So here we are, all evened up at 1-1. Not precisely where the Hawks wanted to be, going into Miami, but that’s the way it stands now.
Miami, and largely the rest of Florida, is known more for a football passion than basketball, the lone exception being the success of Billy Donovan’s program. But rest assured. The crowds in Miami’s arena will not be thin, the will not be quiet, and they will not be visitor-friendly. And it should not be a shock, with the Hawks having faced rowdy crowds in Boston, in last year’s playoffs. Still, the task ahead will be no cake walk. You never want to face a superstar on his own turf, for one thing. For another, even the lowliest of role players can shine in a home game. And all of them will feed off of the energy of a rowdy home crowd.
Winning on the road is not easy. Winning on the road in the playoffs is less so. Yet the Miami Heat have already come to Phillips and proven that they can do it. Now the Hawks must do the same. That’s right: MUST. Having given up homecourt advantage by losing in game 2, the Hawks have put themselves in a “must win on the road” situation. The good news is that mathematically, they only have to win ONE road game in this series, assuming that they can come back home and win both games at home. But that would assume that the series will go 7 games, something the Hawks would be better off not letting happen (with Cleveland waiting in the wings, most likely well-rested). So, winning TWO games on the road is better.
How to do it? First, there’s Dwyane Wade himself. Forget about stopping Wade entirely. It’s not going to happen. But the worst thing the Hawks could do is let him get into a rhythm early on, as they did in game 2. The gameplan to keep him out of the paint worked great. But Wade did not lead the league in scoring by being one-dimensional on offense. Allowing him to hit jumpers early will get him into a rhythm that will make him nearly impossible to guard. If he’s a threat from the perimeter, players will try to close out on him, allowing him to use his often superior speed to get around them. This inevitably draws another defender (assuming they can rotate on time). Now you’re almost certainly looking at one of several situations: a Wade score, a foul, a Wade score with a foul, or the ball passed to a wide-open Heat teammate for an easy scoring opportunity. That’s the approach on Wade. Make him work hard for any scoring opportunities early on, and DO NOT let him get his teammates involved early. Allowing the latter to happen only builds confidence in guys that are not normally good enough to beat you.
…Which leads right into the assessment of the aforementioned teammates, or at least the ones most likely to cause the Hawks trouble. Jermaine O’Neal may be a shadow of his former self, but he’s no slouch when he wants to play. 19 points and 6 rebounds are not eye-popping numbers, but they are adequate if his teammates are producing somewhat decently as well. Next is Michael Beasley. He doesn’t have the typical drive of a young, hungry star in waiting, but there is no mistaking his talent. The kid can shoot from anywhere on the floor, and can create for himself while he’s at it. Let him get going, and you have a guy who is a matchup nightmare, especially with the underappreciated Marvin Williams spending more time on the bench, than on the floor. Fortunately, neither Beasley’s heart, nor his head seem to be in the game for long stretches of time. That may change on the home floor. Then there’s Daquean Cook. You need only know two things about him. One, he has the green light to shoot whenever. Two, this guy handily won the 3-point shooting contest during the all-star break. Not impressed, you say? Neither were the Hawks, until game 2 showed what a streaky, but talented long distance shooter can do when given the opportunity. Expect to see him get more looks as the series wears on.
The rest of the Heat team pretty much consists of guys who can be solid, which is all that is necessary for them to win, assuming the others mentioned above are producing as described. Most notable are Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Jamario Moon, and Jamal Magloire. Chalmers need only handle the ball turnover-free, hit open shots, and not let the opposing guard get by him. Haslem will provide good rebounding and the occasional layup/dunk, and 15-foot jumper on his way to a double-double (or near it). Moon will not score much, but he can defend. Magloire’s job is the simplest: take up space, grab a few boards, and lay some hard fouls.
Now. What do the Hawks need to do on offense? Well, I’m sure several theories abound here, but let’s keep it simple. Set screens. I know what you’re thinking: “Is that ALL?” Yes. Why? Well, there are things we already know. One, the Heat don’t have anybody who can handle Josh Smith. He is going to be able to score when he wants to, more often than not. But that does not mean he has to do the bulk of the scoring. Al Horford can share this load as well, and the two of them produce a good number of assists passing out of the paint. Again, we know this. And Marvin Williams has proven to be hot as anybody could hope for when he’s on the floor. Unfortunately, concerns about his health have limited his minutes, cutting into the number of offensive options the Hawks have.
And so the Hawks have to fight fire WITH fire. That’s right, SET SCREENS. The Heat have been able to spring Wade and other scorers for better looks at the basket by doing just that. And this is what the Hawks need to do as well. Designated scorers/shooters Joe Johnson and Flip Murray have not been able to contribute as well as usual, and the best way to get them going is to simply set screens for them. Do it early, do it often, do it until the defense HAS to adjust to it, which will then open up the paint again. No better way to get your scorers going than to give them open looks.
So. What do you think the Hawks need to do to win in Miami? Is setting screens enough of an adjustment on offense? Will we finally see Joe Johnson play like the star he is? Should Marvin be cut loose, or is his health a legitimate enough concern to keep him on the bench? Will Woody and the Hawks make the correct adjustments during the game? How many games will the Hawks win in Miami?