Can LeBron James and Cavaliers beat starless Hawks in East finals?

NBA Eastern Conference finals will match team-oriented Atlanta Hawks and LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers

EAST FINALS

CLEVELAND VS. ATLANTA

1.ATLANTA

60-22 (Home: 35-6; Road: 25-16)

Playoffs: 8-4

2. CLEVELAND

53-29 (Home: 31-10; Road: 22-19)

Playoffs: 8-2

Season series: Atlanta, 3-1.

Key stat: Both teams play strong defense. The Cavaliers have allowed only 92.6 points a game in the playoffs and held opponents to a 40.8% field-goal percentage. The Hawks have given up 95.7 points and opponents have shot 42.5%. The Hawks are good at moving the ball, handing out 25.4 assists per game, tops in the playoffs. The Cavaliers run lots of isolation plays, handing out just 18.1 assists per game.

Outlook: LeBron James always seems to drag along his Cavaliers teammates in the playoffs, in contrast to the Hawks who get it done collectively. Cleveland's All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving didn't play in the second half of Cleveland's playoff-clinching Game 6 against Chicago because of left foot tendinitis and a right foot strain. But Irving said Monday he would play in Game 1 on Wednesday. James will need Irving, who's averaged 19.8 points per game in the playoffs, to be close to his best for the Cavaliers to have a chance at winning the series. In the playoffs James leads the Cavaliers in scoring (26.5), rebounds (10.2), assists (7.9) and steals (1.9). Guards J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova have made major contributions for the Cavaliers and big men Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson have emerged as forces on the defensive end. The Hawks have six players averaging double figures in the playoffs, showing that they don't need a star to succeed: DeMarre Carroll (17.1), Paul Millsap (15.7), Al Horford (15.6), Jeff Teague (15.3), Kyle Korver (11.3) and Dennis Schroder (10.1).

Prediction: It's hard to bet against King James. He's still the best player on the planet and will lead the Cavaliers past the Hawks in six games.

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