Heat at Hawks game preview
The Miami Heat reclaimed the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a convincing victory in their previous game.
The Atlanta Hawks, meanwhile, seem to have turned things around and now stand one win away from securing the No. 8 seed in the East.
In a potential first-round playoff preview Saturday night, the Heat look to stay ahead of Indiana atop the conference while the Hawks try to ensure a seventh consecutive postseason appearance.
Miami (54-25) went into Friday night’s game against the Pacers having lost three of four to slip a half-game behind Indiana for the No. 1 seed in the East before climbing back on top with a 98-86 victory.
LeBron James scored 36 points for the Heat, who played without Dwyane Wade but were never in danger after opening the second half with a 16-0 run. Mario Chalmers scored 13 points, Udonis Haslem added 11 and Chris Bosh and Ray Allen each had 10.
"I would love to see us play with this intensity, to our identity, tomorrow night (against Atlanta)," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "If we do that, the results seem to take care of themselves."
Wade has missed nine straight games as he tries to return from a hamstring injury in time for the opening round of the playoffs. Miami has gone 6-3 in that span.
The Heat will face Washington and Philadelphia after visiting Atlanta, while the Pacers have two left versus Oklahoma City and Orlando. Indiana was in control of the conference for most of the season before losing nine of its last 13.
"We know what’s going on out there," Bosh said. "We know what’s going to happen. We’re in the middle of trying to put everything together for ourselves and I think today was a good step forward for us."
The Hawks (36-43) went into their own late-March tailspin with seven losses in eight games, allowing New York to briefly pull within a game of the East’s final playoff berth.
Atlanta, however, has picked it up with four wins in five games. The latest was a 93-88 victory at Brooklyn on Friday that kept the Hawks two games ahead of the Knicks, who maintained their chance by beating Toronto 108-100.
One more victory or a loss by New York and the Hawks are in. Atlanta’s final two games come against Charlotte and league-worst Milwaukee, while the Knicks face Chicago, Brooklyn and the Raptors.
Paul Millsap had 27 points and 10 rebounds against the Nets and Jeff Teague added 22 points for the Hawks, who split the season series with New York but would win a possible tiebreaker behind a better conference record.
Atlanta scored the final six points after Brooklyn took an 88-87 lead with 2:22 left.
"It says a lot about our team, says a lot about what we’re trying to accomplish here," Millsap said. "The focus that it took to lock in, compete and to get this win, it says a lot. Guys want to win, guys want to try to make this push."
The Hawks dropped the first two meetings with the Heat this season — both in Miami — before they had seven players score in double figures in a 121-114 home win Jan. 20.
Atlanta is 3-12 overall against Miami since James joined the Heat. James tied a season low with 13 points against the Hawks on Nov. 29, but he took only 13 shots in just over 30 minutes in the Heat’s 104-88 victory.