ATLANTA (AP) After clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs for only the second time in their Atlanta franchise history, the Hawks were left to contemplate the remainder of the regular season.
It’s is a new dilemma for a Hawks team that barely made the playoffs as the No. 8 seed last year.
DeMarre Carroll scored 24 points and the Hawks never trailed in beating the Miami Heat 99-86 on Friday night.
Minutes later, the race for the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference ended when Brooklyn beat Cleveland 106-98, leaving home-court advantage in the conference playoffs with Atlanta.
”The hard work paid off for this team,” said point guard Dennis Schroeder, whose double-double in a fill-in start for injured Jeff Teague was the latest example of the depth which lifted the Hawks to the top of the conference.
Schroeder had 12 points and 11 assists, Paul Millsap had 21 points and Al Horford had 15 for Atlanta, which has 11 games remaining in the regular season.
Coach Mike Budenholzer said the goal will be ”make sure we’re in the best place we can be going into the playoffs.”
The big question will be how to find the right combination of rest and keeping the rotations sharp.
”It’s a great debate,” Budenholzer said. ”I think it’s a credit to our players and all the good work they’ve done all year. We’re obviously proud of what they’ve done. … I’m very happy for them, happy for us, happy for our organization and our fans.”
Miami, seventh in the East, had won four of six but fell behind early with cold shooting against the Hawks. Dwyane Wade had 13 points after missing one game with a swollen left knee.
Luol Deng led Miami with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
After Schroeder opened the game with a driving basket, Carroll’s 3-pointer and layup gave the Hawks a 7-0 lead. The Hawks increased the lead to double figures for the first time at 19-9 on two free throws by Carroll, who had 19 points in the first half.
”Carroll really came out and imposed his energy on the game in that first half,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra.
Carroll finished two points shy of his career high.
Atlanta stretched the lead to 26 points at 81-55 in the third quarter.
”Really, on both ends of the court they beat us tonight, and you can’t deny that,” Spoelstra said. ”To be frank, we didn’t play well enough to win against the best team in the East on the road.”
Teague missed the game with a left ankle sprain he suffered in Wednesday night’s win over the Magic. ”I don’t think it’s too severe,” Budenholzer said.
Heat: Wade was cleared to start after pregame warmups. … Miami was without Hassan Whiteside (cut on right hand) and Chris Andersen (bruised left calf). Spoelstra said Andersen is improving. … Miami was swept by Atlanta 4-0 in the season series. … Mario Chalmers had 13 points and Henry Walker had 12 on four 3-pointers.
Hawks: Carroll’s career high is 26 points at Minnesota on Feb. 9. … Mike Scott missed his eighth straight game with a left toe sprain. … The Hawks are 8-0 in Schroeder’s starts. … The Hawks also were the top seed in the East in the 1993-94 season, when they finished 57-25 before losing in the conference semifinals. … Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz, wearing a No. 2 Hawks jersey, performed pregame, halftime and postgame concerts.
Kyle Korver, who had eight points, again wore the plastic mask which protects his broken nose. He removed the mask during Wednesday night’s game but was told he must leave it on ”another week or two.”
”My nose is still broken,” Korver said with a forlorn expression after the game. ”I won’t have to worry about it for the playoffs, which is what really matters, right?”
Wade played 21 minutes and made 5 of 13 shots with no rebounds and one assist. He said the sore knee was still a factor.
”It was OK,” Wade said. ”It wasn’t great but I just wanted to get out there and try to give my teammates something. Hopefully, I’ll be better Sunday.
”I had a lot of fluid. In a perfect world I would love to get some fluid out.”