After a torrid December the Atlanta Hawks have had a subpar January, and even when they have played well this month it’s been against sub-.500 opponents.
Until their latest game, the Miami Heat had the same problem.
Coming off a victory over one of the league’s top teams, the Heat will look to keep that momentum going Monday night when they host the Hawks, who haven’t beaten a team with a winning record in more than three weeks.
Atlanta went 11-4 in December, appearing to position itself as a worthy challenger to Orlando in the Southeast Division. But the Hawks (26-17) have stumbled in January, going 5-7.
They had won four of five heading into Sunday’s home game against Phoenix, but again couldn’t pull out a win against a quality opponent. Atlanta shot 41.7 percent - 22.7 percent from 3-point range - and fell 104-99, their fifth consecutive loss against a team with an above-.500 record.
“Every loss is tough, but it’s not like we are going to go and hide,” coach Mike Woodson said. “We are pretty good at home, so we will be OK. This is basketball. We are trying to secure that fourth seed in the playoffs, and tomorrow we have to go to Miami and get it back.”
The Hawks’ last victory over a team with a winning record came Jan. 3 against Houston.
The last time Atlanta won on the road over a quality opponent came on Dec. 12 in Miami. The Heat led 25-20 after one quarter in that game, but a 53-37 rebound differential led to a 87-73 loss.
Miami (23-19) beat the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland later in December, but had been 0-6 against teams with winning records in January before it hosted Orlando on Saturday.
The division-leading Magic had won 10 straight against the Heat, but this time couldn’t escape with a victory. Miami led by four at halftime and 15 after three quarters, holding on to win 103-97 behind 27 points from Dwyane Wade.
“It’s very satisfying to get this one,” Wade said. “We had to prove to ourselves, once again, that we can beat the elite teams.”
Wade is leading the league in scoring at 28.7 points per game, but it’s been a shaky supporting cast that’s limited Miami from establishing any sort of consistency. The Heat haven’t won or lost more than two games in a row in a month.
The most disappointing member of that supporting cast has been Shawn Marion, who’s missed two of Miami’s last three games because of a strained left groin. Marion’s 12.0 ppg and 9.0 rebounds per game are his lowest averages since his rookie season, and he’s listed as questionable for Monday.
Atlanta, meanwhile, is almost certain to be without a key member of its frontcourt. Second-year forward Al Horford has missed the team’s last eight games with a right knee bone bruise, and he isn’t expected to join the Hawks Monday in Miami or Wednesday in New York.
They did get some good news Friday with the return of Marvin Williams, who had missed two games with a concussion. Williams had 11 points in a win over Milwaukee, then led Atlanta with 17 points in Sunday’s loss to Phoenix.
If the Hawks are to post their second win over the Heat this season, though, they’ll likely need Joe Johnson to find his shooting touch. Atlanta’s leading scorer at 21.6 ppg, Johnson is averaging 13.3 points on 26.5 percent from the field in his last three games.
The Hawks have won two of three in Miami after a stretch where they lost 20 of 21 there.