Cavaliers-Hawks Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 29, 2012
After an inconsistent start to the season, the Atlanta Hawks have found their groove and enter the weekend as one of the NBA's hottest teams. That doesn't bode well for the slumping Cleveland Cavaliers, who already have had their hands full in this series of late. The Hawks try for a seventh consecutive victory overall and an eighth straight over the visiting Cavaliers on Friday night. Atlanta (9-4) recorded its worst start in five years by opening 3-4 but has since picked up the pace, putting together six wins in a row behind a continued focus on defense. They're forcing a league-best 17.9 turnovers per game and are limiting opponents to averages of 92.0 points and 42.5 percent shooting - both rank near the top. They clamped down again Wednesday in a 94-91 win over Charlotte. "These games, in the past, one of them we would've dropped if we didn't come out with enough energy and little things like that," said Al Horford, averaging 17.2 points and 10.0 rebounds during the win streak. "I think this year we're doing a good job even though it's closer than we would like. But we're getting the wins." Horford, Josh Smith and Lou Williams all scored 17 points Wednesday, with Horford and Smith combining for 24 rebounds, 12 assists and eight blocks. The Hawks held the Bobcats to 39.5 percent from the field. "My selling pitch is always gonna be defense," coach Larry Drew said. "I don't expect us to shoot the ball well every single night, but our defense has to be our staple - it has to be what we hang our hat on... defense has to be our No. 1 priority." The Hawks, who last won seven straight Nov. 7-20, 2009, have to like their chances of keeping things going with the Cavaliers (3-12) coming to town. Atlanta is looking to match its longest win streak in the 42-year history of the series, having previously won eight in a row over Cleveland from April 13, 1982-Dec. 3, 1983. The Cavs haven't won in this series since LeBron James left the team, and none of those six games were decided by fewer than 12 points except for the last one. The Hawks prevailed 103-102 in overtime March 21 behind Smith's 32 points and 17 rebounds. Cleveland has dropped 10 of 11 after Tuesday's 91-78 loss to Phoenix. Anderson Varejao had 20 points and 18 rebounds, but the Cavs shot 35.7 percent and were outscored 42-28 in the paint. "I'll make just a real quick statement - Andy Varejao was fantastic," coach Byron Scott said. "Everybody else stunk tonight. Anything else you need to know? "We gotta get into our stuff quicker, faster, better screens, better set-ups... we just gotta get better at a lot of little things on both ends of the floor." While very little has gone the Cavaliers' way of late, Varejao has been a bright spot. The Brazil native is averaging a career-high 14.5 points and leads the league with 14.9 boards per game. "The way Anderson is rebounding the ball right now, the only comparison you can make is to Dennis Rodman," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. Cleveland continues to play without leading scorer Kyrie Irving (fractured finger) and could be missing fellow guard Daniel Gibson (elbow contusion) for a second straight game. Rookie Dion Waiters (finger contusion) should be available. He's averaging 15.0 points to rank second among first-year players but has shot 30.2 percent from the field over his last eight games. The Cavaliers have dropped eight straight on the road, where they're allowing 102.7 points per game - compared to 95.2 at home.
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