Miami–So we know the Hawks think this game tonight is the start of a stretch that will let us know what they are about. Listening to the Heat at shootaround today, they think the Hawks are a test, too.
They say they consider this game against the Hawks a big deal.
“For a couple different reasons,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “For us to build on these three games, but also we are playing a hot team, regardless of Joe Johnson being out. And they are ahead of us [in the East]. We don’t need anymore motivation than that.”
I suppose the Hawks can be considered “hot” considering their five-game winning streak, though it’s not the word I’d use after that weird W last night. Definitely “resilient” and also “fortunate.” At this point they could use a victory against a good team just for some confidence.
In any event, it’s Atlanta’s offense that has the Heat’s attention. That’s no surprise since defense always permeates the culture of Pat Riley’s teams.
“They can still score [without J.J.],” Spoelstra said. “They are one of the most efficient basketball teams in league. They are a great shooting team. They get guys in the right spots and they don’t miss if they are open. There’s more movement, but still a lot of times end up in the possession of one of those scorers’ hands with a one-on-one attack mode.
“You’ve got to get them on the move and really contain them one-on-one. Crawford is very good one-on-one. He can shoot it, drive it, draw fouls. The same with Smith and Horford. Bibby is an excellent open shooter. All of those guys are very familiar with each other.”
The interesting thing is Miami’s mantra is, as Spolestra put it, “Protect the paint. Protect the rim.” We’ve seen that the Hawks can create quality jump shots with their motion but they are still jump shots, and last night we saw what happens when they don’t fall. Atlanta still hasn’t shown it can defend for long stretches and grind out games against good opponents when the offense isn’t clicking.
If the Hawks can rebound, though, then they can run, and that’s something different.
“The biggest thing that makes them a tough cover and a tough matchup is their four and fives handle the ball and make a lot off plays for them,” D-Wade said. “They are pushing it. I was just watching the tape, and I saw one time where Bibby had the ball and he threw it to Horford in the middle of floor and he pushed it. You don’t see that. Usually it’s the guards that get the ball and tell the bigs to run down the floor.
“They are a difficult team to guard, they have guys that make plays. They have gotten better every year but this is probably the best Hawks team they have had in a while. It will be a great challenge and we look forward to it.”
How’s that for some hyperbole? Big game tonight for both sides, I guess.