The Atlanta Hawks credit their fast start this season to the confidence they gained in the playoffs the last two years.The Hawks take on one of the teams that provided them some confidence when they host the Miami Heat on Wednesday.
Atlanta (9-2) advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals last season after winning its opening-round series against Miami (7-3) in seven games. Though coach Mike Woodson's club would be swept in the second round by Cleveland, Woodson said it still was a big step for a franchise that hadn't advanced beyond the first round in a decade.
"The last two years being in the playoffs has put this team in a totally different light," Woodson said following his team's 99-95 overtime victory over Portland on Monday. "Now when they go on the court, they know they have a chance to win. ... It's kind of nice sitting on the top of the division."
Atlanta has won five straight to move one game ahead of Orlando, with third-place Miami one-half game further behind. Joe Johnson scored a season-high 35 points Monday against the Trail Blazers, including 18 in the fourth quarter and overtime to help the Hawks rally from a nine-point deficit at the start of the fourth.
It was the third consecutive game Atlanta held an opponent below 100 points.
"(Monday) was a perfect game as far as what Woody preaches," center Al Horford, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds, told the league's official Web site. "You have to be able to come out and defend every night because there are some nights you're not going to make anything, and tonight was one of those nights."
The win improved Atlanta to 5-0 at home this season. The Hawks won five of six against Miami at Phillips Arena last season, including three of four during the playoff series.
Miami will try to get its offense going on the road after being held below 90 points in consecutive home games. While the Heat were able to overcome shooting a season-low 39.3 percent in an 81-80 victory over New Jersey on Saturday, their problems on offense proved too much to overcome Tuesday in a 100-87 loss to Oklahoma City in which the Thunder went on 20-1 and 14-2 runs.
"They outplayed us with their athleticism, with their length, with their effort, with their energy, all those areas," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "They just brought more of it."
Dwyane Wade scored 22 points, but endured his worst game of the season while shooting 6 for 19 and committing six turnovers. He had bailed the Heat out in their previous contest, hitting a 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds left to beat the Nets.
Wade and the Heat have played only two road games this season - fewest in the league. They won both, beating Indiana and Washington while holding each below 90 points. Wade scored a combined 72 points in those games.
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