With the biggest trade of the season so far, the Cleveland Cavaliers have their sights set on the NBA play-offs, and despite their lowly 13-23 record there’s still a chance to pull out a surge into the top eight through the ultra-weak Eastern Conference.
The Cavs thrashed the Utah Jazz 113-102 on Friday in the debut of All Star Luol Deng following his acquisition from the Chicago Bulls, just the third road win they’ve picked up to date. They’ll get a chance to go for number four on Sunday when the travel onward to the Sacramento Kings.
Deng’s greatest impact, once he settles, will inevitably be on the defensive end.
Returning coach Mike Brown has had little success in bedding down his stop-first system but the arrival of the Great Britain international should help bring down Cleveland’s current level of 100.6 points conceded per night.
He should also take some of the burden away from Kyrie Irving and allow the Cavaliers to become more of an efficient offensive team than present.
Sacramento, who have averaged 113 points in consecutive wins, should pose a few more questions for Brown’s rejigged line-up, with Deng likely to impact on the output of Rudy Gay.
If he can limit the Kings’ second-leading scorer, then Cleveland at 3.5 on the handicap might be worth a punt.
Getting wins on the road has been the Atlanta Hawks’ Achilles heel. They’re just 6-12 to date, a blot for a team in contention for homecourt advantage in the post-season.
But here they come off successive victories over Indiana and Houston as they head to face the Memphis Grizzlies. Since losing Al Horford the Hawks have shot more three-pointers but that is a shift from their alternate strengths. More impressive was that in their last two outings, they held both opponents to 87 or less.
Memphis has been upping its tempo lately but if the Hawks can turn the screw again, have a look at them on the handicap of +4.5, available at 1.92, in a game seemingly destined to stick under the total points line of 192.5.
Best bet: Go under 206.5 total points in Sacramento-Cleveland at 1.90