In today’s AJC, I pick the Atlanta Hawks to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in seven games. As ever, I have my reasons, some of which are included in the aforementioned missive. Here are a few that weren’t.
1. I like Mike Budenholzer over David Blatt. The Blatt-is-in-over-his-head theme — or meme, if you’re under 25 — has been a tad overdone, but still: The guy did try to call a timeout he didn’t have at the end of a playoff game. That sounds like something Mike Smith would do. (Actually, Smitty’s most grievous error was calling a timeout he had but shouldn’t have used — against a team from Cleveland.)
2. I like the homecourt. If the series indeed goes seven, Game 7 will be staged here. In NBA history, home teams are 95-24 in Game 7s. That’s a winning percentage of .798. Only twice since 1982 has the road team won Game 7 in a conference final.
3. I like the Hawks’ health. Remember when we were sweating over Paul Millsap’s shoulder and Al Horford’s pinkie? Seems a while ago, doesn’t it? In the grand scheme, the Hawks have gotten through two rounds in splendid shape, especially when you consider that the Cavs have lost Kevin Love to shoulder surgery; that Kyrie Irving (various leg ailments) is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s Game 1 and that LeBron James (ankle) and Tristan Thompson (shoulder) were buffeted in their series against the Bulls.
4. I like that the Hawks are underdogs. The pressure won’t fall on the team that won 60 games and lapped the field in the NBA East. It will fall on the team with LeBron.
5. I like that LeBron is 30, not 22. Granted, he carried a much lesser Cleveland team to the finals in 2007 — where it was swept by San Antonio — and he’s still really good. But he’s not going to score 29 of his team’s final 30 points, as happened in a double-overtime victory over the Pistons in Game 5 that year. He made 39 percent of his shots in the six games against Chicago. On the day he hit the last-second shot that changed the series, he’d missed 20 of his previous 29. He’d still be the first player you’d pick if you were drafting a playoff roster, but he’s not quite what he was.
Equal time: I’ve talked with Bill Livingston, a columnist for the Plain Dealer who has worked in Cleveland as long as I’ve worked in Atlanta. He picks the Cavs. And esteemed former colleague Bud Shaw, now with the PD, picks the Cavs in six.
But, if memory serves: Bud picked the Indians to win the 1995 World Series. I picked the Braves. One of us was right.