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Hawks popular favorite ahead of Cavs play-in tilt

Apr 13, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) controls the ball against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers could get a major boost in their win-or-go-home Eastern Conference play-in game against the visiting Atlanta Hawks on Friday.

The Cavs are hoping to have All-Star center Jarrett Allen back in the lineup to face the Hawks. The 6-foot-11 inside presence has been out since March 6 with a broken left middle finger, with Cleveland going 7-12 in the games he missed.

They could have used him in their 115-108 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday in the first play-in game.

Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff would not confirm that Allen would play. He said the center did everything in Thursday’s practice, but then added his team just had a walk-through.

The only three-on-three or four-on-four scrimmaging Allen has done has been against team coaches, according to Bickerstaff.

Atlanta ran roughshod over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday in their play-in game, 132-103, to earn their spot in Friday’s contest.

Hawks guard Trae Young had 24 points and 11 assists, while forward De’Andre Hunter added 22 points and seven rebounds. Hunter erupted for 16 points in the third quarter when Atlanta outscored the Hornets 42-24 and took control of the game.

The story is similar at DraftKings, where the Hawks are being backed by 84 and 86 percent, respectively, as 2.0-point favorites.

“We’re a good team and we’re clicking at the right time,” Young said.

The Hawks opened as 1.5-point favorites at BetMGM but the line had moved to 2.5 by Thursday afternoon with lopsided action supporting Atlanta with 85 percent of the spread-line bets and 91 percent of the handle.

The winner of Friday’s game will earn the eighth seed and advance to the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the No. 1 seed Miami Heat. Game 1 of that series will be Sunday at Miami.

Bickerstaff doesn’t want another abysmal start like his team had in Brooklyn, when the Nets left the Cavs in the dust by taking a 40-20 lead after one quarter. Cleveland outscored Brooklyn 88-75 in the final three quarters, but by then it was too late.

The Cavs will be facing a dominant point guard for the second consecutive game. Nets point guard Kyrie Irving made his first 12 shots from the field, finishing with 34 points and 12 assists.

Young averaged 28.4 points during the regular season, tied for fifth in NBA, and his 9.7 assists were third in the league. The 23-year-old became the second player in NBA history to lead the league in total points (2,155) and total assists (737). The only other player was Tiny Archibald in the 1972-73 season for the Kansas City-Omaha Kings.

Bickerstaff said the gameplan for the Hawks starts with Young.

“What he does on the court impacts everybody,” he said. “We have a ton of respect for that team. Not by any means is it a one-man show. It’s a balanced team.”

The Cavs coach believes the game will be decided “in the trenches.” Bickerstaff said Atlanta center Clint Capela is “one of the best rolling big guys in this league.”

The Hawks won the season series over the Cavs 3-1, including the 131-107 thumping they administered March 31.

Young averaged 32.5 points and 9.0 assists in the four games vs. Cleveland.

The Hawks played without John Collins (right ring finger sprain, sprained right foot) and Lou Williams (lower back discomfort) on Wednesday. Collins hasn’t played since March 11.

Hawks coach Nate McMillan said he kept his starters on the floor late in Wednesday’s blowout win because “it’s game time,” adding that his team will be ready for the Cavs.

The Over/Under market opened at 222.5 points at BetMGM and moved to 224.5 with 53 percent of the bets and 51 percent of the handle supporting the Over. The market was at 223.5 at DraftKings on Thursday with split action – 63 percent of the bets backing the Over while the Under was drawing 60 percent of the handle.

–Field Level Media