Monday , Apr , 20 , 2009 C.Y. Ellis

Don’t make too much of Game 1 if you’re a Heat fan

Don't make too much of Game 1 if you're a Heat fanDon’t panic.

 I know that, as a Heat fan, it was easy to go into this series and think that, with Dwyane Wade on your team, Miami easily had the best player on the floor  – the Most Valuable Player in many people’s eyes, actually – and I know you were expecting big things out of him.

 But did you really think the Heat would steal Game 1?

 Did you really think Miami – a team that struggled mightily against the Hawks this season, has a rookie point guard as its starter and another rookie as its go-to guy off the bench – could go into its first playoff game on the road and dominate?

 In my eyes, this is still a series that’s going to go right down to the wire.

 Yes, the Hawks’ defense locking down on Wade, not allowing him to do anything and making him force countless turnovers, was enough for the Heat to be completely stagnant with the ball in their hands. Yes, Miami didn’t seem like it had enough help to leave opposing teams the luxury of not letting others open. And, yes, Jermaine O’Neal is arguably the most overpaid player in the NBA.

 But go back and pay attention to how important playing at home has been for the Heat.

 Go back to 2006, when the Mavericks made the Heat look like fools on the road, then the NBA Finals series completely shifted once Dallas took a tour of South Beach.

 In fact, go back to the beginning of this season.

 Remember when the Heat looked like a lottery team on opening night against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, then came back home and annihilated the Kings and went on to be a pretty solid team in the East?

 You’d be surprised how much better a young team plays when people are actually rooting for them.

 Yes, I know Wade just flat-out has to play better – 8-for-21 from the field with eight turnovers just doesn’t cut it. But nothing about Wade – not anything you’ve ever seen since the Heat drafted him – would make you think he would let you down. We’ve seen Flash carry entire teams on his back. In fact, we saw a much younger and less polished Wade carry Miami to a championship.

 That is not my concern.

 But I do have one big one: How is Miami going to defend Josh Smith?

 The Heat have a traditional starting lineup now, and because of that, they are at the mercy of Atlanta – a team that starts two small forwards and, because of that, creates matchup nightmares for most opposing teams. Udonis Haslem can’t possibly man-up on Smith off the dribble, and he isn’t physically gifted enough to make him pay on the other end.

 In my mind, that’s the worst matchup, and it’s what could end up costing Miami the series.

 Wade, on the other hand, will get his; Jermaine O’Neal and Al Horford will end up cancelling each other out (I know that’s hard to believe right now, but they will); and neither supporting cast is going to dominate this series.

 But Smith’s production – he scored 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting with 10 rebounds in a 26-poing victory by the Hawks in Game 1 on Sunday night – scares me if I’m a Heat fan.

 Somehow, Miami will have to find a way to neutralize that matchup.

 If they don’t, their season will end right here.