The road trip started as badly as possible but there’s finally a light at the end of this six-game tunnel. Three straight losses have been followed by two wins as Miami heads to Atlanta to face a reeling Hawks team and end the road trip on a positive note.
The Heat (29-11) has regained some of its lost defensive intensity with victories over Philadelphia and a gritty overtime win in Charlotte. Chris Bosh has been stellar, scoring over 25 points in three straight games and a very-aggressive LeBron James notched 34 points against the Bobcats. Dwyane Wade sat out the previous game and was hampered by foul trouble against the Sixers but should be refreshed and ready to lead Miami against Atlanta.
As for the Hawks (20-19), they’ve been off since Thursday, a 17-point drubbing by the Brooklyn Nets across the pond in London. Atlanta has dropped six of their last 10 games since the loss of All-Star Al Horford to a season-ending torn pectoral muscle. Point guard Jeff Teague and forward Paul Milsap, both of whom have been thorns in Miami’s side throughout their careers, have taken up the scoring slack for Horford but this is clearly a team on the way down. Just one game over .500, the team is still clinging to fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings but is just 4.5 games over ninth-place Charlotte.
Still, Miami barely got by Atlanta the last time they played in December, a 121-119 overtime game in Miami that required late-game heroics from James and clutch free-throw shooting from Ray Allen and Michael Beasley. Look for Milsap, who inexplicably seems to find his long-range shooting touch (including seven three-pointers in the overtime loss) every time he faces the Heat.
As part of the national holiday honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., tip-off will take place early Monday at 5:30 P.M. at Phillips Arena. Check back with AllUCanHeat for a recap after the game.
The Big Three Questions for the Game:
Why Isn’t Udonis Haslem Getting More Minutes?
Haslem has been such a reliable presence for Miami over his career, its been difficult to witness his declining skills and minutes. But in the Charlotte victory, Head Coach Erik Spoelstra singled out Haslem, saying, “big minutes from UD. He was terrific.” His tough defense against the much-taller Al Jefferson was crucial down the stretch, and he was good for 10 rebounds, 3 blocks and 6 points. His offense has been erratic and that consistent baseline jumper has been virtually-nonexistent. But if Milsap starts having his way with Miami again (and with the possible absence of Chris Andersen from the lineup), look for “Mr. 3-0-5” to earn his way back into the rotation.
What’s up With B-Easy?
On the flip side, Michael Beasley seems to have fallen out of favor with Spoelstra. After putting up gaudy efficiency numbers early in the season, Beasley’s productivity has tapered off and he has played only seven minutes or less in three straight games. He had shown a willingness to play adequate defense but he’s been victimized of late and his minutes have dropped accordingly. This seems like a gambit by Spoelstra to light a fire under Beasley. One can only hope that the troubled-but-talented player can weather this tough stretch and contribute for Miami as the season progresses.
Has Miami Found a key to Keep Winning?
Not really. Miami has been lucky to take on some weaker Eastern Conference teams in order to get back on track. In the two recent wins, the Heat has played tough defense when it matters; after giving up 60 points to Charlotte in the first half, the Bobcats were held to a total of 36 points through the second half and overtime period. But this proves what everyone has known all along about this team – when they are fully-engaged they are absolutely lethal defensively. If they can maintain that intensity against the Hawks, another victory is all-but-guaranteed.