Two teams with disparate goals will meet for the final time this season on Thursday when the Miami Heat visit the Atlanta Hawks.
The Heat (35-19) start the final eight weeks of the season in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Miami trails front-running Milwaukee by 11 games, but remains just 4.5 games behind second-place Toronto. Miami is 4-6 over the past 10 games.
The Hawks (15-41) are in 14th place in the Eastern Conference. They start the stretch run with the third-fewest wins in the league, 9.5 games out of the final playoff spot. Atlanta is 4-6 its past 10 games and lost its final two games before the All-Star break.
This will be the fourth meeting between the teams this season. Miami has won all three previous games and will try to sweep the series for the sixth time and first since 2012-13. The Heat won 135-121 in overtime in the most recent meeting on Dec. 10.
Miami was represented by six players at the All-Star Weekend. Rookie Kendrick Nunn scored 16 to help Team USA win the Rising Stars Challenge. Derrick Jones Jr. won the Slam Dunk Contest, and Bam Adebayo won the Skills Challenge. In the All-Star Game, Adebayo finished with eight points and two rebounds and Jimmy Butler had four points and two rebounds.
“(Being an All-Sttar) hit me toward the end of the game,” Adebayo said. “Just looking down the bench and on the court, you start to realize, ‘I’m an All-Star.’ It’s a great experience for me. Just looking forward to being back in this thing. It’s a good experience for everybody.”
Miami’s Tyler Herro had to sit out the Rising Stars Challenge because of a right foot injury that caused him to miss the final five games before the break. Herro said last week that doctors said the boot he was wearing will be removed this week and his return will be sooner than expected.
“There’s no more pain at this point,” Herro said. “It’s just being able to rest it and making sure the problem doesn’t come back up.”
Atlanta’s Trae Young is coming off a successful – and busy – All-Star Weekend. He had 18 points and a team-high seven assists in the Rising Stars Challenge, participated in the 3-point contest and posted a double-double (10 points, 10 assists) in the All-Star Game. He made a shot from halfcourt to end the first half and set off a raucous celebration.
“They were all hyped for me,” Young said. “Then I saw Joel (Embiid) just start running toward me and I had to try to run away. I didn’t want to get tackled by him.”
Young will try to pick up where he left off before the break. He is averaging 29.7 points, 9.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds in 50 games. Those numbers are better than those posted during his rookie season, when he averaged 19.1 points, 8.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds.
Young’s numbers against Miami haven’t been great. In six career appearances against the Heat, Young is averaging 16.7 points and 7.7 assists. He is averaging 13 points in two games against Miami this season.
–Field Level Media