015, but it is clear my underestimation of the Houston Rockets is at the center of my recent NBA slump. I imagine more than a few sharp basketball forecasters have gotten tripped up by Houston – after all if you WATCHED the first four games of the Clippers series, and frankly a lot of their uninspired play in Dallas as well, it would have been hard to stake any bank on this club’s spirit.

But alas, Houston has now covered four straight games and I’ve been on the wrong side of all of them. It’s the first losing streak of what has been a profitable NBA Playoff run, and a huge run overall since the All Star Break. So let’s shift our attention back out East and stop the slide with a winner in tonight’s Eastern Conference Finals opener.

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Today’s Free Pick:

Cleveland Cavaliers at Atlanta Hawks -1

For NBA fans of the 80’s and 90’s of these respective combatants in this series, this must seem an odd matchup. Fortunately for them, there is no Michael Jordan or Larry Bird to vanquish their dreams in 2015. So which team can erase a painful history and replace it with a long-awaited trip to the NBA Finals?

For Cleveland, it will come down to the singular genius of the best player in the world, LeBron James. Yes, his teammates will have to perform, but it feels like even when they DO, LeBron had a big hand in making it possible. We’ve seen him take a rag-tag group to the Finals before, and with Kevin Love and Verajao already inured and Kyrie a little wounded, he may have to do so once again if they want to survive and advance. Simply, this series is all about LeBron for the Cavs. Can he carry them to the Finals his city has desperately longed to reach…

Atlanta is the opposite story; it isn’t about the one, its about the many. The team that sent four starters to the All Star Game, none legitimate “super” stars is a consummate lesson in teamwork and ball movement. People have labeled them “Spurs East” – but that might be a little disingenuous, as I am not sure there are any comparable pieces to Timmy, Manu and Parker. However, the notion of creating easy shots, relying on team basketball and playing together still applies. But is it enough to win them the series?

If they DO advance, it would be the most starless team since the 2003 Pistons in the Finals. Not that Chauncey, Wallace, Rasheed, Rip and Tayshaun weren’t all excellent players, but this core of Horford, Teague, Korver, Carroll and Milsap are similar. Lots of All Stars, no transcendent “star.” In fact, I’d argue the Pistons were slightly more talented individually and with more playmakers. No one on this Hawks team can create a shot like Rip in his prime.

Back to the now: Atlanta will be formidable at home and will make this a long series. I think ultimately, the Cavs get enough from Kyrie to let LeBron be the difference. I think they are going to the Finals. But I don’t think they’ll win more than a game in Atlanta, and I don’t think it’ll be tonight. I like them to steal Game Two, but with Kyrie still nursing an injury, look for the Cavs to be less than 100% tonight and for Atlanta to defend their home court.

Free Pick: Atlanta Hawks -1