Preview: Playoff-bound Heat finish off back-to-back against Hawks
TV: FOX Sports Sun
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 7 p.m.
ATLANTA — The Miami Heat is already assured of a place in the postseason. Now the team is trying to nail down the most advantageous seed possible. That’s why they can’t afford to slip up on the road against the Atlanta Hawks in the second game of a back-to-back on Wednesday.
The Heat beat the Hawks 101-98 on Tuesday at American Airlines Arena in Miami. Now the two Eastern Conference rivals have a rematch on Wednesday at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
Miami (42-36) is currently in a three-way tie for sixth place with Washington and Milwaukee. Atlanta (22-56) has the worst record in the Eastern Conference; only Western Conference members Memphis and Phoenix have won fewer games than the Hawks.
The Heat clinched their playoff spot by beating the Hawks on Tuesday, as Goran Dragic scored 22 and sparked an 11-0 run in the final minutes. It guaranteed the Heat a spot in the playoffs for the 20th time in 30 years.
“Happy we got it clinched,” said Miami forward Hassan Whiteside, whose late tip-in gave the Heat the lead for good. He finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
The Heat doesn’t know its first-round opponent, a matter that will shake out over the next two weeks.
“As it looks right now, it’s going to be either Toronto, Boston or Cleveland,” veteran Miami guard Dwayne Wade said. “They’re all very, very good teams. So, it doesn’t matter who we match up with. We’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
Wade picked up his 5,000th career assist while playing for Miami. The veteran became the ninth player to score 20,000 points and hand out 5,000 assists with one team.
Atlanta is simply trying to find enough players to finish the season. The Hawks were down to eight healthy players on Tuesday. Already playing without guards Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore, the Hawks scratched center Dewayne Dedmon before the game with a sore rib. Atlanta has six players out with injuries.
“Really, really pleased with the guys’ effort,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “To come here and compete against this team in this environment … a lot of positives. We just couldn’t get it done at the end.”
A bright spot for Atlanta continues to be first-round draft choice John Collins, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds on Tuesday. Collins averages 10.3 points and 7.2 rebounds. He is trying to become the sixth player in franchise history to average 10 points and seven rebounds as a rookie.
Second-round pick Tyler Dorsey has been playing more minutes since the rash of injuries. He scored 18 points, one shy of his career high he set against Orlando on Sunday. Dorsey is averaging 15.7 points over the last three games.
Atlanta has lost 12 of its last 14 games. Miami has won six of its last nine games.
Miami has won two of the three meetings between the two clubs this season. The Heat won at home on Sept. 23, with Atlanta winning on Dec. 18. The three games have been decided by an average of 6.6 points.