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FINAL GAMER: Wade is back, LeBron is exhausted and the top spot in the East is gone

ATLANTA — It’s almost like it never happened.

No, really. Think about it. This entire regular season is almost in the books, the playoffs are almost here and consider where the Heat is physically, strategically and mentally after Saturday’s 98-85 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

For the first time since early November, the Heat featured a starting lineup of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers. That’s the lineup the Heat ran out at the beginning of the season, and that’s the lineup the Heat will use to begin the playoffs.

The Greg Oden experiment appears to have ended before it ever began. He wasn’t even with the team at Philips Arena to begin this final two-game road trip of the regular season. The Heat gave Michael Beasley a chance, and he couldn’t figure out the team’s defense.

So, there was the foundation of the Heat’s championship core, back out on the court together after all that time and all that failed experimentation, and, like the beginning of the season, the guys lacked rhythm and stamina.

Like the beginning of the season, Dwyane Wade played coming off an injury.

Like the beginning of the season, LeBron James looked exhausted.

For that matter, everyone looked tired — everyone except Wade, of course. He played like he had been resting for over two weeks, and not like his teammates, who were playing in their fourth game in five nights. After missing nine-straight games with a hamstring injury, Wade scored 24 points in 23 minutes and went 10 of 14 from the line. Wade played well, but his minutes were limited by design, and the precaution threw off any idea of cohesion to the Heat’s rotation.

Simply put, the Hawks (37-43) played like a team fighting for their playoff lives, and the Heat (54-26) played like a team just going through the motions until the postseason begins. With the victory, the Hawks secured the No.8 seed in the Eastern Conference and officially knocked the New York Knicks out of postseason contention.

For the Heat, the loss erased its half-game lead against the Pacers for top spot in the conference. The Heat and Pacers are now tied for No.1 in the East with Indiana playing the tough Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

James led the Heat with 27 points in 37 minutes, but looked sluggish doing it. He was 10 of 22 from the field and 4 of 8 from the free-throw line. As a team, the Heat went 9 of 19 from the foul line. Chris Bosh had 11 points in 28 minutes.
“It’s been a helluva grind this year,” Bosh said.

Hawks reserve Lou Williams hit a three-pointer with a 41 seconds left to give Atlanta a 15-point lead. Williams had 23 points off the bench and the Hawks outscored the Heat 49-36 in the second half. The game was tied 49-49 at halftime.

“Needless to say, that was a tough second half,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We couldn’t get it going on either side of the court.”

Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 25 points, carving lanes through the Heat’s defense from beginning to end. Meanwhile, the Heat committed 20 turnovers, which the Hawks converted into 29 points.

Despite the close race atop the Eastern Conference standings, it doesn’t sound like the Heat will really be gunning for the No.1 seed in the final few days of the regular season. James indicated after the game that he is strongly considering sitting out the Heat’s final road game of the season in Washington.

“It’s something I need to talk about with [Spoelstra],” James said. “Some of my teammates, obviously they looked at it and said, ‘You need to get a couple games,’ so I’ll be smart about it and try to get into the playoffs as healthy as I can be.”
The loss was a blow to securing the No.1 seed, but overall it was a success considering Wade’s return from injury. He made his first seven shots and scored the Heat’s first nine points of the second quarter. Wade’s running 12-foot jumper cut the Hawks’ lead to four points with 8:49 left in the first half, and Ray Allen tied the game with a corner three-pointer a few possessions later. The Heat surged to a seven-point lead in the second quarter before giving it all back by halftime.

Wade started the game with a dunk, which kick-started his impressive game. James spotted Wade on a fast break, and instead of finishing the play himself, the four-time MVP smartly dished it off to Wade for an easy score.
“My man understands that I needed that,” Wade said. “If I don’t get that, then I don’t know when my next shot is coming, and I’m out there four minutes and my first shot might be a pull-up or something.

“To see it go through on that first play, it lets you know you’re all right.”

Comments

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The way this eam's been playing,if I were a Heat season ticket holder I'd be considering a lawsuit for fraud.

Not securing home court could be a huge mistake for this team. If they do get the 1 seed and match up with Atl, it will not be a cakewalk. In fact, the Heat aren't good enough this year to overlook anyone. Atl could easily win a couple of games and if we face Charlotte or Washington, look out. It may be an uncomfortable 1st rd. The 2nd rd against either Brooklyn or Chicago will be a bloodbath and almost assuredly go 7. This team just doesn't have it this year. I can only recall a couple of games all year where they dominated from start to finish. The playoffs are going to be very interesting.

I'm confident with their chances in the first two rounds, but not in a conference finals against Indy with the home court, especially if Indy is back on track.

Sometimes Spo has absolutely no feel of his rotation. This game cried for some Beasley. Early 4th Q lineup was inexplicable for example. Cole, Allen, Lewis and to an extent Chalmers, did nothing in this game to merit extended 2nd half minutes.
He has a tendency to fell in love with a lineup, and force it after some initial succes, even when it clearly doesn't work. See Minnesota game, a loss also heavily on Spo. (I still admire the hell out of the guy, just saying.)

I agree with all you guys...gonna be beyond tough.

Is NBA trying to kill these guys though. Heat plays 4 games in 5 nights....whereas Hawks play 5 games in 7 nights closing the season. Who's doing the scheduling ? Seems not to be a well thought-out plan. Heat energy tank was on empty last night other than Wade & UD.

Joe's thoughts on the season are pretty much spot on. No matter who Heat play in playoffs (right now starting with Bobcats) will be a tough out. Heat could ose to anybody. Too bad the off season acquisitions have bombed. Heat guard play is alarming especially defensively. Fatigue is a deal killer...just ask Timothy Bradley.

WHAT HAPPEN TO BEASLEY I THOUGHT WE GOT HIM FOR OFFENSE THE WAY WE PLAYED DEFENSE LAST NIGHT HE WOULD HAVE FIT RIGHT IN.

I honestly do not think the Heat and coach Spo should be too concerned about getting the 1 seed in the East. Look at the scenario people, if the Heat get the 1 seed they are most definitely looking at a first-round match up with the Atlanta Hawks - the same team that just crushed them last night and took 2 games from Miami this year. Okay, take a look at the 3-4-5 seeds in the East. You have Chicago, Toronto and Brooklyn/Washington in that order. Chicago has a slightly tougher schedule than does Toronto does so there is still the great possibility that the Raptors get the 3 seed and the Bulls wind up with the 4 seed. Chicago could possibly end up playing Booklyn, Washington or even Charlotte in the first round. Okay, back to the Miami Heat's scenario. Let's say they get the 2 seed. They potentially either face the Bobcats or the Wizards in the first round assuming the Nets don't tank their last 3 games. No offense to the Bobcats or Wizards, but that would be a much easier match up. ANYONE can agree with me that the Raptors would be a much easier match up than a date with the Bulls in the second round. Should Miami get the 2 seed, I still believe the Heat can take down the struggling Pacers in a series should they match up in the Conference Finals. Also, like any other Heat fan, I honestly DO NOT CARE if we get the 1 seed! In fact, I highly recommend that coach Spoelstra is not THAT MUCH of a fool to keep playing his starters in the final 2 games of the regular season. If he is smart enough, he will sit LeBron, Wade, Bosh and the starters out for the remainder 2 games of the regular season for rest. Please Spoelstra, rest the starters. Rest and health are more important than a meaningless 1 seed.

Kendallville Heatle, I honestly do not think the Heat are too concerned about getting the 1 seed in the East. In fact, I do not think they want the 1 seed. I would much rather gamble here and rest the starters for the remaining 2 regular season games. LeBron needs the rest and so do the rest of the starters. It is so obvious that the King is gassed and needs a rest. Coach Spo needs to play the reserves more in the remaining 2 games and get some playing time under their belts. Should the Heat get Indiana in the Conference finals, I do not see any problem with being a 2 seed. Take a look at history. The Heat were a 2 seed team in 2011 and 2006. Miami took down the Bulls and Pistons (1 seed teams with home court advantage) in those years to advance to the Finals as a 2 seed team. We DO NOT NEED the 1 seed. What we need is health and rest for the starters.

witz, you can't possibly be any older than 13 just by the way you sound and write.

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