The Miami Heat begin their journey without big man Chris Bosh for the second straight year, and will face a stiff test out of the gates with a tough road date in Atlanta with the Hawks. While the Heat come in under-manned, they’ll still want to get up for this massive Southeast Division clash, one that may play a hand in who wins the division.
As division rivals, it’s not shocking to learn the Heat and Hawks have faced off 106 times during the regular season (Heat lead the competitive series, 59-47), along with 12 showdowns in the playoffs (Hawks lead, 7-5). It’s not necessarily a hateful rivalry, but it usually produces good games and it’s been fairly tight over the years. That being said, the Hawks have had the upper hand ever since LeBron James left town, as they swept Miami (4-0) last year and have won 7 of the last nine meetings. Miami does come in with some momentum in this series, though, winning the last two games (with the last one in ATL).
Heat Preview (+8.5)
Miami is going to be quite under-manned down low tonight, as they enter with Chris Bosh sidelined due to another blood clot (this time in his leg) and Hassan Whiteside serving a one-game suspension. Add an iffy Dwyane Wade to the mix, and the Heat could be fighting a losing battle on the road with a bunch of spares.
Dwyane Wade will be a game time decision, Spo says. Wade dealing with soreness in back of knee #Heat
— Manny Navarro (@Manny_Navarro) February 19, 2016
Having Wade and an aggressive Goran Dragic would surely give them a chance, but the Heat have been painfully average out of South Beach this year and they simply don’t have the muscle down low to contend with Atlanta’s bigs tonight. They’ve also dropped two straight and could be looking at a third as the understandable underdogs in this one.
Hawks Preview (-8.5)
Atlanta heads into this one as the easy favorite, as the Heat are completely ravaged inside and are very pedestrian (13-13) away from home. Atlanta already has the Southeast lead with a solid 31-24 record and has done a great job at Philips Arena (17-9 this year). That solid home standing figures to hold up tonight against a Heat team they’re currently trailing (2-1) in the four-game season series. The good news is Kyle Korver has rediscovered his stroke, the Hawks didn’t blow things up by trading Jeff Teague or Al Horford and Paul Millsap could rule down low with no one on the Heat to stop him.
NBA teams constantly shock us by pulling together when they look to be at their worst, but I don’t see how the Hawks aren’t the straight up pick in this one. They’re the better team ever so slightly even when both teams are healthy, have been strong at home, and Miami is beaten to a pulp at the moment. Atlanta struggles to rebound the ball, but without the scoring of Bosh and blocking/rebounding of Whiteside, Miami figures to be lost down low. If Wade sits out, it could be over early.