The matchup Tuesday night between the Miami Heat and the Atlanta Hawks was a precursor to the eventual playoff series that will begin by the weekend. Despite the fact that Dwyane Wade, Jermaine O'Neal, and Udonis Haslem were not suited up to play, the Hawks came onto the court with virtually their full starting lineup. So does this mean that the results will mimic how the playoffs will play out? The answer is yes...and no.
Obviously, there is no way to compare the game to a playoff environment since the Heat basically started a bench lineup and the Hawks only played their starters for a portion of the game (about the equivalent of one quarter and a little more). The tell tale pieces to this story that can be a preview to the playoffs is Michael Beasley's overall performance. The kid is a beast, with pun intended, as he recorded a double-double in the first quarter of the game. This was not against some second stringers and bench warmers; it was against Josh Smith, Al Horford, Marivin Williams and the starting front court crew. Beasley finished the game with 23 points and 13 rebounds in 24 minutes of play. I predicted that if he would have played a bit longer he would have easily tallied a 30 point-15 rebound showing.
The positive to this game was the fact that the Heat bench showed lots of resilience as the team's 2nd stringers kept neck-a-neck with the Hawks throughout most of the game, especially when the original Atlanta starters were on the court. To make a point, the Heat starters combined for 53 points, while the Hawks starters combined for 33 points - a 20 point differential. Whether you believe the Hawks were playing at full force or not, that's up to you, but I'd say the Heat did well for being a completely different team without the presence of 4 out of 5 of their starting lineup.
On a different note, expect a completely different ambience come April 18th. The real starters will be back on both sidelines and the level of competition will rise to new heights. Atlanta is no joke. They are a legitimate Eastern Conference team that has the potential to reach the 2nd and 3rd playoff rounds with ease. Miami has its hands full, but they got the lesser of all evils by avoiding 1st round matchups with Orlando, Boston, and Cleveland. I'd take Atlanta over that bunch any day.
This series can go either way, with a slight advantage going towards Atlanta and their playoff experienced squad. The Heat have youth and with youth comes inexperience. The upside is that both teams player similar styles of basketball, which will likely lead to games that will be played down to the wire. I expect at least a 6-game series and a very exciting one at that.
The Heat will be "Back in Black" and ready to continue their "Something2Prove" campaign. Whether Wade secures the MVP title or not, he will be poised to lead the Heat into uncharted waters just as he's done all season long. If you think Wade can't play at a higher level, then you have a short memory. Just look back at the 2006 playoff run and you'll quickly find that Wade has a "7th Gear." Strap yourselves in because this series will be the epitome of "Where Amazing Happens."
Good luck to the Miami Heat and congratulations to the organization for a huge one-season turnaround. Going from 15 to 40+ wins in such a short time span is an accomplishment in itself and makes this season a success as is. The playoffs are icing on the cake, and a 2nd round appearance would be the cherry on top. Let's see how much desert we will be fed.