The Hawks will face the world’s third-best player in Round 1, and it was only three seasons ago that Dwyane Wade willed the Miami Heat to a championship. Do the Hawks worry he might pull a Dallas-in-the-finals on them?
Said Al Horford: “Yeah, I do.”
Said Mike Woodson: “Sure you worry about that. The great ones find a way. That’s something we think about quite often.”
Said Josh Smith: “He’s one of the game’s greats, but I don’t worry about that. I don’t think that way.”
As majestic as Wade can be, the Hawks have one of the world’s best dozen players themselves, and Joe Johnson tends to rise to most moments. In the first three games against Miami this season, Johnson scored only 16 fewer points than the league’s leading scorer, and he did it while taking eight fewer shots. And Johnson’s team won two of the three.
“It’s a challenge,” Johnson said, speaking of playing against the exalted likes of Wade and Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. “We play pretty much the same position. I have to guard those guys, and they have to guard me.”
The Heat was in town Tuesday for a playoff preview that wasn’t a preview. (When Wade doesn’t play and Speedy Claxton does, you know it’s garbage time.) This game meant nothing. The games that begin this weekend will tell us if the Hawks are as good as they’ve seemed these past six months.
“I know what we’re capable of,” Johnson said. “We can’t come out hoping we’re going to win. We have to come out knowing we’re good.”Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
Although Woodson still describes his as “a young team,” Miami is the club that figures to show its tender years in the postseason. Two key Heaters – guard Mario Chalmers and sixth man Michael Beasley – are rookies, albeit good ones. All contributing Hawks, by way of contrast, have experienced the playoffs before, and six of the top eight were part of the thrill-ride against Boston last spring.
“That [series] taught us how to play playoff basketball,” Woodson said, and we’re about to see if that’s true. The Hawks seized on that Celtics experience to move from the No. 8 seed a year ago to No. 4 this time, and that’s a major consideration. They’ll have four games of the best-of-seven at Philips Arena, and we all know the Hawks – pause for effect – have never lost a postseason game on this hallowed hardwood.
And the wondrous Wade? Well, the Hawks have precisely the defenders to bother him – big, quick wingers to run at him with shot-blockers looming underneath. (Wade averaged 30.2 points this season, but only 25.7 in those three games against Atlanta.) As John Crotty, the Heat’s radio analyst, noted Tuesday: “Dwyane had 55 against the Knicks last week and [it was almost like] he didn’t take a jump shot. He just got to the rim. It’s harder to do that against the Hawks.”
Wade will have his moments, but not enough. These Hawks have been too adroit for too long to trip over Round 1. Said Smith: “The way it ended last year left a sour taste in our mouths. We want to write an even better story this year.”
The belief here is that they will. Hawks in six.