LeBron James is just one win away from becoming the first player in history to go to five straight NBA Finals between two different teams.
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The Atlanta Hawks (0-3) face the Cleveland Cavaliers (3-o) in the Eastern Conference Semifinals with the Cavaliers needing just one more win to go to the NBA Finals.
Despite numerous injuries to the Cavaliers dating back to their previous round in the playoffs against the Chicago Bulls, the Atlanta Hawks have been unable to capitalize and get a single win, dropping their two home games by a total of 20 points and failing to maintain a 10-point lead in Game 3 at Cleveland before losing in overtime 114-111.
Cavaliers F LeBron James – just one win away from becoming the first player in NBA history to appear in five consecutive NBA Finals between two different teams – moved around much more gingerly than usual after being banged up on multiple occasions in Game 3 and suffering a right calf injury. A win for the Cavs tonight would give them significant rest with the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets forced into a Game 5 after the Rockets staved off elimination in the Western Conference Finals last night – any edge would likely be a huge help with the Cavaliers playing hurt despite playing well.
The Cavaliers have also gotten a surprising amount of help from former New York Knicks starters Iman Shumpert and J. R. Smith, who have been playing better in these NBA playoffs than they did in their entire careers with New York. Though they can’t replace the production of Kevin Love, who they lost in the first round of the playoffs, they have done more than enough to keep Cleveland on top for large stretches of time.
As for Atlanta, the outlook is bleak. With only one loss away from elimination and two of those losses coming at home, it seems like only a matter of time before the Cavaliers get the one win they need to knock them out. Throw in the fact that two of the final four games will be on the road and the odds of Atlanta running the table are as bleak for them as any other team that’s been in this situation in NBA history. That isn’t to say that they don’t have a chance in this particular game. Cavalier G Kyrie Irving is expected to be a game-time decision, which could be a boon for the Hawks. F Paul Millsap is playing strong as is G Jeff Teague, and if C Al Horford can return to the form that got them big wins over the Washington Wizards, they could pull one out in this game.
Prediction: Atlanta Hawks win Game 4 – In an upset, the healthier Hawks manage to narrowly score the upset on the road to stave off a sweep and force a 5th game in the series. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving will be playing hurt, so the Hawks will be able to keep the tempo high and get the Cavaliers off-balance for much of the game.