Can Hawks overcome their demons against Heat in the play-in?

Trae Young Hawks

The Hawks tumultuous 41-41 regular season came to an end yesterday. It was an excruciatingly average performance in all aspects, which is not what was expected after the Hawks landed Dejounte Murray in a trade with the Spurs during the offseason.

The up-and-down results led to the departure of head coach Nate McMillan and general manager Travis Schlenk. The Hawks are turning over a new leaf, with Landry Fields and Kyle Korver taking over the front office while Quin Snyder runs the team on the floor. Major changes are coming this offseason, but before any of that happens, Atlanta has a date in the play-in tournament with the Miami Heat tomorrow.

Eric Spoelstra’s group has been a thorn in the side of the Hawks dating back to last year. The two teams met in the first round of the playoffs, and it was far from a competitive series. Miami was the one-seed, and they took care of business easily on their home floor. The Hawks did scrape out a one-point victory in Game 3 on a Trae Young game-winner, but that would be all they could salvage. The Heat went on to win Games 4 and 5, sending the Hawks on an early vacation.

Of all the matchups Atlanta could have drawn for the play-in, this is the worst. The Heat may come in as a seven-seed, but they are not your average seven-seed. They play a hard-nosed brand of basketball, are finally at full strength, and feature a roster and coaching staff that is filled with playoff experience. Nobody wants to face the Heat this time of year, not the eight-seeded Hawks or even the two-seeded Celtics, who will play the winner of Tuesday’s game.

To make matters worse, this game is taking place in Miami, a place where the Hawks haven’t won in their last seven tries.

The primary key to the Heat’s success against Atlanta has been their defense against Trae Young. They play bully-ball against the Hawks star point guard, using their size and strength to pressure him once he passes half court. To say it has worked would be an understatement. Over Young’s last nine games against the Heat, he’s shooting just 33.6% from the field and 19.4% from behind the arc.

For the Hawks to change the narrative, Young is going to have to play his best basketball, and that doesn’t necessarily mean scoring 30+ points with 10 assists. He needs to rely on his teammates, and those other pieces must step up.

What has killed Atlanta in these matchups has been the turnovers and uncompetitive shots that lead to long rebounds and fast breaks. That’s what the Heat will be banking on again, and if there are no substantial changes, the Hawks will have very little chance of advancing tomorrow, leaving them with just one more shot to keep their season alive.

I’ll be incredibly interested to see what Quin Snyder can come up with to match Spoelstra’s gameplan against Young. This is one of our first opportunities to really see what the Hawks new head coach brings to the table, which might be their only hope.

Photo: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire

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