OVERVIEW: The Hawks earned much-needed home-court advantage with their best finish since going 50-32 in 1997-98. They have improved from 13 to 26 to 30 to 37 to 47 victories in the last five seasons, and now is the time to break through for their first playoff-series victory in a decade. For Miami, Dwyane Wade enters the series having averaged 33.9 points, 8.3 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals since the All-Star break, which is all you really need to know about why a team that won 15 games a year ago reached the playoffs under rookie coach Erik Spoelstra.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Holding serve. The Hawks and Heat combined for 59 home victories and only 31 road wins. Neither Atlanta nor Miami has beaten a winning team on the road since the All-Star break. Having a potential Game 7 in their building is a luxury for the Hawks, who showed what they could do in a charged-up atmosphere when they won three home games against Boston in the first round last season.
2. Spotlight on the kids. Wade deserves the credit for Miami's turnaround, but the fact that the Heat have a fighting chance to win in Round 1 is due in part to some surprisingly consistent play from rookie point guard Mario Chalmers and a hearty helping of offense from rookie forward Michael Beasley and second-year swingman Daequan Cook. How will the youngsters respond as the intensity picks up in the playoffs?
3. Toe the line. Keeping Wade off the free-throw line is a big part of containing the NBA scoring leader. Atlanta accomplished that feat in the regular season, holding Wade to six attempts per game, nearly four below his average. The Hawks need to continue to limit their fouls against Wade and force him to beat them from the perimeter.
UNDER THE RADAR: Keep an eye on Marvin Williams, who returned earlier this week after missing 16 games with a back injury. The former No. 2 pick will never make the Hawks forget the mistake they made by not selecting Chris Paul or Deron Williams in the 2005 draft, but his combination of size, quickness and shooting ability is what Miami hopes it has in Beasley. Along with being an agile defender, Williams is averaging 13.9 points on 45.8 percent shooting. In other words, he's the guy throwing in the dagger while Wade and Co. are collapsing on Joe Johnson.
PREDICTION:Hawks in 7. Wade will put on a show, but one-man gangs have their limits, and one of those is taking down an athletic, more experienced Hawks team that has lost at home only 10 times all season.
MORE SERIES BREAKDOWNS
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