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ASK IRA: Which is preferred Heat playoff path: Atlanta or Cleveland?

Q: Ira, who you got, Hawks or Cavaliers? — Ed.

A: I do not have either, considering I have not made the playoffs. The question is who would the Heat prefer or should prefer? And on that count, I don’t believe it is particularly close. The Cavaliers would just be happy to make it to the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James left in 2018. The Hawks, by contrast, made it to last season’s Eastern Conference finals, and have a load of playoff-tested talent. Yes, Darius Garland has improved, well, to a Most Improved level. But beyond that, Cleveland’s go-to scoring options are limited. With the Hawks it all starts with Trae Young, but is also can be Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter, and that’s not even getting into a potential return by John Collins. The safest path to the second round for the Heat seemingly would run through Cleveland.

Q: I love the people taking this as gospel. As if Erik Spoelstra is giving away exactly what he plans on doing. Because we all know that’s always how it goes. — Jimmy.

A: Typically I would agree with you, that few, if any, coaches are going to give away their playoff approach ahead of the playoffs. And we’ve certainly seen dynamic swerves by Erik Spoelstra in previous postseasons, as Kendrick Nunn assuredly can attest to. But this feels different for the simple reason that there already has been such a dynamic shift just weeks ago, with the move of Max Strus into the starting lineup and the reconfiguring of the rotation. Had it not been for the four-game losing streak at the time, it is a move that Spoelstra well may have kept in his back pocket until a postseason moment of truth. But even more radical that tipping his playoff hand would be altering and then re-altering within a three-week span. That’s seemingly would eliminate the continuity created over the successful close to the regular season.

Q: When the Celtics are done with the Nets and the Heat are still playing, then who will be the smartest man in the room? — Don.

A: Um, Ime Udoka? Jayson Tatum? Brad Stevens? And that’s if the Celtics are done with the Nets before the Heat’s opening-round series is over. Look, you never know how it all plays out. In the end, Cleveland’s Darius Garland/Jarrett Allen could prove more problematic than what the inconsistent Nets throw out there against Boston. But I stand by my concerns about Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as arguably the best two-man pairing in the East playoffs, with all due respect to the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo-Jrue Holiday, Tatum-Jaylen Brown, Joel Embiid-James Harden or Fred VanVleet-Pascal Siakam.

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