Saturday , May , 07 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Preview – Miami vs. Washington

***** NBA Playoff Preview – Miami vs. Washington *****
From The Sports Network

By Warren Blatt, NBA Editor

MIAMI HEAT: 1st Seed, East (59-23)

WASHINGTON WIZARDS: 5th Seed, East (45-37)

(Sports Network) – The top-seeded Miami Heat will participate in the Eastern
Conference semifinals for just the fourth time in franchise history, as they
square off with No. 5 Washington in the best-of-seven series.

Miami and Washington are meeting in the postseason for the first-time ever.
The Heat finished 14 games ahead of second-place Washington in the Southeast
Division in the 2004-05 campaign.

The Heat reached the conference semis in 1997, 2000 and 2004. They made it
through the round just once, as they defeated the New York Knicks in seven
games in 1997, but were ousted in five games by the Chicago Bulls in their
only conference finals appearance in franchise history.

Miami swept the New Jersey Nets, 4-0, in the first round of the playoffs, as
it won the games by a total margin of 51 points. The Heat earned their first
sweep in franchise history in a best-of-seven set.

All-Stars Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade led the way for the Heat in the
opening round. Wade averaged team-highs in points (26.8 ppg) and assists (8.8
apg) against New Jersey, while Shaq, who was bothered by a bruised thigh in
round one, contributed 18.3 points and 8.8 boards per game. O’Neal and Wade
showed why they are arguably the best one-two combination in the league
against the Nets, as one of the two players always stepped up when the Heat
need a basket in a crucial part of the game.

Guards Damon Jones and Eddie Jones also provided some stellar play versus the
Nets. Both players drained timely threes throughout the series. Damon Jones
averaged 16.5 points, while Eddie Jones netted 16.3 per game.

Power forward Udonis Haslem played very well down low for the Heat in the
opening series. He led the club in boards (11.8 rpg) and scored some clutch
baskets on his way to averaging 8.8 points. Haslem gave Miami solid play on
the blocks and will need to do the same in the second round.

Miami, which owns the home-court advantage in this series, was an impressive
35-6 at home during the regular season. The Heat were a respectable 24-17 on
the road.

Washington defeated Chicago in six games in the conference quarterfinals, and
earned its first playoff series victory since 1982 when it eliminated New
Jersey, 2-0, in the first round. The Bullets, who became the Wizards for the
1997-98 campaign, fell in five games to the Boston Celtics in the semis that
season. The Wizards started as the Chicago Packers in 1961 before moving to
Baltimore and eventually ending up in the nation’s capital in 1974.

All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison and guard Larry Hughes carried the
Wizards past the Bulls. Arenas, who hit a game-winning jumper as time expired
in Game 5 to give the Wizards a 3-2 lead in the set, led the club in scoring
(23.0 ppg) and assists (6.0 apg), while Jamison, who netted 18.2 per game in
the first series, grabbed a team-best 7.3 rebounds per contest. Hughes
registered 22.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game against Chicago.

Reserve guard Juan Dixon provided Washington with solid play off the bench
against the Bulls, as he averaged 12.2 points per game, while center Brendan
Haywood posted 9.3 points and seven rebounds in the set.

Washington won all three games against Chicago at the MCI Center and was 1-2
on the road in the opening round.

The Wizards were 29-12 as the host during the regular season, and were just
16-23 on the road.

During the regular season, Miami won all four meetings between the teams as it
won twice at both AmericanAirlines Arena and the MCI Center. The Heat have won
eight straight games over Washington. The last time the Wizards defeated Miami
was on April 11, 2003.

FRONTCOURT: The Wizards will have the same problem that the rest of the league
has had. They will not be able to stop Shaq. The Heat’s dominant center will
have no problem positioning himself down low and scoring plenty of easy
baskets. Miami will exploit the mismatch in the middle and it will be very
difficult for Washington to overcome.

Haslem and Eddie Jones, who also plays shooting guard, will lineup next to the
Heat’s superstar center, and once again will benefit from the attention Shaq
gets. They will get a lot of open looks at the basket and should be able to
use the space that O’Neal creates to drive to the hole and draw fouls on the
Washington defenders. Haslem will accumulate a bunch of garbage points and
will hit the occasional 15-foot jumper, while Eddie Jones will score from the
outsider and won’t be afraid to drive to the hoop if given the room.

The Wizards counter with center Haywood, Jamison and Jared Jeffries. Haywood
and Jeffries are not big scorers and will need to bring their game to the next
level if Washington hopes to hang with the Heat. Haywood is a solid rebounder,
while Jeffries is athletic and can be effective in transition.

Jamison, who battled a nagging knee injury at the end of the regular season,
will score and rebound, but it won’t be enough. He is the one Washington
frontcourt player that the Heat will have to concentrate on stopping.

Shaq gives Miami the big advantage here. He is the most dominant player in the
league and should be thrilled with this matchup.

EDGE: MIAMI

BACKCOURT: Arenas and Hughes vs. Wade and Damon Jones is a decent matchup. All
four players can score in bunches and will provide the fans with plenty of
entertaining play.

The 23-year-old Wade and Arenas are two of the top point guards in the league.
Both players are offensive machines, but the difference is that Wade has Shaq
as a teammate and that opens up the court for the speedy guard. Arenas has to
work harder for his points, while Wade makes it look easy.

Damon Jones is one of the best three-point shooters in the league. He was 17-
of-34 from beyond the arc against the Nets. Like Eddie Jones and Haslem, Damon
Jones gets a lot of open looks and is capable of scoring at a fast pace in a
short amount of time.

Hughes is athletic and like Arenas excels in transition. He will need keep
scoring consistently in the second round if the Wizards hope to keep up with
the Heat.

Even though Shaq is not a guard, he is the difference once again. His presence
makes life on the court much easier for Wade and Damon Jones. Yes, Arenas and
Hughes are extremely talented, but they don’t have a teammate like O’Neal in
the middle to get the ball to, and they will have to work very hard to earn
what they get on the court. Wade is a superstar and he will once again shine
in this series, just as he did against New Jersey.

Life on the basketball court is easier for the Miami guards.

EDGE: MIAMI

BENCH: Miami has decent bench. Thirty-five-year-old reserve center Alonzo
Mourning, forward Christian Laettner and guard Keyon Dooling will get the
majority of the minutes that the Miami starters don’t play.

Mourning averaged 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in just over 15 minutes of
action in the four games against New Jersey. He played well in the middle and
injected life into the Heat’s play on both ends of the court. Dooling averaged
nine points in the first round, while Laettner logged just over 12 minutes per
game versus the Nets. Center Michael Doleac and forwards Shandon Anderson and
Rasual Butler could come off the pine and see some minutes in time of need

Washington’s bench is not as deep as Miami’s. Etan Thomas will try and help
Haywood defend Shaq, while Dixon can score from the outside and is able to
play alongside Arenas or Hughes.

Washington president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld announced during
the first round that center/forward Kwame Brown will not play for the team for
the rest of the postseason. The decision for Brown not to participate in the
remainder of the playoffs came after a meeting between him, head coach Eddie
Jordan and Grunfeld. Without Brown, 6-8 center/forward Michael Ruffin will be
asked to play some important minutes.

EDGE: MIAMI

COACH: Stan Van Gundy, the brother of Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy, had his
load lightened considerably when Pat Riley acquired Shaq from the Lakers last
offseason. He guided the Heat to the second round of the 2004 playoffs, as
they lost in six games to the Indiana Pacers. Stan Van Gundy is 10-7 all-time
in the postseason as Miami’s general.

Washington’s Jordan, who was known for his success as an assistant coach in
New Jersey and Sacramento, has proven his ability as a head coach. The head
man’s Princeton-like movement offense scored 100.5 points per contest (6th)
during the regular season. Jordan has been able to get the most out of his
club this season, and has made the franchise proud with its first-round
victory over Chicago.

EDGE: EVEN

PREDICTION: This is a great matchup for the Heat, as Washington may just be
happy getting to this round. Shaq and Wade will post big numbers and will put
on a basketball clinic. Miami will have no problem advancing to its second
Eastern Conference finals in franchise history.

MIAMI IN FOUR

WAS MIA