5 keys to the Miami Heat winning their first-round series vs. the Atlanta Hawks

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The Miami Heat finally have their first-round opponent in the NBA playoffs, as they will take on the No. 8 seed Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta knocked off the Charlotte Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers in the league’s play-in tournament behind back-to-back strong performances from All-Star guard Trae Young.

These two teams matched up four times this season, and the Heat beat the Hawks in three of those four games. Atlanta could also be down a key piece for a good chunk of the series, as center Clint Capela was injured in the team’s win over the Cavaliers.

The injury news isn’t all bad for Atlanta, as it reportedly could have John Collins in the lineup for Game 1 on Sunday, April 17.

The Heat will have their hands full with Young and company, but Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry are more than up to the challenge.

Here are a few keys for Miami to beat the Hawks and advance to the second round of the playoffs.

1. Control the pace

P.J. Tucker

During the regular season, the Heat ranked 28th in the NBA in pace, and they like to slow things down a lot more than Atlanta. The Hawks ranked 17th in the league in pace in the regular season.

So why is it important that Miami dictates the pace of games in this series?

Well, the Hawks have the No. 2 offensive rating in the NBA this season, which is a solid match for Miami’s defense (No. 4 in defensive rating).

Since the Heat are more deliberate in their offense than the Hawks, it would benefit the team to avoid a track meet and trade shots with the Hawks. Atlanta has the outside shooting to match up with Miami’s sharpshooters such as Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro and Max Strus.

If the Heat can slow things down and make the Hawks work on both ends of the floor, they can allow their defense to dictate the game, which has been a strength all season long.

2. Take care of the ball

Jimmy Butler

Even though the Heat are one of the more disciplined teams in the NBA under head coach Erik Spoelstra, they have had trouble avoiding turnovers this season.

The Heat rank 28th in the league in turnovers per game this season with 14.6 per game, while the Hawks are the best team in the NBA at avoiding turnovers. They average just 11.9 per game this season.

Possessions are always at a premium in the playoffs, so Miami can’t afford to lose the turnover battle by a wide margin, especially against a Hawks team that is so solid offensively.

The Heat will need to rely on veterans like Lowry and Butler to take care of the ball and run the offense in crunch time to win this series.

3. Feed Tyler Herro early and often

Tyler Herro Grizzlies

Tyler Herro has been arguably the most important scorer for the Heat this season, as he averaged 20.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game during the regular season while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 39.9 percent from beyond the arc.

The Heat can rely on Butler and Adebayo only so much, as we saw in the postseason last year, so it is important to have another option in Herro to rely on for offense.

This season, when Herro scores 20 or more points, the Heat are an impressive 28-9. It’s not a foolproof plan to win, but the Heat know they can’t rely on one or two guys to beat this high-powered Hawks offense.

Herro has been arguably the most consistent player for the Heat this season, so Miami should make sure to get him involved early off the bench and make sure he comes close to the 17.0 field-goal attempts he averaged during the regular season.

4. Attack Atlanta’s depleted frontcourt

Jimmy Butler Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks may get John Collins back for Game 1, but he’s going to be at less than 100 percent in the contest. That, coupled with Capela’s injury, makes the Hawks vulnerable up front in this series.

There are multiple ways for the Heat to attack this, as they could have Butler, Lowry and Herro get into the paint as much as possible on offense, or they could rely on Adebayo to post up against Onyeka Okongwu more often than normal.

Miami is going to have an advantage down low when Adebayo is in the game, and the team needs to test how healthy Collins really is by attacking him early in the series.

In addition, if the Hawks get in foul trouble, they don’t have nearly the same depth behind Okongwu now than if Capela were able to play.

5. Keep Trae Young out of the paint

Trae Young

This may be the most important key for Miami, as Young is a menace in the paint. He led the league in total points and assists this season, and he can wreak havoc with lob passes and floaters when he’s in the lane.

This season, Young is shooting 62.8 percent from the field on shots within three feet. If Miami wants to slow him down, it has to force him to take more jump shots over tough defenders like Butler, P.J. Tucker and Lowry.

Young is still a solid shooter from beyond the arc and with his midrange jumper, but the Heat can’t allow him to get easy looks at the rim in this series.

Young is going to get his points, but the Heat have to make him work as hard as possible for them, especially now that Collins is back in the lineup.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.