Below: We asked a few of our writers their thoughts on Hawks-Cavs, their Heat postseason outlook and predictions for the first-round and beyond. Enjoy!
Immediate thoughts/reactions from Hawks-Cavaliers? Anything you saw that stood out?
Matt Hanifan: First off, congratulations to the Hawks! Trae Young erupted for 32 second-half points (!) — with 38 in total — as Atlanta battled back from down double digits without Clint Capela (for part of the game) and John Collins. Atlanta’s defense tightened up down the stretch after an abysmal first half, where Cleveland shooters got open-look-after-open-look. Though I think that’s Atlanta’s top flaw that Miami can exploit. Miami and Atlanta were the top-two 3-point shooting teams in the league in the regular season, though Atlanta was the seventh-worst at defending the trey-ball while Miami was one of the best. Interested to see how this series takes course with Capela out for at least one week with John Collins returning after missing 16 straight.
Surya: The Hawks have significantly improved since their lowest point in the season not too long ago to close out the season 7-2, though one of those losses was to the Heat when they were fighting for playoff positioning. Young is always going to be a lethal threat, and he proved it yet again in the postseason by leading his team to two impressive play-in victories. Just how effective he can be against the Heat’s exceptional defense, and now without Capela for at least a significant portion of the series, is what I’m looking forward to watching in this first round.
What are your thoughts on the Heat regular season heading into the postseason?
Naveen: You can make a case it was their best regular season in franchise history in terms of surpassing expectations. Although there were clear flaws in the roster, they were still able to clinch the one seed on top of a plethora of missed games due to injury to key players. The defense is elite. The offense is good. They’re far from perfect, but they have a shot to win it all.
Matt H.: I was pretty high on this Heat team in the offseason, and yet they still surpassed my expectations, given the slew of injuries and COVID-absences that plagued them for a majority of the season. For the most part, the defense was as every bit good as I thought it’d be, and then some. The offense underwent bumps in the road — especially in the half-court, which was predictable given the personnel — but the team’s collective grit, acumen and sheer efficiency more than made up for it. A lot will still have to go right, but this team has a shot to win it all.
Surya: I’m still not sure if the Heat overachieved, or if everyone simply underestimated them, but now is the time to prove the doubters wrong. With the No. 1 seed comes heavy expectations but they proved time and time again in the regular season that they are up to the task no matter who is playing.
Okay, let’s get into a little more of the playoff discussion. Who will be the Heat’s X-Factor?
Naveen: Tyler Herro. If the scoring production we saw out of him in the regular season is something he replicates against tougher competition in the playoffs, Miami will have a say in how these playoffs go.
Matt H.: Bam Adebayo. The Heat will go as far as his aggressiveness takes them. When Adebayo is aggressive, it eventually opens up other avenues to the Heat offense. As the second best player on a team in a conference littered with capable defensive centers — a few of whom primarily play in the drop — his aggressiveness will be crucial, especially after what we saw last year versus Milwaukee.
Surya: This is a tough question to answer because I could make a solid case for Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro. But doesn’t that speak to their depth? We can count on Tyler to get his buckets, Butler and Lowry to raise their games in the playoffs as they are known to do, but I really do want to see Bam put the team on his shoulders – especially down the stretch in close games – and be a force to be reckoned with.
Besides injury, the Heat get bounced if…..
Naveen: Their 3-point shooting abandons them at the wrong time and their size disadvantage is taken advantage of by bigger opponents who know how to take advantage of their switching.
Matt H.: Miami’s fantastic four significantly struggle, the 3-point shooting tails off and the Hawks — namely Trae Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic — has a parade from beyond the arc.
Surya: The offense bogs down through long stretches, too many isolated plays and not enough ball movement, and the Hawks/Young take full advantage of it.
The Heat advance to the second round if…
Naveen: They don’t screw things up. They’re better than whoever they’ll face in the first round. They need to play to their strengths.
Matt H.: When this team knocks down triples, they’re a threat to beat any team in the league. And Atlanta isn’t good at defending the 3. So that’s my key to victory, though the Heat will need Butler, Herro, Adebayo and Lowry to play well, too.
Surya: The Heat maintain the same level of play they’ve shown in the regular season.
Naveen: Heat in 5 over the Hawks
Matt H.: Heat in 5 — is that even a question?
Surya: Heat in 5
Lastly, what’s one bold Heat playoff prediction you have?
Naveen: Miami will win the East.
Matt H.: Assuming the Heat make-and-win the finals, a Heat player not named Jimmy Butler wins the NBA Finals MVP. Just a gut feeling. I know I’m breaking the rules by doing two — but another one is that no Heat series lasts the full seven games.
Surya: Jimmy Butler: NBA Finals MVP. It’s got a nice “ring” to it.