April 16, 2009
After 1230 regular season games and whole lot of Gatorade, the 2009 NBA Playoffs are finally here. Cheers! Now, you've already heard my crackpot predictions, and KD tosses in his two cents below, but we also called in a few team bloggin' experts to help set the first round table. Up next: "HawksDawgs" from Peachtree Hoops and Dave from Peninsula is Mightier breakdown the Atlanta-Miami series.
Peachtree Hoops: The biggest issue I have with this series is how hard it is to dislike Dwyane Wade. Bring back Paul Pierce please. The problem with this is Mr. Wade may force us Hawks fans into an awkward corner because the man could win the series by himself, forcing large amounts of disdain to be showered on such a seemingly nice man. What I am trying to say is Atlanta area T-mobiles have a lot riding on this series.
That being said I think the Hawks are a good match up for Wade's awesomeness. You see the Hawks switch on every single screen. I mean all of them. A lot of times it makes me cry at night. It matches up people like Al Horford on Tony Parker. However, the strategy can work. The Hawks bigs (minus Zaza) are smaller than your average bear and more athletic too. They will not stop Wade, but they can force him into jump shots and difficult finishes around the basket. You know a normal 30-point effort for him. But I think a 30 PPG average for Dwayne will send the Heat home in five.
Of course, other players beside Wade should worry the Hawks. Michael Beasley has really come on of late, and I don't think Josh Smith has any interest guarding his jumper. Fortunately for Josh, I don't think Beasley has any interest in playing defense at all. So I will take the more athletic and experienced guy there. Actually, for some reason the other Heat rookie scares me more. If the lights of the big stage are not too bright, Mario Chalmers could make some noise, mostly because Mike Bibby takes an occasional religious stand against defense.
I remember when Jermaine O'Neal was so good Ashton Kutcher deemed him worthy of being "Punk'd." Any semblance of that guy cannot show up. Even if it happens though, Horford is not going to ask for autographs. He is trying to dunk with two hands on your head. Hawks fans can worry Al will be outplayed in a few games, but they should not worry that he will be embarrassed.
And Joe Johnson, four paragraphs in and his first mention. Why you ask? Well, you just know what you are getting with Joe. And because defense on Dwayne Wade is going to have to be such a team effort, I think Joe is going to be a cog in the wheel. A big, consistent, 21-point, solid-defense cog.
Last year the Highlight factory was one of the loudest arenas in the playoffs. With a more balanced Hawks team playing alongside that advantage, I just do not see Miami pulling out the series. Wade may drop 50 and steal one in Phillips, but I think the Hawks hold him to 30 on the road one game and win this series.
Hawks in 7.
Peninsula is Mightier: The last time the Heat won a playoff game they were celebrating an NBA Championship on the Dallas Mavericks' home court. Two years and one sweep later, the Heat are the NBA's turnaround team of '09, and after winning just 15 games last year Miami captured the No. 5 seed in the East.
So much of it had to do with the NBA scoring champion Dwyane Wade, who finished the season averaging 30.2 ppg. He had more 40-point games this year (13) then in the first five years of his career combined (12). He cracked 50-points three times, and more importantly he sat out only one game due to injury.
Now obviously having D-Wade going at full speed will be imperative, but I don't think that will be a problem. Wade often carries the ball up the floor — this way even if he faces a double team, he can pick and choose what he wants to do. He has no problem dishing off to his teammates as shown by his 7.5 assists/game.
He'll have plenty of help, as Michael Beasley has been on fire heading into the playoffs. His last four games (three starts) he averaged 24 ppg on 56% shooting including 6-of-10 from beyond the arc. Add 11.7 rebounds to that and you have a ridiculous option coming off the bench.
That's right, off the bench. After missing the last five games of the season with a lacerated thumb, Udonis Haslem will return and claim the starting power forward spot. While Coach Erik Spoelstra has hinted that he may use Beasley at small forward against the Hawks to get him more minutes, he'll also get time at the 4-spot when Udonis shifts to center while Jermaine O'Neal is resting.
I think the ultimate key to Miami's success will come off the bench. If guys like Daequan Cook and James Jones, both well known for their 3-point shooting, can hit their shots then the Heat will be very dangerous. Daequan has been off his game ever since winning the 3-Point Competition during the NBA All-Star Weekend, and Jones hasn't yet regained his form after having surgery on his shooting wrist just before the season. Cook has shown flashes of his pre-All-Star brilliance, and Jones has been slowly progressing.
A key matchup in the series will be at the point, with Heat rookie Mario Chalmers and Hawks veteran Mike Bibby. Chalmers started all 82 regular season games for Miami, the only Heat rookie to accomplish that feat. Bibby has slowed over the past few years, and the speedy Chalmers will hopefully look to drive on him early and often. Super Mario is at his best when he can take opposition off the dribble. He has great court vision and will either find an open teammate or finish himself. He was definitely the steal of last summer's draft, falling all the way to the 2nd round (34th overall).
I think this series is very evenly matched, but D-Wade is the X-factor.
Heat in 7.
Kelly Dwyer: They might annoy, and we might want to see Dwyane Wade take on LeBron James in the second round, but the Hawks are a better basketball team. And while the "you always have a chance with a player like D-Wade"-thing would seem to hold water, that idea fails more than it works. LeBron couldn't beat the Celtics by himself last year, and he needed the Pistons to implode to top the better team in 2007. Kobe never got out of the first round until Pau Gasol came around. And Michael Jordan lost in the first round for his first three seasons.
Now, Wade obviously has experience in this area. But so does Gary Payton. So does Jason Williams. So does Kevin Willis, and so does Tony Allen. Experience gets overrated quite a bit, especially in the face of actual talent. What Dwyane Wade did in June of 2006 won't mean much in April of 2009 if his team isn't up to snuff. And though the Hawks are no world-beaters, they are up to snuff, I say! That said, this will be a close, fun series, whichever way it goes.
Heat in 7.