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Taking a Closer Look at the Heat's Potential First Round Opponents

As Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat prepare to face the Chicago Bulls tonight in a game that with major playoff implications for both teams, now is a good time as any to do a quick recap on the teams that could face the Heat in the first round of the playoffs... Cleveland Cavaliers (57-15) The Heat played the Cavs pretty evenly the first two games and through three quarters in the final game but the fact remains that they were swept by the Cavs and it would take a Herculean effort by Wade to avoid the same fate in the first round. Now that the Cavs have Zyradahuhuhws Ilgasueaskas back in the fold their size up front (including James) would be too much for Jermaine O’Neal, Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire over the course of seven games. To make matters worse, the Heat didn’t even have the pleasure to face the Cavs after the trade deadline and subsequent addition of Antawn Jamison to the frontline. Coupled with the eventual return of Shaquille O’Neal from injury and the reemergence of former Celtic Leon Powe who finally appears ready to contribute just in time for the playoffs, the Cavs’ depth and chemistry may be too much for any NBA team to overcome let alone the Heat. The Cavs have only lost four games at home so far this season, can you really envision the Heat winning there in the playoffs? The NBA and the TV executives would certainly love the Wade vs James angle and it would be great for ratings and the NBA fan, not so good for a Heat enthusiast. Prediction: Cavs 4-1 (providing Wade has one monster game at AA Arena) Boston Celtics (46-25) After personally witnessing the horror that was the Heat’s agonizing OT loss to the Celtics on January 6th at home (with what seemed to be half of the arena filled by Celtics fans), I can safely say that this another team that the Heat should want to avoid in the first round. Rajon Rondo has emerged as a first-class point guard and against the Heat backcourt he’s simply unstoppable. Chalmers and Arroyo are incapable of keeping up with him, let alone staying in front of him at the top of the key or on a breakaway opportunity. His stats against the Heat speak for themselves with 20.0 points per game (up from his season average of 13.7) and 11.0 assists per game (up from 9.7). If Kevin Garnett’s knees are still giving him problems we’re going to be treated to some ugly rebounding battles against similarly flat-footed Jermaine O’Neal and Magloire. If Pierce can somewhat nullify Wade’s offensive feats with his own scoring and let the rest of the Celtics make up the difference then it should be relatively easy for them to dispatch the Heat in a timely fashion. Prediction: Celtics 4-1 Orlando Magic (50-22) The Heat had a great chance at winning the series 3-1 but apparently it was too difficult for the coaching staff to design a play that would give Wade the ball at the top of the key so he had a bit more room to work with in the closing moments of the Heat’s last game against their state rivals. Despite the Magic having more talent and size there’s something about the Heat that undeniably gives them problems and it starts with their superstar Dwight Howard. Foul trouble has dogged him the entire series against the Heat along with some subpar offensive games (12, 17, 7, and 10 points each game). Suffice to say that if he can play to his usual standards the task at hand for the Heat to beat them 4 times out of 7 games is that much harder. The Heat had a chance to draft Jameer Nelson (choosing Dorell Wright instead) and re-sign Jason Williams this offseason yet the point guards at present for the Heat don’t hold a candle to either Magic player. It’s no secret that the Heat struggle in this position but it’s an even more difficult matchup when both guards are quick, explosive while playing low to the ground on dribble-and-drive penetration. If Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter can knock down what should be open looks to the basket then it’ll be lights out for the Heat. Prediction: Magic 4-3 Atlanta Hawks (46-25) This should definitely be the one matchup the Heat would prefer to have. A rematch of last year’s 7 game first round series and the one elite Eastern team that the Heat have had success with. The Hawks have struggled with their field goal shooting against the Heat throughout the series and Wade as well as Michael Beasley have both done very well against them. After losing in convincing manner to the Hawks in the first matchup, the Heat have had the upper hand with three straight victories. For one thing it seems like home-court advantage doesn’t matter much to either team from one game to the next so the task of stealing a win or two away in Atlanta doesn’t appear to be as daunting as it would be against Cleveland or Boston. In the backcourt, Bibby has been a shell of his younger self against the Heat during the regular season but the Hawks now employ professional Heat-killer Jamal Crawford and there’s no telling what he’s capable of doing to the Heat during the playoffs. Marvin Williams and Josh Smith theoretically should have their way against the Heat forwards but they’ve been prone to disappearing against the Heat this season for long stretches of time. Beating the Hawks in a playoff series won’t be a cakewalk but strong games by O’Neal and Beasley along with a dominant stretch of games by Wade could be enough to beat the Hawks eventually over seven games. Prediction: Heat 4-3