HAWKSVILLE - Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers at point guard.
All-Stars Joe Johnson and Dwyane Wade at shooting guard.
Marvin Williams and Michael Beasley at small forward.
Josh Smith and Udonis Haslem at power forward.
And Al Horford and Jermaine O’Neal at center.
I spent more time than is mentally healthy thinking about those 10 guys (projected starters for the Hawks and Heat in Sunday’s Game 1 at Philips Arena) last night and early this morning. Such is the curse of playoff basketball, when your brain locks in on a specific set of teams and nothing else.
It’s still unclear how Hawks coach Mike Woodson and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra are going to play things. Both starting lineups could see a tweak here or there, though I’m fairly confident that the Hawks’ starting group will look like it does above.
The Heat, however, could go a couple different ways. Beasley could be used off the bench, where he would wreak havoc on a Hawks’ second unit without anyone close to him in size, athleticism and just flat out ability to score and rebound at an exceptional clip.
There’s some healthy debate going on in South Florida about whether or not it’s wise to start Beasley in place of Jamario Moon (another elite athletic talent that could cause matchup issues if brought off the bench). And as an observer of this series, I’m siding with the start-Beasley camp. I want to see the kid out there from the start and watch him match up with Williams, Smith or whoever else the Hawks have guarding him. I want to see both teams go at it with their best on the floor.
Beasley serves as the X-factor in this series for me the same way Smith did last year when the Hawks took on Boston in the first round. Smith played through the roof in those three games the Hawks won at Philips, proving my pre-series premonition correct. I have a sneaking suspicion that Beasley will have a similar showing this time around.
NO STOPPING WADE … NONE!
Since there’s no Ron Artest-like defender in this series or any other except the series Houston plays in, I’m going to put an end to this silly notion that someone should even bother trying to STOP Wade (Jack Bauer’s NBA alter ego, according to Bill Simmons). The fact is, it doesn’t happen. Not in the regular season and certainly not now.
The Hawks did about as well as could be expected on Wade in four regular season meetings, holding him to 25.5 points in those games (five below his league-leading average). I think that had a lot to do with the fact that the Hawks are capable of guarding the rim (with Smith and Horford in particular) better than most teams. But this idea that one person can deal with him in this series seems a bit misguided, and I’ve heard it from several people in the last few days.
“There’s not many guys in this league that can stop a person one-on-one,” Bibby said. “You could probably count it on one hand. It’s going to have to be a team effort. It’s about stopping the ball, getting back in transition, rotating and scrambling around to help each other. There’s going to be a lot of scrambling to do on the defensive end because [Wade's] dribble drive game opens up the floor for everybody else. So it has to be done together, five guys guarding five guys.”
TOUGH DAY IN BOSTON
I realize that the love for the Celtics around here is invisible after all that’s gone on the last year, but you have to admit it was a rough day for our friends (or not) in Boston yesterday.
First they get the news that Kevin Garnett is likely done for the rest of this season with a knee injury. And then Celtics GM Danny Ainge suffers a heart attack.
This has the folks at the Boston Globe putting an end to the Celtics’ dreams of a repeat NBA title before we even get started. But of all the teams in the Eastern Conference playoff field, Paul Pierce and Co. are the group I’d try to avoid at all costs if I were another team.
Last year they had all the pressure on them to make it to the NBA Finals. This time around, there’s no pressure at all. While everyone else will tell you why the Celtics won’t make it, I’m here to tell you that there’s no team more dangerous than the defending champs.
That said, no team (outside of the Lakers if Kobe Bryant went down or the Cavaliers if LeBron James went down) could suffer a greater blow than what the Celtics have in losing Garnett.
Not only is he their best player and emotional leader, he served as the backbone of the stifling defensive team that smothered teams all the way to the Larry O’Brien trophy last year. Without him there to control that defense, I just can’t see any way that the Celtics win a title without owning home court advantage. And they’d have to hit the road against Cleveland and LA if they were to get that far.
NO PARTYING FOR THE HEAT
Sorry Hawks fans, there will be no Buckhead flu (or whatever it’s called these days) for the opposing team in this playoff series.
Wade and Haslem, the Heat captains, have apparently instituted a “no-going-out” rule for the team’s three-night stay here. That means no mysterious energy lapses for select guys. I’ll be curious to see if they find any rule breakers before we finish up the first two legs of this series, because the temptation will be there.
I know for a fact the Celtics didn’t have that rule last year, because my main man Marc Spears and I were leaving bible study the night before Game 6 last year and saw some Celtics coming out of a club across the street one night.
Good luck to the Heat on that one.
HAWKS INJURY UPDATES
– Acie Law IV is looking more and more like a no-go for this series, or at least for the first few games. Woodson said Law couldn’t get through Thursday’s practice because of the lower back pain that kept him out of all but one of Hawks’ final 13 games of the regular season. This is a blow but hardly an unexpected one since Law’s contributions have been non-existent for weeks now.
– Zaza Pachulia said told me after practice that he’s feeling “great.” He took a nasty lick on his hip and side in the win over Indiana last Friday and sat out the Miami game earlier this week. But he did come back and play in Memphis, mostly to make sure his timing was on for this series. He’ll be an important factor off the bench for the Hawks in this series, especially with Jamaal Magloire playing the same role off the Heat bench.
– Marvin Williams indicated that he’s ready not only to play but ready to assume his starting role after a 16-game layoff late in the season due to his lower back injury. That’s huge news, obviously, because for a long time it appeared that Williams might be done for the season. His long layoff might actually end up being a benefit to the Hawks, as his legs should be fresher than anyone’s during this series.