PBT Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Atlanta Hawks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

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SEASON RECORDS

Hawks: 60-22, first place in Eastern Conference.

Cavaliers: 53-29, second place in Eastern Conference.

Atlanta won the season series, 3-1.

KEY INJURIES

Hawks: Thabo Sefolosha is done for the year after a leg injury suffered during a nightclub incident in New York in April.

Cavaliers: Kevin Love (shoulder) is out for the season. Kyrie Irving is expected to play in Game 1, but he was limited in the Bulls series by foot and knee issues.

OFFENSIVE/DEFENSIVE RANKINGS (THROUGH FIRST TWO ROUNDS OF PLAYOFFS)

Hawks: 102 points scored per 100 possessions (9th in NBA); 98.2 points allowed per 100 possessions (2nd in NBA).

Cavaliers: 108.2 points scored per 100 possessions (1st in NBA); 98.8 points allowed per 100 possessions (4th in NBA).

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1. How much help will LeBron get? With Irving hobbled, the Cavs are going to need plenty of help from their supporting cast. J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and even Matthew Dellavedova all stepped up at various points in the Bulls series, which was enough to make up for a relatively inefficient showing from James. DeMarre Carroll will be in the Jimmy Butler “LeBron stopper” role this series, and if he’s able to slow James down, it’s going to come down to how the secondary pieces fare. If LeBron has to win this series by himself, it’s not going to be an easy task against a team as deep as the Hawks.

2. The point guard battle: In February, a matchup between Kyrie Irving and Jeff Teague would have been the most exciting part of this series, when they were both All-Stars. But Irving has been hurt and largely ineffective, and Teague, who normally jumps a level in the playoffs, has been wildly inconsistent through the first two rounds. What was once a position of strength for both teams has become perhaps their greatest liability, and whichever point guard can give more could end up swinging the series.

3. Can Atlanta’s offense expose Cleveland’s defense? The Cavs’ defense has been outstanding in the first two rounds, but their strong performances came against an offensively limited Celtics team and a Bulls group that had been prone to long scoring droughts all season. Cleveland’s defense ranked 20th in the league in the regular season. In theory, Atlanta’s offense should shred them. But the Hawks haven’t been themselves on that end for most of the playoffs. Mike Budenholzer’s gameplan has remained the same, heavy on ball movement and a read-and-react philosophy—they just haven’t been able to execute it as effectively as they did in the regular season. If they can find that consistency, it will be very difficult for Cleveland to defend.

PREDICTION

It’s difficult to pick against LeBron, but Irving’s health is worrisome and Al Horford was outstanding at both ends of the floor in the Wizards series. Carroll is as capable as anyone when it comes to defending James, and if he can make him work for his points even close to the way Butler did in the second round, that places a heavy burden on Cleveland’s supporting cast. This could go either way but I’m going to take Hawks in 7.

Nets will reportedly give away 10,000 Kyrie Irving jerseys vs. Knicks

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The Brooklyn Nets will be without Kevin Durant for the majority if not all of next season. In his place they will have to make do with the young squad they have nurtured into a potential playoff threat… and Kyrie Irving.

Irving is one of the latest players to join the Nets, coming over from the Boston Celtics in a move that Brooklyn fans hope will be the start of a potential championship run in New York.

To that end, the Nets appear as though they will be giving away a pretty significant gift early in the season in Brooklyn. According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily nNews, the Nets will give away 10,000 Irving jerseys on October 25th as Brooklyn it takes on their crosstown rivals in the New York Knicks.

Via Twitter:

Giving away an entire jersey is a pretty big outlay.

The Nets certainly want Irving to know that he is important to them, and for fans understand that he is going to be just as revered as Durant in the coming years.

Rudy Gobert says France’s bronze medal ‘means everything’

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Some countries, like the United States, don’t really care about the World Cup. The 2019 FIBA World Cup in China was perhaps evidence of that, with Team USA not even bothering to medal.

For countries like France and players like Rudy Gobert, the World Cup is a chance to show that their nation is one that is coming forth as a place to be reckoned with when it comes to basketball development.

France recently took home third place in the 2019 Cup, and for that the Utah Jazz center was grateful. Speaking to reporters after their win over Australia, Gobert said that grabbing the bronze “means everything” to him and to France.

Via Twitter:

That’s some pretty moving stuff from a guy in Gobert who we know is someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve.

Bernie Sanders says LeBron James is the GOAT over Michael Jordan (VIDEO)

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Everyone has an opinion about who is the greatest player of all time between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Most folks still seem to pick Jordan, although it’s been hard to argue with the type of player that James is in a vacuum outside of measurements like championship rings.

In any case, we now have one more person who has tossed their opinion into the ring of public consciousness. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has now said that he believes that LeBron is the GOAT thanks to his public service.

Via Twitter:

“I think LeBron has been willing to do what a lot of athletes are not and get involved in the political process, put money into education, and I respect that.”

James has certainly done a lot politically, socially, and as an activist. He’s supported things like entire schools, and he’s been on the bleeding edge of NBA activism against things like police brutality.

Jordan has also done his part, including a recent pledge for $1 million in funds to aid Bahamanian hurricane relief. Folks like to bag on MJ for his purported “Republicans buy sneakers, too” comment, but it’s unclear whether he actually ever said or felt that.

In either case, it appears that we know who Sanders thinks is the GOAT. Next someone should ask Elizabeth Warren if she would have taken Kobe or Shaq in 2004.

Watch Zion Williamson snap the head off a golf club (VIDEO)

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As any good golfer can tell you, the key to getting a pure ball flight is figuring out the idea of compression. Instead of scooping the ball off the ground, the idea is to hit the ball first and use the ground to compress the dimpled object between the earth and the clubface.

And while New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson probably isn’t concentrating on his golf game heading into his first NBA season, it looks like the idea of compression isn’t lost on him.

As the Pelicans held a golf event this week, Williamson was filmed snapping the head off of an iron while taking a shot off the tee box.

Via Twitter:

It’s hard to tell from this angle, but it looks like Williamson has a pretty solid swing. I’m extremely jealous of the amount of lag he has at the return parallel position on the downswing.

Someone get this guy a stiffer shaft or something. I can only imagine the kind of havoc Williamson is going to inflict on NBA rims this year if this is how the man golfs.