Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young. Photo courtesy of the NBA
Two of the young, rebuilding teams in the Eastern Conference will get together for the final time this season on Saturday when the Cleveland Cavaliers visit the Atlanta Hawks.
The two clubs have hovered in or near the basement all season, as they both undergo an overhaul of their rosters. This will be a back-to-back game for both clubs. The Cavaliers (8-28) are coming off a 118-94 loss to Miami on Friday. The Hawks (10-24) are coming off a 123-120 overtime win at Minnesota, a game which saw them erase a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit.
The Cavs and Hawks split the first two meetings in October, both played at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and contested within a 10-day span.
The Hawks won the first game 133-111 on Oct. 21 by erasing a 14-point second-quarter deficit behind 35 points from rookie Trae Young. The Cavs got a double-double that night from Kevin Love.
The Cavs got their payback on Oct. 30 with a 136-114 win thanks to a season-high 26 points from Rodney Hood and a Cleveland defense that forced 23 turnovers, resulting in 28 points.
Atlanta has won four of its last five games and even learned from its setback.
"It's a good measuring stick for us," Atlanta guard Kent Bazemore said after a loss to Indiana. "We came up a little short, just the small things that get you over the hump. We're learning. We're growing."
Atlanta has seen second-year forward John Collins take another big step in his development. After missing the start of the season with an ankle injury, Collins has come on to produce a double-double in 10 of his last 11 games. He leads the team with 18.6 points and 10 rebounds.
Cleveland is led offensively by Jordan Clarkson, who is tied for the second-most 20-point games among bench players this season with 21. He has scored at least 20 points in five of his last seven games and is averaging 21.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists in games played since Dec. 12. Clarkson is averaging a career-high 17.1 points for the season.
The Cavaliers' top-scoring starter is Collin Sexton, who has been in double figures in 29 games, tied for the second-most among rookies. Sexton averages 14.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
The Cavs play at a slow pace and rely on their defense to remain competitive.
"Our defense as a whole has to make that happen," forward Larry Nance Jr. said. "It's hard to take it out of the net and beat them down the court. When we're playing so poorly defensively we can't really run."
The Cavaliers made a move on Friday, signing restricted free agent guard Patrick McCaw to a multiyear offer sheet said to be worth $6 million. McCaw was the 38th pick of the 2016 draft by Milwaukee, which traded him to Golden State on draft night. He spent two seasons with the Warriors and averaged 4.0 points and 15.9 minutes in 128 games, including 30 starts. The Warriors have the right to match the offer within 48 hours.