This is MY house
The Heat has given themselves a grand opportunity to get the upper hand in their first round series with Atlanta. After rebounding from a seemingly devastating Game 1 loss, they made a complete 180 and in doing so now have homecourt advantage, something they worked very hard over the final half of the season to achieve, but didn't. Nevertheless, here we are with a best-of-five 1st round series (like the good ol' days) and the Heat host three of the games.
While there was plenty of talk before the series about the Hawks homecourt advantage at Phillips Arena, where they won 31 games during the regular season, I haven't seen/read/heard a peep about the American Airlines Arena. Those of us who follow the Heat know how crazy that place can get, and I have a gut feeling that it's going to get a little crazier then it normally would for a similarly significant game. I've been to a decent amount of the ‘big' games the Heat have hosted, including an NBA Finals game (Game 4) and Zo's 2005 comeback game. However, the loudest I can remember it being at the AAA was for a regular season game. A game against Detroit that many of you should remember, in February of our Championship season. D-Wade brought the Heat back from 13 down in the 4th quarter by scoring the final 17 points for Miami. That was the loudest I can ever remember it being at the Heat's house...but I was not at the 06 East Finals or Game's 3 or 5 of the NBA Finals.
I digress...back to the task at hand. I'm sure that Atlanta will want to come back strong from their unfortunate performance in Game 2, but it's going to take a lot more then just wishes and hopes for them to beat the Heat in the house of Wade. The Hawks did a good job of showing their strength's performing at the top of their game in the series opener, but when the Heat exposed their glaring weaknesses in Wednesday's rematch, suddenly it wasn't the ‘cake walk' that many of the Atlanta faithful were clamoring that it would be.
Atlanta's road struggles are well documented this season, while the Heat gained some serious momentum and confidence at home, especially after the All-Star break. It took the Heat one bad game to figure out the key to playing (and hopefully beating consistently) the Hawks in the playoffs, and it was quite simple. Play your own game. If Miami can simply keep the pace slow, they are playing right into their strength and into the Hawks weakness. As long as the Heat can keep the Hawks from running all over them, which after Game 1 I can't see Miami letting it happen again, Atlanta will have to shoot a very high percentage and Miami will have to shoot under 40% for the Hawks to have a legitimate shot. Assuming that the Heat build off of the success they had in Game 2, there is no reason they shouldn't become the alpha of this series.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
While the Heat players seem to feed off of D-Wade, Wade feeds off of his home crowd. I have all the confidence in the world that the Heat fans will make Dwyane feel like the Energizer Bunny tonight.
You know what? Michael Beasley still hasn't ‘broken out' in the Playoffs yet. Just sayin...
Another guy poised for a solid game is Mario Chalmers. Isn't it amazing how much progress the Heat has made without their star rookies playing ‘out of their minds', but just, dare I say, average? Imagine what happens when they shed their playoff jitters and enter the comfort zone...
I've given up on trying to predict how Daequan Cook will play. Just when you think he needs more time or treatment or whatever, he hits six 3-pointers for only the third time in 2009 and the first time in almost two months. Let's just hope he gets off to another hot start.
How are the Hawks going to approach D-Wade on D? Crowd the paint and he'll beat you outside. Double him as soon as he enters the front court and watch him rack up the assists. The best thing they can do is to mix it up and keep him guessing, but that will only get the Hawks so far until Wade figures out another way to beat them.
Remember how the Heat captains implemented a ‘no nightlife' rule while they were in Atlanta? The Hawks have said nothing about enforcing a similar policy for their stay in South Beach. We'll see if they change their tune should the Heat pull out a victory tonight.
If you take away Ronald 'Flip' Murray's 15-points off the Hawks bench (on 4-of-15 shooting), then the other three Atlanta reserve players that hit the court during Game 2 merited only 5 points. Compare that to 37 points off the Heat bench. Get where I'm going with this? Beasley, Cook, Moon...these guys will need to contribute, but there is no reason to think that they won't. Not when the focus is on some guy named Wade.
While Jamario Moon sat out yesterdays practice with tightness in his ailing groin, he said he'll be good to go tonight. His athletic style of play was perfect to throw back at the Hawks, and he will need to be back on his game tonight.
One final thing...can you guys please do me a favor and, no matter what he does tonight, please get off Jermaine O'Neal's back. He bust's his butt everyday for the Heat and while the on-court results may not always be where they should be, he is our best option at center. And need I remind you that he's only there to ensure we have a great shot at landing a big fish in the summer of 2010. I get just as annoyed with the sub-par games he has had, but the former All-Star elevates the game of our other star players while giving us a great inside-out option and blocking shots better then anyone has done in a Heat uniform since the days of Zo.
Ok folks, it's been almost three years (June 18th, 2006 to be exact) since the Heat have given their fans a home playoff win. Luckily, a very close friend of mine who has season tickets decided in his ultimate wisdom to invite me to tonight's game, so I'm preparing my lungs and throat for a very stressful and wearing evening. My only black Heat jersey is a throwback ‘Floridians' Wade jersey, and you better believe that I'll be wearing it. Game thread will be up as usual...If anybody would like to meet up at the game then let me know in the ‘comments' below, or shoot me an e-mail. I'd love to meet some of the Heat fans who frequent PIM...I'm talking to you Keeb, Kaz, and anybody else I'm leaving out. LETS GO HEAT!!