The Heat were back in action Saturday night, their fourth game in five nights as they took on the Hawks at the Phillips Arena in Atlanta, a team that Heat had already defeated twice this season, losing once in their only meet up in Atlanta.
After a big win at home Friday in which the Heat fended off the Pacers using an extended run in the beginning of the third quarter, they looked to continue their hot streak as they took on their likely first round playoff opponent, barring any seed changes in the season’s final days.
Dwyane Wade returned Saturday after missing 9 consecutive games, a stretch in which the Heat would compile a 6-3 record. A win for the Heat would mean a full game lead for first place, with the Heat and the Pacers both with two games remaining after Saturday. For the Hawks a win would mean a playoff berth, eliminating the New York Knicks and setting the playoff scene in the Eastern Conference.
Dwyane Wade wasted no time re-introducing himself, blocking a shot and slamming in a dunk in less than 20 seconds of play. He also hit a jumper and drew a foul. Besides the positive play from Wade, LeBron James and the continued resurgence of Udonis Haslem, not much was going the Heat’s way in the opening 12 minutes. After a barrage of turnovers, 6 to be exact, the Heat found themselves in a 5-point hole after the first quarter.
Norris Cole continues to look shaky during his minutes on the floor. After replacing Dwyane Wade with 6:27 left in the first quarter, Cole put up a forgettable performance. A missed 3 out of the left corner and a few turnovers sealed the deal for Norris. It is beginning to look like Toney Douglas might be a more effective option at guard at this point, always active on offense and defense and more effective on both sides of the ball of late.
The second quarter was a story of ups and downs, With the Heat holding a lead as large as seven and the Hawks with leads as large as nine points. With the insertion of Wade, Coach Erik Spoelstra’s rotation had begun to return to their normal form, even though Spo had acknowledged that Wade would be limited in his first game back.
Wade started the second quarter, with both LeBron and Chris Bosh on the bench, and played as if he hadn’t missed a beat. He would go on to tally 16 points on a perfect 7/7 shooting before halftime. The Heat would give up a seven point lead in the closing minutes of the second quarter leaving the game tied at half, 45-45. LeBron had 13 points and 3 rebounds and assists at the midpoint.
The third quarter started and finished much like the second quarter ended. The Heat looked out of sorts and missed many long jumpers to begin the second half. The Hawks took advantage of the misses by pushing the tempo and hitting shots in transition. Jeff Teague continued to stay hot with 8 points in the third quarter. The Heat would enter the fourth quarter down 7, 69-62.
The lead quickly shot up to 11 for the Hawks in the early minutes of the fourth quarter before Wade made a layup followed by a transition and-1 euro-step score. Wade looked like the only one engaged on offense, putting on a personal seven point run before missing two free throws. The Hawks would keep pace with Wade, maintaining their 11-point lead mid-way through the fourth quarter, a lead that would remain over the final minutes of the game. The Hawks end up defeating the Heat with the final score of 98-85.
At the end of the day, this loss can be attributed to shooting of all forms. The Heat only made 6 of their 25 attempted three point shots and were uncharacteristically cold from the free throw line, shooting only 9/19 from the charity stripe, Wade and James combining for nine of the misses. LeBron, Wade and Bosh were the only Heat players who scored in double figures, with 27, 24 and 11 respectively. Teague led the Hawks with 25 points, one of five Hawks players to score in double figures.
With the loss the Heat have shifted back into second place in the Eastern Conference standings with two games to play in the regular season. The Heat take on the Washington Wizards on the road on Monday night.