The NBA Conference Finals are in full force, as the Golden State Warriors held off the Houston Rockets last night to open up a 1-0 lead in their series. That was to be expected, and we notched our first correct pick of the Conference Finals. In addition, we nailed the Rockets against the spread and the Warriors straight up. Tonight’s matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks is a little more difficult to gauge, but we’ll try to make the best of it as we attempt to add another win to our 41-19 playoff record.

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) @ Atlanta Hawks (1) on TNT at 8:30 pm ET

On paper, from a team perspective, the Hawks should beat the Cavaliers. Kevin Love is gone, Cleveland’s defense isn’t really elite, the depth doesn’t match up and Atlanta owned Cleveland during the regular season (3-1). Add in that the Hawks have home court advantage and appear to be healthier at the moment (both Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson are ailing), you’d be silly to pick against them.

Of course, oddsmakers don’t agree. LeBron James and all of his fury being on the other side provides a looming, grey cloud that just won’t go away. James alone is scaring the books into giving Atlanta just a -1 advantage in game one of this Eastern Conference Finals series. That seems like a slight on the Hawks, and maybe it is, but the reality is no one knows what is going to win out – James as a one-man wrecking crew, or a balanced Hawks team sharing the rock.

James lost his mind in his round two demolition of the Chicago Bulls, while the Hawks have turned things on lately and are slowly starting to look like the team that won 60 games and took the top seed in the east. None of that will matter if James has his way in Atlanta tonight, but there is a lot of evidence that he might not. The Hawks have a very capable defender in DeMarre Carroll, who will surely be all over him, while center Al Horford can focus more on team defense that wasting all of his energy on a stud offensive presence in the middle of the paint (Cleveland doesn’t have a Brook Lopez or Marcin Gortat).

The key to this game and probably this series will be whether or not the Hawks can push the pace and hit their outside shots. Kyle Korver was dreadful in the second round and Cleveland topped the Bulls thanks to a predictable Chicago offense and a game that settled into half court battles. If Atlanta can push the tempo and have open shooters knock down shots, I think they can take this series. And even if they don’t, I think they can at least make that happen at home in game one. Game one will be a great way to gauge this series, but going into it we know the Hawks are the better two-way team and have had a lot of success against the Cavs specifically. I like the Total (197) tonight with two very solid offensive teams on paper, while the Hawks are my pick straight up and ATS.

Pick: Hawks 104, Cavaliers 101

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