Running with Zaza

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5 Offensive Keys for a Huge Hawks Game 5 Win

1. Mo and Flip have to play big. If Marvin Williams does not play, the Hawks are going with a 7 man rotation. Mo in the starting line up and Flip off the bench. These guys were picked up in August by GM Rick Sund and few in this town paid any attention (check my blog I was calling for the Evans signing before he signed). The combination is averaging almost 15 ppg in this series. Tonight, they both need to score in double figures.

2. The Hawks have to get to the foul line and convert. A high number of free throw attempts means that you are getting shots in the paint either on drives to the basket, transition cuts, or post moves. Atlanta is averaging 24 attempts per game from the line on 71% shooting. They need to get to the foul line 35 times tonight and shoot a high percentage.

3. Mike Bibby has to get more open 3 point shot attempts.. He is attempting under 5 shots per game from 3 point land in this playoff series. I do not think he is being aggressive enough on offensive end. Granted the Heat are keying on him with Mario Chalmers and Chalmers does not ever have to double team anyone in the post. The Hawks need to look for Bibby on quick kick outs after offensive rebounds. Bibby must be more aggressive and call his own number more tonight.

4. Al Horford must step up. Horford is highly respected in basketball circles all around the country. He is looked at as the next great power forward for USA basketball. The problem is that Jermaine O’Neal has exposed him as an under sized center who has trouble guarding a bigger player. Horford has to get physical on the offensive end. He has to attack the basket. He has to match Zaza Pachulia’s energy. Horford is averaging 2 offensive rebounds per game in this series. Tonight, he needs to man up and get about 6 offensive rebounds and convert them into scores.

5. Will the real Joe Johnson please stand up? Forget about his low scoring numbers. In the regular season, Super Joe averaged almost 6 assists versus 2.5 turnovers per game. Those numbers are close to being reversed against the Heat. Johnson needs to be a playmaker and let the offense come to him. When the Heat double him on the perimeter, he needs to attack the double and create open shots for teammates. The Hawks bigs, especially Josh Smith and Horford, need to cut to open areas and to the basket for easy scores. I have a great feeling the JJ is going to play his best game of the series tonight and lead the Hawks to a 3-2 series advantage.


Hawks Have to Stay Grounded for Game 2

Hopefully, Mike Woodson and his coaching staff have been able to bring the soaring Hawks back down to Earth after Sunday’s big win. The city is buzzing about this team and the danger is that the players just show up and expect to beat the Heat again. Some people are even talking about a sweep which is ridiculous. The Hawks need to understand that they are going to face a much different Miami Heat team on Wednesday night in Game 2.

For starters, the Heat’s young players should come out with a better idea of intensity needed to compete in the playoffs and of the noise level in Philips Arena. Last year, a veteran team like the Celtics was rattled in the Hawks home arena, so the Heat’s struggles were not unprecedented. Mario Chalmers, Michael Beasley, and company should all be better on Wednesday night.

Secondly, Dwayne Wade clearly was rusty from his week long lay off. The Hawks defense has done a solid job on Wade all season, but he did play up to his normal standards. I like the way the Hawks forwards helped Joe and Mo Evans by challenging every one of Wade's attempts. Undoubtedly, Wade is going to be on a mission in Game 2.

The Heat are sure to run more screen and roll on the wing to try and get him into the middle of the floor. I also see Coach Spoelstra running some zipper cut action to get Wade the ball at the top of the floor. I would actually not bring the screener in this case and let Wade work one on one. The Heat could flatten out their offense to a 1-4 low set with 3 point shooters in the corners.

Finally, the best feature of the Hawks' win on Sunday was their unselfish play on the offenive end of the floor. The Hawks were very focused on the offensive end. The ball movement reminded me of that great stretch of home games in December.

Clearly, Coach Woodson had a game plan to attack the Miami Heat inside. Smith, Horford, and Zaza had opportunities in the paint early in the game. Getting alley oop dunks, easy post scores, and offensive put backs opened up the outside shooting for the Hawks perimeter players.

The Hawks have the experience not to look beyone Game 2. Stay focused on the task at hand. Offensively, they have to stick to their game plan. Defensively, they need to be ready for an all out assault from D-Wade. Wade might take over 30 shots in this game. The Hawks defense on Wade is the key. If Wade responds with an all around monster game with a near triple-double, the Hawks are in trouble and the Heat can steal a game at the Highlight Factory.


Hawks 5 Keys to Beat the Miami Heat

The Atlanta Hawks have earned their playoff berth and playoff seeding this season. Unlike last season, no one can say that they backed into the 2009 playoffs. This team is firmly entrenched as the 4th best team in the Eastern Conference.

I wrote a breakdown of the player matchups for the Hawks versus Miami Heat playoff series about three weeks ago. Nothing really has changed in my thinking. Any 5th grader that follows the NBA knows that the main key to this series is Dwayne Wade and how the Hawks decide to try to attack him defensively. Without Wade, the Heat are a lottery team. He should finish second to Lebron James in the NBA MVP voting.

However, the Hawks clearly have a better 8 man rotation than the Heat. The Hawks also have the benefit of playing in the playoffs last year. The problem for the Hawks is that an NBA playoff series can be dominated by one player. If Wade goes off for 50+ points in Game 1 and the Heat win in Philips Arena, the Hawks will be facing their toughest challenge in a season filled with adversity.

To beat the Heat, the Hawks have to answer 5 key questions:

1. What is the injury status of Marvin Williams? The former second overall pick in the NBA draft is in his contract year. He elevated his game this year on both ends of the floor. His three point shooting and defensive efforts were essential to the Hawks’ quick start to the season.

However, Marvin’s back is out of whack. He has not played much in the past six weeks. I have been arguing for him to come off the bench since last summer. If he can score off the bench, use his length to bother the Heat’s Michael Beasley, and rebound, the Hawks should win this series.

2. Can Jermaine O’Neal be a low post scoring option for the Heat? The Al Horford vs. Jermaine O’Neal match up in the low post is very intriguing. Most of the time playoff basketball slows down and the offense has to rely more on set plays. The Heat need to generate some easy baskets in the post by getting the ball to O’Neal. Horford will have to guard him in the post.

I like Horford’s energy and defensive intensity. He has to push O’Neal off the block and make him shoot face up jumpers. If O’Neal can spin into the lane and shoot short hook shots, the Hawks are in trouble. The Hawks cannot afford to try to double in the post and take away Wade on the perimeter. If O’Neal reaches the 20 point mark in a game, the Heat probably win.

On the other hand, the Hawks need to establish Horford on the block on the offensive end. He has been inconsistent this season with his post moves. If he is aggressive, “The Boss” should be able to score on O’Neal who likely will play behind in the post and let Horford catch the ball on the block.

3. Which version of Josh Smith shows up for this series? Since the Marvin Williams injury, Smith has started to play good basketball. He is doing the little things and he is scoring and rebounding. His defense is better. He has taken charges and played the passing lanes. He has kept his man from penetrating for the most part. J-Smoove also has become a playmaker. He is an above average passer who delivers the ball to perimeter shooters on the money. Guys can just catch the pass and shoot.

Smith seems to have realized that he can score 30 points in a game if he takes the ball to the basket and makes his free throws. He occasionally jacks up a terrible jump shot, but those miscues have become fewer and fewer. My problem with J-Smoove has been that for every good thing on the court he does a bad thing. If he makes more positive plays than negative, the Hawks can beat the Heat and challenge the Cavs in Round 2.

4. Can Mike Bibby continue to make big shots at the end of games? Bibby has been a rock for Hawks coach Mike Woodson this season. The other night I watched him direct the offense and call out plays at the end of a crucial Hawks win. Plus, all year long, Bibby has made clutch 3 point shots at the end of games.

The Heat defense should focus on Joe Johnson in end of game situations. Johnson was dynamite in last year’s playoffs and scored repeatedly on the Boston Celtics in the 4th quarter of games. This year he has Bibby to pass to for the open jump shot. It is possible that Bibby will have 3-4 shots in this series that will decide games. I hope that he makes them.

5. Can the Hawks slow down Dwayne Wade? Wade cannot be stopped, but he can be contained. Hold him to 30 and make him earn those points by not giving up dunks and lay-ups. Slow down the Heat’s transition game by scoring on the offensive end.
I have been critical of the Hawks’ defensive approach to guarding the screen and roll play all season. There are probably about 12 ways to guard this play, but the Hawks seem to only switch the play. Switching works if the offensive player with the ball is hesitant to attack the bigger defender off the dribble. D-Wade will not have that problem. He will attack the Hawk Bigs, score, and probably get fouled.

The Hawks have to mix up how they guard the screen and roll depending on the players involved. If Jermaine O’Neal is coming to set the screen for D-Wade, the Hawks should double Wade. Make him give the ball up to O’Neal on the perimeter. O’Neal can make the outside shot, but can the Heat beat you with him shooting jumpers? I don’t think so.

If Udonis Haslem is coming to set the screen, the Hawks do their normal switch. I think that Josh Smith is athletic enough to guard Wade on some possessions. If Smith focuses, gets into a defensive stance, and gives Wade a step, Smith can keep Wade from getting all the way to the basket. Smith could force him into taking jump shots off the dribble with a hand in his face.

Of all the playoff matchups in the Eastern Conference, this series shapes up as the most competitive. It looks like it will be the superstar player leading his team versus a deeper, more veteran Hawks’ squad. My prediction is that the Hawks with home court advantage will win this series in seven games.