This most recent edition of the Hawks has been celebrated for its incredible talent and sheer athleticism, while simultaneously being damned for grossly underachieving. Their inspired victory in Miami on Monday just might be a sign that the Hawks are finally about to realize their potential. Beating the Heat in Atlanta would go a long way to establishing the Hawks as a bona fide championship-caliber outfit.
Miami, meanwhile, also has a lot at stake. Their aura of invincibility was slightly dimmed by narrow wins on the road in Charlotte and Minnesota before being virtually extinguished by Atlanta at home on Monday. The immediate imperative for Miami is to restore that golden glow while also discouraging the Hawks from believing that they really are as good as they should be.
HERE’S HOW MIAMI CAN WIN: The Heat have to solve Atlanta’s 2-3 zone defense that made their previous encounter a grind-it-out game. Snappy ball and player movement leading to uncontested jumpers is imperative, and too-quick treys are verboten. Also necessary are more of LeBron’s powerhouse dive cuts into the unprotected bosom of the defense. If he’s healthy. He sprained an ankle Wednesday against the Pacers.
* Dwyane Wade has to shoot better than 4-for-17, and cannot rely on jumpers. If he plays at all. He sat out Wednesday’s game in Indiana with a foot contusion.
* Mario Chalmers has to take better care of the ball.
* Atlanta’s successful backdoor cuts have to be countered with more pressure on the ball and more alert weakside help.
* Miami’s quick-handed defense, as well as their overall energy, must be maintained throughout the game.
* Their spotty transition defense has to be rectified.
* Because the Hawks’ man-to-man defense is vulnerable to strong-armed lane penetrations, the Heat must be alert in recognizing the defensive realignments and quickly revert to their normal attack mode.
* Atlanta’s high screen/roll setups can be double-teamed for profit.
* Keep Jeff Teague out of the paint and make him pass (preferably to his left) on the move.
* Double Al Horford on the move in the low-post.
* Focus, resilience, good judgment and patience are the keys for Miami.
HERE’S HOW ATLANTA CAN WIN: Given the condensed season and Atlanta’s bringing their high-energy A-plus game in Miami, it’s no surpise that they couldn’t sustain a similar effort the next night in Chicago. Indeed, their 4th quarter meltdown against the resurgent Bulls was a colossal one. To succeed in their rematcfh with the Heat, the Hawks need to revive the same physical, mental, and emotional peak they achieved on Monday.
* Change zone formations to keep the Heat off-balance. The bigs also need to execute quicker, more effective baseline rotations to hinder LBJ’s dynamic cuts.
* Even in their routine one-on-one situations there must be more player and ball movement to make Miami pay dearly for double-teams.
* Josh Smith must avoid launching 3-balls and driving into crowds. He has to get viscerally involved in the offense.
* Horford has to initiate his low-post moves quickly before the doubler can arrive.
* The bigs have to provide more aggressive help on screen/rolls, especially on pin-downs for Wade.
* Teague has to get a better read on the defense before uncorking risky passes.
* Their transition defense has to improve. This is simply a matter of pure hustle.
* Joe Johnson has to have his mojo working.
* Tracy McGrady must continue to recapture the rapture and be a high-volume point-maker off the bench.
* JJ, T-Mac and Jannero Pargo have to be accurate from beyond the pale to stretch Miami’s defense.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
- The Hawks want to slow the tempo to reduce Miami’s on-the-run opportunities. The zone helps, but Atlanta must also diligently work the shot clock on offense.
- Notice how Atlanta’s zone keys on Miami’s best 3-point shooters — James Jones and Norris Cole. Since Shane Battier had been shooting blanks in Miami’s first five games, he was mostly ignored on Monday. But after hitting 3-for-4 from downtown, expect the Hawks’ zone to also tag him. But what happens when Jones, Cole and/or Battier are on the court at the same time?
- Notice how Miami’s interior defense overplays Horford’s right hand.
- How passive or aggressive are Atlanta’s bigs in showing on the nether side of screen/rolls?
- How many ticks are left on the shot clock when Smith casts off a long-distance prayer?