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Al Horford.

The Atlanta Hawks say they are better equipped to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers

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The Atlanta Hawks finally overcame the Boston Celtics in a gruelling first-round series with a 104-92 win at a hostile TD Garden to set up an Eastern Conference semi-final showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers and a chance to exercise some demons. 

After ending the 2014-15 regular season with an impressive 60-22 record, the Hawks carried that form into the postseason and had high hopes of making the NBA finals, but a certain LeBron James stood in their way as they met in the Eastern Conference finals.  

Atlanta had no answer for the King and were swept by the Cavaliers without putting up too much resistance in a limp series for Mike Budenholzer's men. 

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Their fortunes didn't change much this season either as they were beaten by the Cavs in all three of their meetings during this campaign and it is no surprise why the Wine and Gold are overwhelming favourites for this upcoming encounter which gets underway on Monday.

Despite their recent record against Cleveland, however, the Hawks are grateful for a chance at redemption for last year's sweep and there is confidence amongst the team that things will be different this time around. 

“I’m ready,” Kent Bazemore said after the victory over the Celtics. “I’m excited. Rematch from last year, they swept us last year and we definitely have a chip on our shoulder about that.

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks - Game Five

“Obviously, it is another year where people learn the defence and the defensive schemes. We added a little length this year, added a little more size with Kris Humphries. Every player has gotten a lot better and Paul (Millsap) and Al (Horford) are blocking shots at an alarming

"Every player has gotten a lot better and Paul (Millsap) and Al (Horford) are blocking shots at an alarming rate, so that rim protections definitely helps. We trust each other defensively. If a guy goes to help, you know your teammate has your back.”

If there is one thing that gives the Hawks the advantage over the Cavs it's their defence. They were the second best defensive team in the league after the San Antonio Spurs and if they get it right on that end of the floor, it'll give them a great chance to cause an upset against the favourites in the east.

Atlanta Hawks v Boston Celtics - Game Six

“I think we are a better team than last year,” said Kyle Korver, who suffered an ankle injury against the Cavaliers and only played in two games in last year's series.

“I really do. I think the identity is more on the defensive end than offensive end this year. I think we know that we are going to have to play really well to beat them.

“Our defence is going to have to be what it was in this series, if not better. And our offence is going to have to be a lot better. They are a great team, have a lot of individual talent. So it is a big challenge for us.”

The Cavaliers will go into game one the fresher of the two teams after sweeping the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, meaning they would've had a seven-day break before this game. 

But the opening game may come down to the old argument of rest versus rhythm and the Hawks are certainly in a rhythm at the moment and believe they are ready to rise to the occasion.

Topics:
NBA
Southeast Division
Eastern Conference
Al Horford
Atlanta Hawks
Jeff Teague

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