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Hawks at HEAT Official Game Thread and Preview

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(Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon)

The Miami HEAT host their division rival Atlanta Hawks tonight at AmericanAirlines Arena. The HEAT enter with a record of 13-5 after a win over the New Orleans Hornets Saturday night. The Hawks are 12-5 and have won three straight. Tip off is set for 7:30 PM; coverage on Sun Sports starts at 7 PM.

1. Who is Atlanta’s most important player these days?

Couper Moorhead: We have this same question up as a poll on the homepage and it’s pretty surprising that Josh Smith is winning with over 60 percent of the vote. Each component of this team plays a pretty significant role, and if you start taking them away you end up with a team that functions very differently than it does now. You need Jeff Teague for his speed and ability to run high pick-and-rolls, you need Josh Smith for his combination of size and ball skills and you need Lou Williams to create shots that nobody else is capable of creating. But ultimately this all comes down to Al Horford, whose lack of flash will always prevent him from getting the credit he deserves, but who is easily a Top 20 player in this league. Everything works through him on both sides of the court, and without him Atlanta just isn’t the same.

2. How has the switch from Joe Johnson to Lou Williams affected this team?

Couper: Williams isn’t exactly a more efficient guard than Johnson, as in the past his most efficient trait has been his ability to get to the free-throw line at will, but he’s helped changed the makeup of the offense, partially by coming off the bench and not taking shots away from the Teague-Horford-Smith combo or any of the team’s many shooters, but also because he’s not only a quicker player but he tends to make quicker decisions. Part of the reason Johnson’s isolation offense hurt the flow of the game so much is that he worked deep into possessions dribbling the ball and surveying the court. Williams isn’t perfect in this respect, but he’s much closer to a catch-and-go type of player, and it keeps things running smoothly.

3. Some have made a big deal about Atlanta replacing Orlando as Miami’s divisional rival, but does this matter?

Couper: It helps to have a couple of good teams in the conference to keep the team sharp, but as Paul Pierce has always said in Boston, they don’t raise any banners for winning the division.

4. How would a playoff series between these two teams play out?

Couper: It would ultimately come down to Miami being able to generate consistently efficient offense when the game slows down, but Atlanta moves the ball well enough and has the athletes and the shooters to keep up for quite a while. A series that went six-games deep wouldn’t surprise me, though it’s tough to really say at the moment because of how far off Miami’s defense is from being in playoff shape.

5. Is Udonis Haslem now the starter at power forward, or do you think Shane Battier will move back into that spot soon?

Couper: It’s unclear, but I imagine some of this decision comes down to Erik Spoelstra not wanting to wear Shane Battier and his knees down too much over the course of the season, as well as being able to sub Joel Anthony for Haslem in the second unit. It doesn’t signal an admission that small ball wasn’t working because the HEAT are going to play small plenty, it just means Spoelstra is experimenting and trying to find the best starting lineup to act as a vessel for getting the team to the playoffs good and healthy.

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Atlanta is a threat, and they are not afraid of the Heat. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if they beat the Heat tonight. Something is missing with this Miami Team this year. I know it is early and better peak later than earlier. I get that, however we haven't seen that killer instinct from the Heat, or even that Fear they used to instill in opposing teams last year. At least in one big game. So far the problems are being masked by the schedule, the late heroic wins against lesser teams celebrated as brilliant victories.

The Miami Heat many of us have learned to respect is the Pat Riley defense that wins by grinding the game, by outworking the opponents over 48 min. Gone are those days now. Somehow Spo thinks offense is more important, by acquiring 2 players who do not play defense, by taking Joel out of the lineup in his new experiments, some hope it is not too late, and that the lack of effort and fight on defense TREND has not turned in HABITS.

The Knicks are the best team in the East right now. And according to Magic J. and SAS (espn), the Knicks are build to beat the Heat, and just might win the Eastern Conference. I know the defenders will say the Celtics dominated the Heat in the reg season and yet Miami beat them. This Knicks team is different, and I think mentally they just might want it more than the Heat do. It is almost as if the Heat fear the Knicks. We shall see.

If the Miami Heat are able to get back to their defense identity, maybe trade for a top defense player, then they might just return to the Eastern Conference Final.

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This is indeed a big game. So far we have not be impressed with the Miami Heat when they faced big teams. Will they get blown out again? Or will they show up and for once at least so far this year, show that they are still capable of playing defense.

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Flu like symptoms. Does that mean, finally my boy Jorts is about to hit the hardwood tonight?

He's our secret weapon for the playoffs.

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Flu like symptoms. Does that mean, finally my boy Jorts is about to hit the hardwood tonight?

I've heard Jorts name being throw around alot here, hope i can actually see him play

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    • By Joe B.
      Photo Credit: Cameron Browne
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      April 2-HEAT at Trail Blazers
      Game Notes:
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      Efficiencies (Rank):
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    • By Joe B.
      Photo Credit: Melissa Majchrzak
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      Photo Credit: Melissa Majchrzak
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      *The Jazz announced on Thursday morning that George Hill will not play due to a sprained left big toe.

      November 12-Jazz at HEAT
      January 9-HEAT at Jazz
      Game Notes:
      The HEAT are 6-12, while the Jazz enter the contest at 11-8 after winning four straight. This matchup ties the earliest date that Miami and Utah will finish the season-series, with the last time coming in the ’00-’01 season. Hassan Whiteside leads the HEAT in points (17.7), rebounds (15.1) and blocks (2.6) per contest. Gordon Hayward leads the Jazz in scoring at 21.4 points per game.  
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    • By Joe B.
      Photo Credit: Garrett Ellwood
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      Photo Credit: Garrett Ellwood
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      Couper Moorhead: We can start by saying the team is not in a particularly advantageous position with regard to self-correction because they haven’t had a stable rotation for weeks. It’s always tough to get back to what you’ve been doing when the context around what you were doing is now longer stable.
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      2: What’s changed with Denver’s roster and how has their season started?
      Couper: Denver is actually fairly similar to what they were last year, though they added Jamal Murray and Juan Hernangomez in the draft and essentially re-added Jusuf Nurkic with his return from injury. So, this remains a team deep on talent that is still, with a 7-10 record, trying to put all the pieces together. The sometimes-explosive offense, ranked 17, has been there more often than not, but it’s the defense (21st) that has held things back so far.
      That depth has also given coach Mike Malone a bit of a challenge. While the team has dealt with some injuries, there are so many players on this team capable of contributing that there hasn’t always been a clear set rotation. This has manifested itself in a changing starting lineup, as Nurkic and Nikola Jokic opening the season starting alongside one another but since then Kenneth Faried has also started eight games. It’s a good problem for Denver the have, but there’s still much to sort out this season.
      Fortunately, through the changing lineups, Wilson Chandler is having a career year.
      Joe: Not much has changed to Denver’s roster outside of the team adding a few guys in the draft. The Nuggets had three first-round picks and used them on Jamal Murray (seventh overall), Juan Hernangómez (15th overall) and Malik Beasley (19th overall). Of the trio, Murray has received the most playing time with Gary Harris out with a right foot sprain and Will Barton in and out of the lineup due to a left ankle injury.
      Luckily enough for the Nuggets, Murray has answered the call and played quite well. While his shooting percentage has dipped a bit as of late, the 19-year-old is averaging 18.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game on 48.4 percent shooting in his last five.  
      All that has led to Denver winning three of its last five, including an impressive victory over the Bulls on November 22. While the Nuggets have struggled a bit on the defensive end, their offense will certainly give them a chance to win games.

      3: What sort of matchup problems could the Nuggets present?
      Couper: We’ve already discussed their mass of talent, which means the attacks could come from all angles especially if Danilo Gallinari and Will Barton return from injury. But it’s Denver’s frontline options that should present a challenge as Nurkic is a strong, rugged player who can make his presence known in the paint, Jokic possesses an abundance of skills and is capable of doing just about anything with the ball and Kenneth Faried is still a ball of energy who can take teams by surprise if they aren’t on point with loose balls.
      In other words, Denver has three very different looks to throw at Hassan Whiteside and it will be up to the team to help him adjust to each one.
      Joe: One guy I haven’t mentioned yet is Wilson Chandler, who has just been lights-out this season. The oft-injured forward was healthy for most of last season, as he appeared in 78 games. Thanks to that, he’s currently playing some of the best ball of his career. In fact, Chandler is averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game on 47.1 percent shooting.
      The versatile 29-year-old has been attacking the rim with purpose and getting to the charity stripe more consistently. In addition to that, he’s shooting 37.8 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Although he’s primarily come off the bench for the Nuggets, Chandler has started the past two games with Danilo Gallinari out. In short, Miami has to try and keep him off the glass and limit his effectiveness off the dribble. It’ll be fun to watch James Johnson or possibly even Rodney McGruder go toe-to-toe with Denver’s hottest player. 

      March 14-Nuggets at HEAT
      January 15-HEAT at Nuggets
      Game Notes:
      The HEAT are 5-12, while the Nuggets stand at 7-10. Miami has won three straight against Denver. Both Justise Winslow (sore left wrist) and Dion Waiters (strained right groin) did not travel with the team on its three-game road trip.  
      Efficiencies (Rank):
      HEAT Offense: 98.8 (27) HEAT Defense: 101.4 (7) Nuggets Offense: 102.5 (18) Nuggets Defense: 105.6 (21)