The Miami Heat have won three in a row and are looking to keep their crazy train rolling Friday night at the Highlight Factory.
Though the Heat are clearly the superior team, anything can happen in a division matchup such as this one.
Which makes this a must-watch bout between two of the NBA's most intriguing teams.
Time: Friday, November 9th, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBA League Pass
Records: Atlanta Hawks (2-1), Miami Heat (4-1)
Betting Line: Heat -5.5
Injuries (via CBSSports.com)
Johan Petro (back), questionable
Dexter Pittman (hamstring), questionable
Key Storyline: Are there any viable threats to the Heat in the Southeast Division?
This leaves the Hawks as the Heat's most worthy adversary within their division. Miami ran away with it last season—finishing six games up on Atlanta—and are expected to do the same this year.
But can the Hawks change that?
Remember, while this is a team down their best scorer from last season in Joe Johnson, they have a healthy Al Horford and rim-rattling Josh Smith. It's also worth mentioning they already pulled off an upset against Oklahoma City this year, on the road no less.
LeBron James and company will undoubtedly look to assert their dominance as division chiefs, but Atlanta is playing good enough basketball to be considered a legitimate threat.
Key Matchup: Josh Smith, PF, Hawks vs. LeBron James, SF, Heat
James is likely to start at power forward for the small-ball inclined Miami, meaning that he will be going head-to-head against a volatile two-way presence in Smith.
Though LeBron's natural position is at small forward, he posted a 37.1 PER at the 4 last season and currently has a PER of 26.45 there this year.
For most power forwards, he presents a matchup headache as someone who can post up, yet also step out, hit the jump shot or run the offense.
But Smith isn't most power forwards.
While he is less effective than James, he is equally as versatile, meaning he will have no problem defending from all areas of the floor.
As one of the best all-around defenders in the game, he himself presents a matchup headache as well.
We're in a for an epic positional battle in Atlanta tonight.
Al Horford, C, Hawks
In all likelihood, Horford will be going up against Chris Bosh. Though Bosh has performed admirably at the five, he is hardly fit to defend someone as powerful as Horford.
And with LeBron likely smothering Smith, Horford's ability to take advantage of Bosh's defensive shortcomings will be vital if the Hawks wish to claim a victory.
Equally as important, though, will be his defense.
Unlike most centers, Bosh can score from anywhere on the court and even put the ball on the floor. Horford is a staunch defender, but he's not used to guarding perimeter-oriented bigs by any means.
That said, he should have the edge in this matchup. If he can contain Bosh offensively while continuing to score on the other end, Atlanta will have a puncher's chance at emerging victorious.
Dwyane Wade, SG, Heat
Wade is the only member of Miami's Big Three who has the clear edge in his matchup.
Though the Hawks are bursting with talented scorers in the backcourt, exactly zero of them are defensively deft enough to contain the elusive Wade.
And with LeBron waging war against Smith and Bosh set to be overpowered by Horford, the Heat need Wade to exploit Atlanta's inexperience at the 2 and have a big night.
Should he be able to take his advantage of a string of favorable matchups, Miami should have no problem winning its fourth consecutive game.
DeShawn Stevenson, SG, Hawks
Even without the ability to flop, Stevenson is the closest thing to a Wade-stopper Atlanta has.
As he as aged, his defense hasn't been as calculated or effective, but he remains one of the better perimeter defenders in the game.
The key for Stevenson will be keeping Wade out of the paint. If he can force one-third of South Beach's superstar trio into mostly jump shots, the Hawks' chance at pulling off the upset become that much greater.
If he fails to stop Wade on any level, though, Atlanta is liable to get blown out of this one early on.
Ray Allen, SG, Heat
The Hawks are holding opponents to just 32.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc, sixth-best in the league.
Allen, on the other hand, is shooting the deep ball at a 59.1 percent clip this season. Almost needless to say, his prowess from behind the rainbow has been spectacular thus far.
And for the Heat to keep cruising, Allen needs to keep shooting. But his makes won't come as easy against a stingy Atlanta defense that isn't so great at preventing dribble penetration, yet can lock down the perimeter even on an off night.
This makes Allen's ability to find holes in the Hawks' outside defense of the utmost importance to a Miami team looking to continue its hot streak.
Prediction: Heat 104, Hawks 91
This game could not have come at a better time for the Heat.
Outside of the team's performance against the Brooklyn Nets, Miami has struggled defensively. Tonight, however, they face a top-10 offense that has only had the luxury that is Josh Smith for one game.
Why is this a good thing?
Because the Heat need to be tested. Brooklyn is a good team on paper, but it currently boasts the fifth-worst offense in the league.
Expect Miami to come out with a vengeance on defense, looking to prove that it's still the same stalwart on that side of the ball it was last season. It won't be able to hold Atlanta below 90 at home, but it will have no problem keeping its opponent under 100 here.
The Hawks, by comparison, will struggle to keep the Heat in check. Atlanta is in the top half of points allowed per game thus far, but they're facing the most potent offensive attack in basketball, one that is currently averaging 110 points per game.
Will the Heat meet their season average in this one?
Probably not, but the combination of LeBron and Wade, coupled with Allen's shooting off the bench, will be too much for this Atlanta team stop.
Which means by the sound of the final buzzer, it will become clear there is no team in the Southeast that serves as a legitimate threat to Miami's throne.
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