Round 1 Riot: Hawks (4) vs. Heat (5)
If Cleveland-Detroit is the Rolling Stones, and Utah-LA is the Beatles, then Atlanta-Miami is the Velvet Underground. You're not going to catch it on the radio, but if you dig music, it's essential that you take a listen.
This is the matchup that will get the least publicity but features what may be the closest matchup. The Hawks shocked everyone by actually, (gasp) improving on last year's success. What's more, they finished with homecourt advantage in the first round. And next to the Heat, they're the playoff experienced club. It's a crazy world we live in. Meanwhile, the Heat are a reclamation project. Dwyane Wade 2.0 is a one-man army and the world is his enemy. Something's gotta give.
Reason to Watch
Joe Johnson versus Dwyane Wade. These two are averaging a combined 52 points, 9 rebounds, 13.5 assists this season. That's pretty staggering. And these two have a certain flare for the dramatic. They should set up a giant chalkboard in the rafters of both arenas and keep score. First player to fifty broken ankles wins.
How Atlanta Can Win
Kobe Rules, circa 2006. You can't stop Wade. This much is clear. But you can overwhelm the Heat with a complete effort. Atlanta can crash the glass and establish themselves. The key starts with maintaining constant pressure on the Heat's average defense by consistently scoring. That'll force Wade to try and take over the game by running point, which he can do. But if you attack him using traps and forcing him to the baseline, you increase the likelihood of him turning the ball over. You can live with 35 points from Wade if he has five turnovers and no other Heat player hits over 12. The Hawks are the better overall team. They just have to put themselves in a position to show that.
How Miami Can Win
Get the kids out of their heads. The Heat have a number of young kids around Wade and Udonis Haslem. Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers have shown they can contribute if put in the right position. They're going to have take and hit shots. If they can get over the pressure and just play, that's going to take attention away from Wade. Which pretty much means 2.0 can do whatever he likes. And he likes winning. Also, Jermaine O'Neal traveling back in time and bringing back the 2005 version would help.
Video Clip to Get You Pumped
Oh, Dwyane Wade, Dwyane Wade! Dwyane Wade is such a highlight machine. Yeah, ask the Celtics what happens when you forget about Joe Johnson. Cue the ankle-breakin'!
Stud of the Series
Okay, yeah, no, just kidding, Dwyane Wade. I'd love to put Josh Smith or Joe Johnson here, and it's entirely possible. But everyone's waiting on 2.0 to go off like an atom bomb. Wade's ability to get hot and torch you (even if that apparently doesn't exist) from anywhere on the floor is the stuff legends are made of. Wade's driven by a unique flavor of hatred for his detractors and if Atlanta isn't dilligent and thorough in their approach, they could end up just being the footnote in Wade's drive to face LeBron in what would be one of the highest Conference Semifinals in the last ten years.
Josh Smith's decision making. Sure, I could go for any number of the Heat's bench frontcourt (Mark Blount, Joel Anthony), but that's just too easy. Meanwhile, Smith's arguably the most athletically talented player in this series, but is the master of a never-ending series of questionable decisions. Everyone's got their own personal favorite Josh Smith bad habit. Mine is penchant for threes early in the shot clock. Smith played so badly at one point this season that Mike Woodson actually benched him for a half (but really, there's no tension between them!). Of course, the opposite is true, too. If Smith manages to put his decision making together with his talent as he does for limited stretches? We could see something not even Dwyane Wade can stop.
Atlanta: No one.
Okay, so maybe I should have thought about this a bit more before I brought in those picks. I mean, I understand picking the Heat, obviously. Since I did. But part of me wonders if all of us are simply enraptured by Wade's heroics and ignorant to the fact that the Hawks have actually played really well on both sides of the ball for much of the season this year. They have a rebounding advantage. They have multiple former All-Stars. They have speed, depth, experience, size, and a chip on their shoulder from the lack of attention they've garnered. They have everything they need to win this series, except one thing.
They don't have Dwyane Wade.
Heat in seven. Buckle up.