The Miami Heat (20-7) will take on the Atlanta Hawks (18-9) Sunday at 7 p.m. in a battle of the top two teams in the Southeast Division.
No matter how the game ends, the Heat will remain top ranked in the division but their lead could shrink to a single game if Atlanta beats Miami for the second time this year.
The teams split their first two games this year, with each winning on the other’s home court. Atlanta handed Miami its first loss of the season in a 100-92 on January 2, while a shorthanded Heat team –playing without Dwyane Wade and LeBron James – won a triple-overtime thriller three days later.
Chris Bosh came up big in the second game between the two teams, scoring 33 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. After struggling to get back into a groove with the return of Wade earlier this month, Bosh seems to be hitting his stride again scoring 24 with 14 boards against the lowly Washington Wizards Friday.
Despite getting off to great start of the season, James seems to have slowed down recently, scoring less than 20 points in his last two games, and three of the past five.
Miami is expected to have its full roster at its disposal as Mario Chalmers participated in the Washington game after sitting out the loss against Orlando earlier this week. The point guard is expected to have his hands full stopping lighting quick Jeff Teague who penetrated at will against the Heat in the teams’ first two meetings.
Atlanta, on the other hand, continues to play without Center Al Horford, who is expected to miss several months because of a pectoral tear.
This year’s Hawk’s squad continues to prove skeptics who questioned the team’s ability to perform consistently wrong.
Although Atlanta has what is generally regarded as one of the most talented teams in the league – with All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson (18.4 ppg), explosive forward Josh Smith (15.9 ppg, 9.3 rebounds and over 2 blocks) and former standout Tracy McGrady coming off the bench – they have been labeled underachievers by many around the league, consistently making the playoffs but rarely getting outside of the first round.
Sunday night’s game will be at Phillips Arena in Atlanta. The Hawks are 9-4 at home, while the Heat are 8-5 playing away from Miami.