As the Miami Heat sit on the brink of elimination from the 2009 NBA playoffs, one thing is evident: The Heat need to get downright physical. Miami needs to play like a Pat Riley constructed squad. They need to play how the Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway teams did back in the late 1990s. And that all starts with suffocating defense.
The Miami Heat/Atlanta Hawks first round series has been marked as a series of blowouts. The average margin of victory through the first five games is 19, with the closest game being a 10-point victory by Atlanta in Game Four.
The main reason for the barrage of lopsided victories? The lack of physicality and intensity portrayed by either team in the losses.
As the the Heat approach Game Six, they find themselves behind 3-2 in their best-of-seven quarterfinals matchup. And for Miami to stave of elimination, they are going to have to match Atlanta's physicality and play lock down defense. That will start with the Heat's starting frontcourt.
Fortunate for Miami, both of the Hawks starting forwards, Al Horford and Marvin Williams, will be missing the pivotal Game Six due to injuries. Horford landed awkwardly on his ankle in Wednesday's Game Five victory and Williams has been plagued by a wrist injury throughout the entire series.
Miami will need Jermaine O'Neal and Udonis Haslem to step up and have big games. They need to take advantage of Atlanta's thin frontcourt and dominate on the glass. O'Neal and Haslem's inside presence will also be instrumental for the Heat's success tonight.
In Miami's two wins of the series, the two frontcourt mates have combined for 63 points and 36 rebounds while in their three losses, they combined for 60 points and 33 rebounds.
The Heat will also have the advantage of being highly motivated for this Game Six matchup in Miami. After Game Five's showboating antics by the Hawks, mainly Josh Smith's attempt at a through the leg dunk with the game already decided, the Heat will be a fired up team.
They will be playing with emotion and intensity and will be riled up by a hostile American Airlines Arena.
“We were very insulted by it,” Wade said, referring to the Smith dunk.
The Heat will work off the emotion of Game Five. Hard fouls, flagrant fouls, and near fights all epitomized the atmosphere of the game. Miami will work off that emotion and playoff atmosphere.
Dwyane Wade had to be separated from Solomon Jones after a hard foul by the Atlanta big man, which almost ignited a fight. Then, later on in the game, Wade was called for a flagrant for a "hard foul" on Maurice Evans, which erupted the crowd and really made the series heated.
We can expect Dwyane Wade to have a huge game after loosing two straight, and taking it personal that the Hawks were showboating in the games final minutes. He is the Heat's captain and he will rile up his troops for the game. He is going to try to lead by example and let his intensity motivate his supporting cast.
Wade, who has been limited by back spasms, said he felt a lot better Friday afternoon and will hope to get into the game immediately instead of in the second half.
In Wednesday's loss, Wade had a lackluster first half performance, only to heat up in the second half when the game was already decided and finish with 29 points. A healthier and motivated Wade will really boost Miami's chances tonight.
But, the most crucial key to the Heat's success tonight is their physical play. If they can utilize the rowdy home crowd, play suffocating defense, and outrebound their opponents while shoving around Atlanta's frontcourt, they will be able to overcome the Hawks.
And with an extra emotional Dwyane Wade, it wouldn't be any surprise if the Miami Heat forced a take-it-all Game Seven in Atlanta.