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Game preview: Miami Heat vs. Atlanta Hawks

Hello All, Tonight, the Heat (16-15) will host the Atlanta Hawks (21-11). This is a divisional matchup between struggling teams. It is as close as the Heat will get to a must-win this early in the season, both to halt their skid (highlighted by an embarrassing home loss to the Bobcats) and to gain some ground on the Hawks. Both teams have lost three straight, but the Hawks dominated the last meeting, lead by 30 points from Joe Johnson and the all-around game of Josh Smith, who put up a cute little 16-14-7-2-2 stat line. The Heat have not had much of a home court advantage, owning a 10-9 home record; the Hawks actually have a better road winning percentage than the Heat have at home (9-7). PROJECTED STARTERS Miami Heat PG- C. Arroyo SG- D. Wade SF- Q. Richardson PF- M. Beasley C- J. O’Neal (Update 6:05 p.m.: Jermaine O'Neal is OUT tonight with a strained Hip Flexor. Joel Anthony will take his place.) Atlanta Hawks PG- M. Bibby SG- J. Johnson SF- M. Williams PF- J. Smith C- A. Horford As you can see, with the exception of shooting guard, the Heat are at a disadvantage at every position; even at shooting guard, Johnson is one of the best pure scorers in the league and proved it against the Heat in November. The Hawks have really gone from a good team to a contending team this season because of the addition of Jamaal Crawford, who they bring off the bench as a combo guard. When he and Johnson are both hitting their shots, the Hawks are very tough to beat. STAT BREAKDOWN (stats from Effective Field Goal % The Heat rank 18th in the league at 49.2%, while the Hawks rank 6th at 51.1%. EDGE: Hawks Turnover % The Heat ranks 2nd in the league at 12.8%. This is fun. The Hawks rank 1st at 12.1%. You have got to be sh%ttng me. EDGE: Even Offensive Rebound % The Heat ranks 24th at 25%, while the Hawks rank 7th at 28%. EDGE: Hawks (Big) Free Throw Rate The Heat are 11th at 31.7%, while the Hawks are 25th at 27.5%. Halleleujah. EDGE: Heat Well, the stats will tell you that the Heat are a middle of the pack team and the Hawks are a member of the fringe elite, held back only by their ability to get to the line and convert. In that case, the stats would be right…take that Grandpa! KEYS TO THE GAME For the Heat, they need to find a way to combat the Hawks’ athleticism and length (thank you Jay Bilas, I am successfully brainwashed). Smith is listed as day-to-day right now, and he is certainly the x-factor. If I were the Heat, I would play a little Riley-ball and go straight in to the body of Smith and try to get him on the bench. That would certainly open things up for Wade and Beasley to get to the hoop. Al Horford is a good, tough defender, but he is not nearly as dynamic as Smith. If the Heat can play this game at a crawl and really turn up the (wait for it…) heat on defense, then they have to like their chances with Wade leading the charge late in the game. Oh, and it would be nice if Wade could score more than 15 this time around. Thought I would mention that. I guess that means that someone has to be a reliable second scorer, because otherwise Wade will see the same diet of Joe Johnson-and-buddies as last time. For the Hawks, it is simple: unleash Josh Smith. The Heat have no matchup for him on either end. Johnson may have gotten the headline last time around for his thirty points, but Smith wreaked havoc with his all-around performance and was the real MVP for Atlanta. I think this will be closer than it looks on paper but I am still picking the Hawks, even though my dad claims to have a gut feeling that the Heat will man up to break their skid here. Always guard the inbound passer.