The four-seed versus five-seed matchup is usually the most competitive and most exciting series of the first round, and barring a great upset, this year's NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs should be no different.
Not that Miami is completely healthy, either. Udonis Haslem missed the end of the seon with a thumb laceration, and Jamario Moon is ailing as well. And those are just the listed injuries; knowing the Heat, Dwyane Wade probably has bruises covering 93 percent of his body, and Jermaine O'Neal is one bad jumpshot away from something debilitating.
While Marvin Williams returned from his back problems for the last few games of the regular season, he played sparingly, and nobody is sure of his health or what role he will play in this postseason.
Zaza Pachulia and Acie Law are both nursing bad backs as well, though I doubt Acie Law would see much time anyway, even if healthy. Pachulia returned for the last game of the season, and should be near full strength.
It has been funny reading all of the previews of this series. Everyone thinks that Dwyane Wade can single-handedly beat the Hawks; one columnist even stated that "Dwyane Wade will outplay the Hawks starting five, even on a bad night."
Whatever you say, but in my mind, somebody else will have to step up for the Heat, whether it be Chalmers, Beasley, Haslem, Jermaine, Cook, Quinn, or even Harold Miner!
Mike Bibby (14.9 PPG, 5 APG, 1.6 TOPG) vs. Mario Chalmers (10.0 PPG, 4.9 APG, 2.0 TOPG)
The rookie Chalmers lacks Playoff experience, while Bibby has been here before plenty of times in the past. Bibby has the slight edge in nearly every statistical category, including FG percentage, three-point percentage, FT percentage, and A:TO ratio, though Chalmers easily beats him in steals.
Everyone knows that Mike is a streaky shooter and struggles on defense against quicker guards. Chalmers has played pretty well against the Hawks this season, but while Bibby has struggled, he has the edge.
The Hawks will need Bibby's shot to be on, and clutch.
Joe Johnson (21.4 PPG, 5.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 36 percent 3FG) vs. Dwyane Wade (30.2 PPG, 7.5 APG, 2.2 SPG, 31.7 percent 3FG)
Dwyane Wade will be the best player on the court in this series, and everybody knows that, so there's no need to debate between the two two-guards. But the dropoff isn't as huge as one would think.
Yes, Wade shoots a much better percentage than Johnson (five points better, actually), gets to the line twice as often, and steals twice as many balls.
The intriguing thing about this matchup will be how often Johnson actually plays man defense against Wade. I am guessing that the Hawks will be using a three-man rotation for "Flash," with Johnson, Marvin Williams, and Mario West splitting time guarding him.
When it comes to clutch time, expect it to be Johnson on Wade, and (hopefully for the Heat) Wade on Johnson.
The Hawks can afford to let Wade get his 25 to 30 points a game, but anything more than that could be trouble. More than 30 usually means he's gotten to line extra times, and when the Hawks are in foul trouble, they have to reach past their eight-man rotation.
Johnson needs to limit his isolation plays and keep the offense flowing for the Hawks to stay in rhythm. Wade just needs to do what he does: drive the lane, take over the contest...you know, the usual night from him.
Marvin Williams (13.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG) vs. Michael Beasley (13.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
Maurice Evans (7.2 PPG, 39.5 percent 3FG) vs. Jamario Moon (7.1 PPG, 37 percent 3FG)
To tell the truth, I actually have no idea who is going to be starting at the three for these two clubs. Heck, Diawara could be starting for Miami, but I am just going to focus on the Williams-Beasley matchup.
Beasley came on strong at the end of the year, playing arguably his best ball of the year, whereas Williams missed most of the final stretch, returning only for the last few games. He is reported to be at full strength, though it is still unsure whether he will be starting. I'm sure he'll get minutes, regardless.
Williams is more of an outside threat, as he hit more threes during the season, but Beasley shoots a slightly higher percentage. Williams gets to the line more often, though doesn't create his own jumper as frequently.
The Heat will be out of luck if Beasley starts chucking shots, and the Hawks will be in trouble if Marvin isn't fully healthy or afraid to make his own shot.
Josh Smith (15.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 49.2 percent FG) vs. Udonis Haslem (10.6 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 0.3 BPG, 51.8 percent FG)
Haslem is coming back from a lacerated thumb, but he is expected to be 100 percent, so I assume he'll be starting at the four.
Josh Smith has game-changing ability on both offense and defense. While he still takes a few too many ill-advised jumpers, his ability to play above the rim can fire up both the crowd and his teammates with just a single play.
Haslem has a better post-up game and is an all-around more solid defender, but he isn't a threat from outside and has a more relaxed offensive game.
Basically, you know what you're going to get from Haslem when he is on the floor: hustle, controlled offense, and stellar defense and rebounding.
Al Horford (11.5 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 53 percent FG, 1.4 BPG) vs. Jermaine O'Neal (13 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 47.5 percent FG, 1.9 BPG)
Al Horford has been in a groove in the second half of the season and ended the campaign averaging 15 and 10 in the month of April. Jermaine is a seasoned veteran, so it is unlikely that he will just back down from Horford, but Horford's athleticism may cause problems on both sides of the court.
Horford doesn't have the most refined offensive game and gives up at least an inch to Jermaine, but he has speed around the basket and is always dangerous coming off pick-and-rolls. Jermaine may have the more consistent back-to-the-basket game, but he loses his edge in rebounding and will have to get some fresh legs if he hopes to keep up with Horford.
Flip Murray, Marvin or Mo, Zaza Pachulia, and Mario West vs. Daequan Cook, Yakouba Diawara, Beasley or Moon, Jamaal Magloire, Luther Head, Chris Quinn, and Joel Anthony
The Heat have much more depth, and depending on whether or not they bench Beasley and the Hawks start Williams, the Heat will have the edge.
The Hawks for the most part will go eight deep, with Flip Murray as their sixth man, Zaza as their first big off the bench, and either Williams or Evans the resident small forward off the pine. Mario West will be used sparingly, maybe for 15 total minutes in the series as a defensive stopper.
It seems like the Heat have a never-ending supply of shooters off the bench, which makes it a deadly group. Then again, on a cold night, they're more just dead.
Daequan Cook has a shot that can make the Hawks pay. If Beasley comes off the bench, I bet Marvin will too. Jamaal Magloire will play a large part in containing Zaza Pachulia on the offensive boards.
Advantage: Even (Heat if Beasley comes off the bench and Marv doesn't)
Athleticism, intensity, and home court vs. Wade's Heroics (AKA referee help)
The Hawks play above the rim, run a lot, and will have the home-court advantage. But that could all be cancelled out by Dwyane Wade and, well, everything that makes him him.
Advantage: Even (unless Wade gets too many calls)
Hawks in six.
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