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NBA Playoffs: Red-Hot Miami Heat Hoping for Showdown with Atlanta Hawks

Michael PintoSenior Writer IApril 9, 2010

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 18:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat against  Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 18, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As of Friday morning, the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks are tied for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, with the Bucks holding the tiebreaker. 

Right above them, the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics are tied for the third seed, with the Hawks having swept the season series. 

All four teams have four games left to play in what should be an interesting close to the regular season. 

But who would the Heat rather play when the curtain opens on the postseason and it all comes down to a seven-game series?

Record aside, Miami is playing lights-out basketball right now, having won nine in a row and 15 of their last 18. They'll happily welcome either the Hawks or Celtics with confidence, and with the way the Heat's big men have been playing, Miami would matchup well with either opponent. 

But Boston went 3-0 against the Heat this season, although the teams' last meeting was February 3. The Celtics are a grind-it-out, half-court team with a lot of talented bigs who have a ton of playoff experience. And don't forget about Rasheed Wallace; he's been a thorn in Miami's side since 2005.

On the other hand, the Heat lick their chops when they see the Hawks coming. Miami went 3-1 against its division rival this season, claiming victory in their last three meetings by an average of 17 points. 

Face it, Miami just has Atlanta's number. Don't think for a moment the Hawks don't know it, too. Although you'd never hear them admit it, they really don't want to face Miami in the playoffs. 

A year ago these teams met in Round One and played one of the oddest playoff series in NBA history. It was probably the least competitive seven-game series in a very long time. It's not often that a series pushes to seven games with an average margin of victory of more than 20 points. 

In the wins, the Heat were dominant, blowing the Hawks out of the building. In the losses, the Heat looked beyond lost. 

There's no argument that both teams are stronger this time around. Atlanta looked like a solid contender for much of the year, but has dropped off a bit since. Still, the Hawks are a very talented team that is as athletic as they come. 

Miami looked like a second-class club for much of the year, but what the Heat have been able to accomplish lately can't be ignored. This team is firing on all cylinders. 

And they would love nothing more than to return the favor and let the Hawks enjoy an early summer this year. 

The playoffs are a different animal. Record and standings go out the window; all that matters is the next four to seven games. The Heat understands that and even though they wouldn't have home court advantage, they would enter the series with the edge. 

Atlanta doesn't have an answer for the way Jermaine O'Neal is playing lately, nor do the Hawks match up on the other end with Miami's interior defense, which is getting solid contributions from O'Neal, Joel Anthony, and Udonis Haslem.

On top of that, the Heat's perimeter defense is locking down teams like they haven't all year, which should seriously hurt the Hawks' outside game, especially Joe Johnson.

Dorell Wright, Quentin Richardson, and Dwyane Wade are causing a lot of trouble and are all capable of solid one-on-one defense against any perimeter player on the Hawks' roster. Expect Wright and Richardson to give Josh Smith a headache as well. 

This is a series the Heat could not only win, but they also could dominate. 

That could be a major confidence builder for Miami, possibly giving this team the idea it can do exactly what ot isn't supposed to do: Compete deep in the playoffs.

So with only four games left and Boston and Milwaukee standing in Miami's way of a first-round matchup with Atlanta, it could be interesting to see how the Bucks-Celtics series plays out. They play each other twice in the next week. 

The Heat can't finish worse than sixth in the playoff race, but that doesn't change the fact that the next four games are huge. 

The difference between the fifth and sixth seeds could be huge. 

Miami would love to book a flight to Atlanta. 

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