Apparently there’s a long way from first to last in the NBA’s Southeast Division.
In the Heat’s first road victory without O’Neal, Jason Williams scored 21 points to help Miami beat Atlanta 96-74.
O’Neal, still recovering from a sprained ankle he suffered on Nov. 3, managed a smile as the Philips Arena video board polled fans on what ranks as his worst movie. He laughed when his movie “Kazaam” was the gag gift for a fan during a timeout.
Based on Wednesday night’s lopsided score, O’Neal may have more reason to smile if he is healthy when the Hawks visit Miami on Dec. 20.
The win was especially important for the division-leading Heat, who opened a five-game road trip and play nine of their next 11 games away. O’Neal is not expected to return before the end of the five-game trip.
“One of the things that we were concerned about was playing well on the road, and we have not proven that as a team yet,” said Miami center Alonzo Mourning after scoring 14 points with 12 rebounds.
“It’s going to take a collective effort, establishing ourselves a little bit better than we have on the road. Because we expect to be there in June. We’ve got to focus and come together on the road in other people’s arenas.”
The Heat improved to 8-5 overall—but only 1-4 on the road—since losing O’Neal.
“There were a lot of positives,” said Miami coach Stan Van Gundy. “But also, a word of caution: We have to have a more even performance and get our energy at a higher level more consistently if were going to go out on the road and play the teams that were going to play now.”
The Hawks went up 4-2, but Miami took the lead in the opening minutes and never trailed again.
“Even without the big man in the middle, they’re still a good basketball team,” said Hawks guard Joe Johnson, who had 13 points and six assists.
The Hawks, in last place in the Southeast, set a new scoring low for the season.
Wade had 20 points—all in the second and third periods. Gary Payton added 13 points off the bench for Miami.
A basket with 9:45 left by Zaza Pachulia, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds, pulled the Hawks to within seven points at 72-65. Following a Miami timeout, Shandon Anderson scored on a drive down the baseline, and the Heat kept the lead in double figures for the rest of the game.
“We were still in it until the last seven minutes,” Pachulia said. “Then it went from seven to 20 and a blowout.”
Al Harrington added 16 points for the Hawks.
“It’s tough,” Johnson said. “As of right now, we can go no way but up. I don’t think it can get any worse than this.”
Even Spirit, the team’s mascot hawk, refused to make his normal pregame flight from the upper luxury box level to the court.
The Hawks in uniform didn’t follow the plan much better.
“It should not have been that type of game,” said Josh Childress.
“We didn’t play up to our capabilities tonight. That was evident. We were very sluggish. … We didn’t make a run.”
After scoring only 34 second-half points in Tuesday night’s loss at Houston, the Hawks managed only 12 first-quarter points.
Miami led 43-34 at halftime despite only six first-half points from Wade.
Josh Smith, who had 10 points, gave Atlanta fans a highlight with a left-handed jam over Mourning midway through the second period.
The Hawks have lost three straight since their only two wins of the season.
Suspended Philadelphia Eagles receiver Terrell Owens, a part-time Atlanta resident, attended the game. As was the case at other recent appearances at Hawks game, Owens drew a loud mixture of boos and cheers when he was shown on the video board. … NL MVP runner-up Andruw Jones and Atlanta Braves teammate Rafael Furcal, a free agent, had courtside seats near Hawks vice president Dominique Wilkins. …The Hawks used their eighth different starting lineup in 14 games.