Hawks’ homestand features key games against Cavaliers, Raptors

If it seems like a long time since the Hawks played the Cavaliers, well, that’s because it has been quite a while.

The teams have played once this season, way back on Nov. 21 in the Hawks’ 15th game. Quite a bit has happened to both teams since the initial rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals.

The Cavaliers fired their coach, David Blatt, in January despite having the best record in the conference at 30-11. He was replaced by Tyronn Lue. The Cavaliers still lead the East, but are 22-11 under Lue.

The Hawks were beaten soundly at the Cavaliers, 109-97, in a game they trailed by as many as 26 points and saw coach Mike Budenholzer ejected. They had a season marked by offensive inconsistency until a recent stretch where they have won 12 of the past 15 games, clinched a playoff spot and have played their best basketball of the season.

The Hawks play the Cavaliers twice in 11 days starting with Friday’s nationally televised game to open a four-game home stand. They have six regular-season games remaining. It will be LeBron James and Company’s only trip to Philips Arena this regular season. They meet again in Cleveland on April 11 in the second-to-last game.

Two of the Hawks’ losses in the past 15 games have come against the Raptors, including Wednesday’s 105-97 loss. The Hawks also host the Raptors, who have won all three games this season, on April 7 as part of the final homestand.

The games against the Cavaliers and Raptors are important as the Hawks could face either in a second-round playoff matchup.

The Hawks blew a 17-point lead in a loss to the Raptors at home in December. The two most recent losses to the Raptors came in the final game of a trip. Hawks players cared not for the possible excuse following the defeat Wednesday.

“It’s the way that the schedule falls,” Al Horford said. “The good thing is we get to play them one more time at home. Hopefully, we can get one in Atlanta.”

The Hawks trailed by as many as 24 points against the Raptors before a group of reserves made a late charge. While not saying it specifically following the game, Budenholzer was well aware his team could face the Raptors in the postseason.

“We have to be better against a team like this,” Budenholzer said. “I think, hopefully, it’s a lesson for us.”

Friday will be the second of back-to-back games for the Cavaliers, who play at the Nets on Thursday. James needs four points against the Nets to pass Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins (26,668) for 12th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He needs 46 points to pass Oscar Robertson (26,710) for 11th place.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.