Heat remain in first place by beating Hawks

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


MIAMI -- So much for the Atlanta Hawks' challenge to the Miami Heat's superiority in the Southeast Division.
The Hawks, who came into Monday night's game as the hottest team in the Eastern Conference, left AmericanAirlines Arena soundly beaten by the Heat, 101-92.
Had they lost, the Heat would have surrendered first place in the Southeast Division to the Hawks. Instead, the Heat (14-5) lead the Hawks (12-6) by 1 1/2 games.
Heat forward Chris Bosh, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds, dismissed the notion that this game was bigger than any other, at least at this early stage of the season.
"I didn't come in thinking this was a 'Southeast Division Showdown,'" Bosh said. "But if they continue to play like they have (9-2 in their past 11 games), and we continue to play well, then it could be a big game down the road."
The Heat led by just two points at the half on Monday but started to pull away with a 14-2 run in the third quarter. They led by eight to start the fourth quarter and were never seriously threatened thereafter.
LeBron James led the Heat with 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and he set a franchise record with his 24th consecutive game with at least 20 points. Teammate Dwyane Wade held the record previously.
Wade was the Heat's second-leading scorer Monday with 26 points, and Miami is 7-1 when Wade scores 20 or more points.
The Heat are also 10-1 at home.
James said he was proud of his team's defense, which has not been up to last season's NBA championship standard.
But James also acknowledged that it helps when the offense is so efficient. Wade, for example, made 11 of 13 shots, and James made 10 of 16. As a team, the Heat shot 58 percent and held the Hawks to 43 percent.
"We won it on the defensive end," James said. "It helps when we don't turn the ball over too much and allow them to get points in transition. But I'm just glad we're getting back to playing Miami Heat defense."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra agreed that the defense was better, especially in the second half when Miami held Atlanta to 38-percent shooting.
"It was a little bit of a shootout in the first half," Spoelstra said. "But in the second half, we had better commitment to defense and were able to pull away against a good team. Our communication was better and our second team gave us a boost."
Part of that second team was point guard Norris Cole. He scored 10 points, making all four of his shots, including two three-pointers. He also added four assists and played the entire fourth quarter for the second straight game.
Starting point guard Mario Chalmers had four points.
The Heat, who won last month in Atlanta, are 2-0 this season against the Hawks, with two games remaining in the season series.
The Hawks, who have already won on the road against NBA heavyweights Memphis and Oklahoma City this season, could not add the Heat to that list.
Atlanta was led by Josh Smith, who had 22 points and six assists. Teammate Al Horford had 20 points and 11 rebounds.
But the Hawks' quick guards, who were a chief concern of Spoelstra before the game, never got untracked. Jeff Teague, Devin Harris and super-sub Louis Williams were held to a combined total of 26 points.
Hawks coach Larry Drew said his team failed to "run the ball" against Miami, scoring only four fast-break points.
"For some reason, we did not get up and down the floor," he said. "That is a strength of ours, and we rely on that. We only had a total of seven fast-break attempts. We will not be a very successful team with such a low amount of attempts in transition."
Drew agreed that it's too early in the season to label this a big game, but he also lamented what might have been.
"It could have been a stepping stone for us," Drew said. "We've done some good things this season, and this could have been another step."
NOTES: Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who started the previous two games, did not play Monday due to the flu. Spoelstra said Haslem wanted to play despite being sick. "He has not eaten in a day," the coach said. "We're locking the doors so he can't come in here." . . . Heat forward Rashard Lewis, who did not play in the previous two games due to Spoelstra's decision, started in Haslem's place. It was Lewis' fourth start of the season. . . . Hawks shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, who was rested in Saturday's win at Memphis, was back in the starting lineup against the Heat. It was his 10th start of the season. . . . Kyle Korver, who started the Hawks' first 13 games this season, is still out with a back injury. He has missed five straight games, although he worked out in Atlanta on Monday. "If it all checks out, he will join us in Orlando (for Tuesday's) practice," Drew said. . . . Drew said people tend to underestimate Smith's versatility. "He can defend all five positions," Drew said. "His game has matured." . . . Next up for the Hawks is a game at Orlando on Wednesday night. The Heat plays host to Golden State on Wednesday night.

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