Miami Heat-Atlanta Hawks Series Breakdown: Dwyane Wade Miami's X-Factor

Allen Levin@@TheNBAllenCorrespondent IIApril 19, 2009

After a long, grueling 82-game season, the Miami Heat will begin their playoff journey tonight at 8 PM when they square off against their division rivals, the Atlanta Hawks.

The fifth-seeded Heat will be looking for the upset as they arrive for game one at Phillips Arena against the fourth-seeded Hawks in what looks to be a grind-it-out, seven-game series. The Hawks took three out of four against Miami this year and will have home court advantage.

Here is the breakdown of the East's Quarterfinals matchup between the fourth-seeded Atlanta Hawks and the fifth-seeded Miami Heat:


Both Miami and Atlanta's offenses are in the middle of the pack, with the Heat ranked 18th in scoring and the Hawks ranked 20th. The Heat score 98.3 points per game, while Atlanta is right behind them with 98.1 PPG.

Neither team has a prolific offense, but what separates the two is that Miami has a dominant scorer in Dwyane Wade. Wade has the ability to take over a game with his scoring and has proven he can score in the 50's when his role players are lacking, as he has hit the half-century mark three times this year.

The Hawks have Joe Johnson, who averages a respectable 21 PPG, but that doesn't come close to Wade's 30.2 PPG, which gave him this year's scoring title.

The Heat also have a legitimate second offensive threat in Michael Beasley, who has been on a tear in the season's final games. The rookie has averaged 24.2 points and 11.2 rebounds per game over his last five games and is really showing flashes of his potential.

As far the Hawks, they have other scoring threats in Josh Smith and Mike Bibby, but their scoring duo of Johnson and Smith doesn't compare to Wade and Beasley.

Edge: Miami


Atlanta and Miami both rank in the top half of the league defensively. The Hawks allow 97 PPG per game, while the Heat allow 98 PPG.

Both squads pride themselves on their defense, which will be a huge factor in this series. Both the Heat and the Hawks have superior shot blockers in Jermaine O'Neal and Josh Smith. They are both a great defensive presence inside.

The Heat also boast the best shot-blocking guard in the NBA in Wade, who is the only player in NBA history 6'4" or under to have 100 blocks in a season. He is a primary reason why the Heat are ranked fourth in the league in blocked shots.

The key for the Heat will be to have good perimeter defense when guarding Johnson and Bibby, but also need to play well in the post defensively because Smith and Al Horford make their living there.

Atlanta's goal will be to stop the unstoppable, Dwyane Wade. If they want to win this series, they are going to have to limit his scoring and make the Heat rely on their role players for offense.

In addition to Josh Smith, the Hawks boast other good defenders in Johnson, Bibby, and Flip Murray. They also have one of the best perimeter defenses in the league, limiting their opponents to 35 percent from beyond the arc.

Edge: Atlanta


Rookie head coach Erik Spoelstra against five-year veteran coach Mike Woodson in this series.

Coach Spoelstra has done a wonderful job coaching the Heat after inheriting a horrific 15-67 team last year. He has truly learned from the best in Pat Riley and instilled a defensive presence in this Miami team. He has been able to out-coach many coaches in the league this year and that has been portrayed by his lack of rookie mistakes.

Coach Woodson has led the Hawks to their second straight playoff berth. He has brought them from the eighth seed to the fourth seed in one year and has also made defense a priority in Atlanta.

Although Spoelstra might be a rookie coach, he has served as a Miami assistant coach since 1997 and has been through every long playoff run the team has had, including the Heat's championship run in '06.

Woodson was an assistant coach under Larry Brown and the Detroit Piston team that won the 2004 NBA Championship. But, as far as postseason experience goes, Spoelstra has the clear advantage as he has seen the playoffs nine times in his career.

Edge: Miami


It is indisputable that the Heat have more playoff experience than the Hawks. Last year was the first time Atlanta made the postseason since the 1998-1999 season.

The Heat, meanwhile, are a consistent playoff team and have made the postseason six of the last seven years. In addition, their roster has players with championship experience in Wade (Finals MVP) and Udonis Haslem as well as players such as Jermaine O'Neal and James Jones, who have made it deep into the playoffs earlier in their careers.

The Hawks have players like Johnson and Bibby that have had their fair share of playoff battles, but Atlanta doesn't have anyone with a real championship experience.

In addition to experience, the Heat have the best player on the court through the series in Wade, which is a huge intangible in the playoffs.

Edge: Miami

Prediction: Miami in Seven

The fact of the matter is that Miami has the best player on the court at all times. Wade is an unstoppable force that will get his points either way. He is a leader that has championship experience.

But, even more dangerous than that is the fact that he is hungry. He feels like he has something to prove after last year's injury-riddled season. And that is the reason why Hawk's fans should be very scared coming into this series.

Wade's performance is the X-factor in this series because he has the ability to take over the entire series by himself and single-handedly win it for the Heat.

If the Heat can steal one in Atlanta tonight, the series might be shorter than expected, but I anticipate a grind-it-out seven-game series, with the Heat advancing to the second round.


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