Reloaded Hawks right behind Heat

LeBron James, Udonis Haslem, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis - Kevin C. Cox

The retooled Atlanta Hawks now stand with an impressive 12-5 record, just a half-game behind the Miami Heat in the Southeast division.

When the Atlanta Hawks traded away All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson, many thought they were committed to a rebuilding phase. But the Hawks actually reloaded, acquiring solid players to help compensate for the losses of Johnson and Marvin Williams this off-season. Now about one-fifth of the way into the season, the Hawks are standing where virtually no one thought: just a half-game behind Miami for the top spot in the Southeast division.

The Hawks are coming off an impressive road win against the Memphis Grizzlies and have won nine of their last 10 games. Atlanta may have jettisoned Johnson's expensive contract, but the team now has Anthony Morrow, Lou Williams, Devin Harris, DeShawn Stevenson and Kyle Korever, who is injured with back spasms. The Hawks got about 75 cents on the dollar in exchange for Johnson. But mainstays Josh Smith and Al Horford have led Atlanta, combining to average 34 points and 19 rebounds per game. It'll be interesting to see if Erik Spoelstra continues to have Shane Battier come off the bench and avoid playing a lot of small ball tonight.

Atlanta's quick guards -- Jeff Teague, Williams, Harris and Morrow -- could pose problems for Mario Chalmers, who has struggled defensively as of late. Norris Cole has gotten crunch-time minutes recently and the second-year guard may again find himself playing late in this game.

These two teams played Nov. 9 in Atlanta, with Miami dispatching of the Hawks without Dwyane Wade. But Atlanta has improved since then. In addition to defeating the Grizzlies, the Hawks beat the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers. The Heat would be wise to avoid playing complacently tonight.

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