The Atlanta Hawks are in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Their reward for making it this far – a best-of-seven series with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Can the Hawks make it to their first NBA Finals appearance since 1958? It is the only NBA title for the longtime franchise.
(Side note: The Atlanta Hawks were a Western Division team when they won the championship in 1958.)
The Atlanta Hawks are an NBA rarity. They do not have what is called a transient superstar that most title contenders have. Make no mistake that their roster is filled with really good players. Some of them have the potential for some star power, bu whether or not they gain the much-deserved acclaim depends on how far this team goes. If the Hawks can make it to the NBA Finals, the popularity of the players will drastically rise. They first have to deal with what is in front of them.
— NBA History (@NBAHistory) May 16, 2015
Beating LeBron James is no easy feat. He leads a team that is riddled with injuries.
Kevin Love is not returning after having shoulder surgery. Many remember Love suffering from a separated shoulder injury in Game 4 of the Cleveland and Boston series.
Point guard Kyrie Irving is dealing with a litany of injuries, including tendonitis in his knee that may keep him out of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, according to Fox Sports.
There are other players on the Cavaliers who are trying to recuperate from some ailment or another. Even LeBron James has a sprained ankle.
Healthy or not, Cleveland is still a tough team to beat. Can the Atlanta Hawks do it?
They have the depth to get the job done. Eight players have played each playoff game thus far, and there are additional options the Hawks can use in case of foul trouble or simply just for matchup purposes.
Backup point guard Dennis Schroder is someone to watch. He is playing just as good in the playoffs as he was in the regular season. He is showing that the stage is not too big for him. Defensively, he is locking in on his opposition. He is rangy and will get in a player’s face with ball pressure. Schroder is one of two X-factors on this Hawks team.
If I asked you who was the Hawks’ leading scorer in the postseason, after you wonder who is exactly on their team, the first name that may pop up would not be DeMarre Carroll. You may come up with a few other names before landing on his name. Surprisingly, Carroll is the team’s top scorer thus far.
That may change in the next series with Cleveland. Carroll will undoubtedly have to guard LeBron James, but he will have some help.
In the previous playoff series, James was guarded solely by the Chicago Bulls Jimmy Butler. Against the Hawks, he will have to deal with Carroll and a steady dose of Paul Millsap and Mike Scott.
This is a perfect series for Carroll to make his star turn. If he can continue to lead the Hawks in scoring, slow down LeBron James, and Atlanta can advance, things will be looking brighter for him.
The Atlanta Hawks are trying to win an NBA title without a true household name. If they somehow can keep a wounded Cleveland Cavaliers team down, they will not be anonymous any longer.
[Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images Sport]