Hawks vs. Heat MLK Day Game Preview

Sunday, January 19, 2014
By Robby Kalland

Miami Heat v Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks will take on the Heat on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in what will be the first of two visits by the reigning NBA champions to Atlanta this season. The Heat went through a three-game losing streak recently, but rebounded with back-to-back wins over the Sixers and the Bobcats on Friday and Saturday. The Heat defense has been suspect in their last five games with a defensive rating of 105.8 (19th in the NBA in that stretch) and have had a -2.2 net rating.

On offense, the Heat are second in the league in offensive rating at 109.0 on the season, but that has tapered off in the last five games with a 103.6 offensive rating as the Heat’s usual rhythm has not been there. During their losing streak, it appeared as though the Heat’s usual intensity — on both ends — was lacking and teams were able to get easier looks on the perimeter and at the rim due to slower rotations on the defensive end, and the Heat were forced into more contested shots and jumpers as their offense was not running as crisp as it normally does.

Miami, led by LeBron James, showed signs of being back to their dominant ways in the late fourth quarter and overtime period Saturday night against the Bobcats, as James and the Miami offense assaulted the rim on their way to the comeback victory.

The Hawks’ defense was torched in London, especially by the Nets’ wing players who took advantage of DeMarre Carroll‘s absence — who stayed home for the birth of his child. Atlanta’s defense had looked excellent in the three or four games leading up to the Nets game, and the return of Carroll to the lineup will hopefully bring back that defensive presence and effort that they had established. The Hawks will need Carroll against James, Dwyane Wade, and the rest of the Heat wing players, and if the first match-up between the two teams serves as any indication, Paul Millsap will also see plenty of James when the Heat go to their smaller lineup with James at the four and even five.

On offense, the Hawks had tremendous success with the high pick-and-pop with Millsap hitting seven three-pointers and the Hawks were able to get incredible three-point shooting — 17-of-34 — from the entire team in their overtime loss in Miami. Now without Horford, the Hawks offense has been struggling, but their best success has come when Pero Antic and Millsap can provide extra spacing and perimeter shooting to open up the paint for Jeff Teague and others.

Chris Bosh presents a similar problem for the Hawks defense, as he has been extremely effective shooting from three-point range, particularly on the wing, this season and gives the Heat another option on the perimeter along with James, Wade, Ray Allen, and Shane Battier. When the Heat offense is at its best, they are able to penetrate with Mario Chalmers, Wade, or James, and draw help defenders to open up opportunities on the perimeter. The Hawks’ focus, like it was against Houston, will have to be on closing off driving lanes first — hopefully without having to bring too much help — and then chasing out on shooters.

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

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