Scouting update: Heat-Hawks, Game 4
Game 3 clearly demonstrated the Miami Heat are coming together and finding themselves, while the Atlanta Hawks are heading in the opposite direction. The Heat dominated from the start of Saturday's contest to take a 2-1 series lead and have the Hawks in crisis mode in Game 4.
• An air ball and an offensive foul to start the game foreshadowed the Hawks' dismal offensive performance in Game 3. Poor decision-making and shot selection as well as bad spacing and timing plagued the Hawks. The wheels have completely come off their half-court offense.
• Getting Joe Johnson going will be a priority for the Hawks in Game 4, and they must run their sets for him with more speed and better precision. The Hawks seem to run their offense in slow motion, as they simply stand around often and move the ball very little. The slow offense has greatly contributed to Johnson's 10-for-30 (33.3 percent) shooting in the past two games.
• When Johnson catches the ball, the Heat defenders are just waiting on him. He is playing one versus five, surrounded by Heat defenders when playing his drives into the paint. He routinely ran into multiple defenders in Game 3 and had his shot blocked all night as he overpenetrated into the teeth of the Miami defense.
• If Dwyane Wade guards Johnson in Game 4, look for Johnson to come off multiple screens and double staggers to run Wade through a gamut of bodies. Part of Atlanta's defensive strategy on Wade will be to make him work harder when he defends. That also may cause Miami to make Wade, its best defender, a more stationary offensive player.
• Expect the Hawks to try to create more early offense by putting ball screens in front of Mike Bibby, especially drag screens in transition. Bibby then could use the traffic in the middle of the floor to brush off his man and dribble into open space or turn the corner to the rim.
• The Hawks can't continue to just jog down the floor and run sets. They must push the ball and have Bibby produce off the dribble. Expect the Hawks to play a faster pace in Game 4 so they can make some easier baskets. Al Horford might then use his speed to beat Jermaine O'Neal down the floor.
• Atlanta also must create more cutting action when Horford catches the ball in the post. Horford is an excellent passer, but not when everyone waits for him to make a move. Look for some scissor action on the side of the court where the ball is in play and multiple weakside flashes from Josh Smith if the Heat defenders peek in at the post.
• In Game 4, the Hawks must make harder cuts, tougher screens and quicker, more efficient ball movement to get the Heat defense in motion. None of their sets and quick hitters are effective at half speed and with the ball staying in one player's hands. The ball has to change sides of the floor more often and faster. • Atlanta's lethargic defense in Game 3 could not keep things close while its offense was stalling at the other end. The Hawks were beaten down the floor off the dribble and on the offensive boards.
• The Hawks desperately need an infusion of energy and effort on the defensive end. Quicker rotations, harder closeouts and a more inspired effort on the boards could help them out of their offensive doldrums.
• Atlanta needs to put Wade back in his box. It must get him off the 3-point line and entice him to drive again.
• The Hawks have to get to Wade early and crowd him on his right shoulder. They can play perpendicular to him, if necessary, but cannot allow him to shoot the jump shot when open. If he drives, they must foul him hard. Atlanta must turn this game into a fight, and there is no better way to get that started than to put Wade on the ground early.
• One can sense the Heat are beginning to come together and take shape the way they envisioned after making the midseason trade for O'Neal. When Hawks forward Marvin Williams sat out Game 3, the O'Neal-Udonis Haslem combo inside presented too tough a matchup for Atlanta.
• On offense, O'Neal has played inside in the past two games, and this move has helped the Heat firmly establish their offense. After the Game 1 disaster, O'Neal expressed a desire to be more involved on offense.
• Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has complied with a steady diet of post feeds, which have led to scores and assists out of the post. O'Neal is playing the exact role the Heat had in mind when they acquired him.
• Post scoring in the NBA is like the running game in the NFL: Once you can establish it, you open up everything else in the offense. The Hawks have not been able to contend with O'Neal and expect them to make a concentrated effort to deny him the ball in Game 4.
• Denying O'Neal will put Haslem in the role he played on Miami's NBA championship team in 2006 as a midrange shooting, offensive-rebounding power forward. Look for Haslem's offense to be a big part of Game 4 from the elbows and short corner and on the offensive glass.
• Wade has accepted the challenge of being the primary defender on Johnson, and the Heat frustrated Johnson into turnovers and bad shots in Game 3. They also blocked his shot on numerous drives into traffic.
• Miami is confident in O'Neal's ability to defend Horford in the post, so the Heat don't have to double and can stay home on shooters and jam cutters when Horford looks to pass. This also keeps them in good rebounding position.
• With the Hawks' offense stagnant, Mario Chalmers should expect Bibby to come out more aggressively. Chalmers' size will continue to allow him to contest 3s while playing off Bibby to protect against the drive.
• Williams gives Atlanta a size and athleticism advantage at the forward position, which gave Michael Beasley and the Heat's small forwards matchup problems during the regular season. If Williams returns after missing Game 3, the Hawks desperately need him to perform well in Game 4.