When you mention Kent Bazemore's name around any of his teammates, it's rare not to see a grin appear.

The Hawks starting forward is just plain fun to be around, but it's also his passion for the game that rubs off on his teammates.

"Kent was just a bundle of joy last year. He still is," Hawks guard Kyle Korver said.

After the Hawks disappointing end to last season, Bazemore immediately got to work to get better for the 2015-16 season. Korver said Bazemore was in the gym all but three days through the offseason.

"He was like a rookie," Korver said.

Bazemore was no rookie. He joined the Hawks while entering his fourth year in the league.

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"He had to learn a lot. And a lot of credit goes to him and a lot of credit goes to our coaching staff for working with him and developing him."

"He loves to compete at the end of the day," Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. "He's got a great spirit. His energy, I think it has a big influence on our team and everything we do."

Bazemore will be defending arguably the best player in the world, LeBron James, in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers beginning Monday at Quicken Loans Arena.

Bazemore has nothing but respect for the player he grew up watching. But at the end of the day, LeBron is wearing a different colored jersey. So, Bazemore- with some extra help from his teammates- will be looking to contest shots from James who had the fifth-best field goal percentage in the regular season.

"You have to get amped up," Bazemore said. "He's a freight train. He comes with everything he has, and you have to do the same to hang in there."

Last year, the Hawks were swept by the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals, ending their record-season that was defined by a franchise-high 60 wins in the regular season.

Bazemore was aggressive against James in the series. Just go look back at 'The Shove' from Game 2. But none of it affected James who scored game-high totals in every game and at least 30 points in three of the four contests.

The Hawks never had an answer for James, or any defensive answers for any of the Cavs for that matter. The Hawks suffered through cold periods of shooting. Defensively they would shoot themselves in the foot digging themselves in an even bigger hole.

This year, they feel like they've matured defensively.

"There was an understanding that we had to switch some things up," Korver said. "I think for a while it was like we were waiting for last year to happen again and we were going to get open shots."

The Hawks traveled west in January for a four-game road series while on a brief three-game winning streak. During the trip, a realization quickly set in that the team still needed to develop defensively after losing to two of the worse teams in the NBA, Sacramento and Phoenix.

It was then Korver said the team came together and decided it was time for a change.

"I think there was a healthy realization that, hey, we've got to evolve. We've all got to evolve in life. We can't keep doing the same thing forever."

The team's defense began to slowly improve. Korver described the transformation like the turning of a ship.

That ship is facing a new direction.

Now, Atlanta is No. 2 in the league in defense efficiency allowing an average of 99.2 points per game.

As for Bazemore, he's averaging more blocks and steals than he has ever in his career.

"The past is the past. The way this team has evolved and the growth defensively, and the growth of some different players, we feel good," Budenholzer said.

Cleveland is just as good- if not better- this season with all of its starters healthy. Their big 3, James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, have become unstoppable.

The Hawks were 0-3 against the Cavs in the regular season, two of which were just last month in April.

But the Hawks have momentum after beating the Boston Celtics in six games in the opening round of the playoffs.

Atlanta was able to go to Boston and closeout the series, something Bazemore said has made this team ready for the next step.

"We've been there before. I think well approach it and handle it a lot differently this year."

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