Atlanta Hawks (10-5) vs. Miami Heat (13-5), 12/10


Even if they are the defending champions, there’s something wrong with the Miami Heat.

Perhaps it’s what triangle offense creator Tex Winter called the Disease of More, with players that were unified for a common cause a year ago now want to get theirs in upcoming contract negotiations. Perhaps it’s problems with the roster, a lack of bulk and a year’s worth of tape on the way Miami plays defense catching up with them.

Maybe it’s just too early to tell, who knows. Either way, after a bad loss to the Wizards and a worse one to a contender in the New York Knicks, having your statement game against a bad New Orleans Hornets team be a 106 to 90 victory is not good. Plus they gave up 32 points in the first quarter, not exactly the stifling Miami Heat defense we’ve been used to.

Now it’s time to host those Atlanta Hawks, a team that just rubs me the wrong way. They’re certainly fun to watch (they’d be a great YMCA team, they play like one already) but I’d just as well not have to see them.

The Hawks are playing well this year. At 10-5 they’re second in the Southeast Division behind Miami, playing good defense like usual and sitting at sixth in opponents points per game at 93.6. Offensively they’re middle of the pack, 17th in the league with 97.2 per game. They are 30th in rebounds, the Heat are 29th. That means it could be a wide open game, lots of running and scoring, or it could be an ugly-fest that nobody enjoys.

It seems like whenever these two teams come into contact with one another, it’s just ugly basketball. Remember that seven game series they played a few years back? Seven games, all blowouts. Or that overtime game with no Dwyane Wade or LeBron James last year, it took three extra periods for Chris Bosh to score 30.

What Happened Last Time: Miami beat Atlanta 95-89 back on November 9th, with Chris Bosh leading in scoring at 24 and James one assist short of a triple-double, like normal. Dwyane Wade sat it out with the flu and LeBron banged knees with Josh Smith in the second quarter, scaring Heat fans for a few minutes. Miami outscored Atlanta 40-26 in the paint and Smith was held to 13 points on 6-of-19 shooting, Shane Battier doing great work against the Hawks star forward. Jeff Teague had 20 points and 11 assists and Anthony Morrow scored 17 off the bench. Ray Allen answered that for Miami with 17 of his own.

What to watch for: The pairing of Shane Battier and Josh Smith. Battier looked good against the Hornets, no knee problems evident, and he frustrated Smith the last time these two faced off. Josh is a singular talent, but Shane can outthink him with ease and force those long two’s J-Smoove is known for.

Al Horford could be a game changer in this match, the only real pivot player on the floor for either team and he can go big when he wants. He’s averaging 16 points and 9.8 boards this year and in his last seven games he’s gone 18 and 12. Last year when these two met Ivan Johnson showed up big, his fury and energy driving the Hawks to the brink of victory. Luckily for Miami, he’s only on the floor for 11 minutes a game this year. Oh, and DeShawn Stevenson somehow can do great work against LeBron James, so that’s an interesting matchup to focus on. DeShawn just doesn’t like LBJ.

Why the Heat will win: Simply, and like always, they’re more talented. Outside of center on the defensive side of the ball MIami has the advantage, that’s if they play to their abilities. Also, Kyle Korver is out, so we need not worry about the hot sauce. Miami hasn’t been playing peak basketball but this is against a division rival so you can expect them to unload on the Hawks and send them home crying.

Why the Heat will lose: Al Horford has the game of his life, and Ivan Johnson goes crazy. Size down low is the greatest weak spot for Miami and Horford can take advantage of that. If Josh Smith gets hot, he might just start hitting threes and a lot of long two’s and with his size there’s not much Battier will be able to do. Likewise, if Jeff Teague just goes unconscious out there and starts burying shots, that could bury the Heat.

Prediction: Miami 101, Atlanta 94. Louis Williams will have a hot shooting night for the Hawks but LeBron, pissed that his team has been playing so lax lately, goes off for 30-12-10 and D-Wade reminds ATL-iens why they hate him. A win over a solid team is needed for the Heat’s ego and to get them on a roll. After all, the Southeast is Miami’s land, and the Hawks need reminding.