The Atlanta Hawks created their share of buzz this week with a couple of victories in the play-in tournament.
But now there’s an NBA playoff series against the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. The Miami Heat are bound to command a degree of attention as well.
The Hawks and Heat open their best-of-7 first-round series Sunday afternoon in Miami.
The Heat have been idle for a week while the Hawks navigated the play-in format.
“There’s a lot of different scenarios in a playoff series,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, noting the layoff has been positive for his team.
“I think it has helped with a health standpoint for us. We’re working mostly on just our game.”
Atlanta won twice in the play-in portion of the postseason, routing the Charlotte Hornets at home on Wednesday and then going on the road two nights later for a 107-101 comeback victory at Cleveland.
“The message was ‘Believe,’” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “I think this team is built for moments like this.”
Miami won three of four meetings during the regular season against Atlanta. That included a 113-109 home victory on April 8, helping the Heat to a 10-game spread in the standings over the Hawks by the end of the regular season.
“We’re going to continue to play the same way,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said.
Atlanta toppled the East’s top seed (Philadelphia) last season, so the Hawks are not lacking confidence.
Miami center Bam Adebayo, who was cleared from the league’s health and safety protocol on Saturday, played in only two of the games against Atlanta this season.
With a season’s worth of situations to fall back on, there’s reason for the Heat’s optimism.
“Everybody has to be ready and on moment’s notice,” Spoelstra said. “Thankfully, everybody has gotten opportunities to really contribute and feel comfortable about their role and they know where they can bring value.”
Hawks guard Trae Young scored 32 of his 38 points in the second half to help conquer Cleveland.
“I didn’t see any panic in his play,” McMillan said. “Playing in big moments like this, he doesn’t shy away from it. He looks forward to playing in games like this and being on this stage.”
Kyle Lowry figures to draw the main defensive assignment on Young, who scored 25.5 points per game against the Heat this season.
The Hawks weren’t unscathed in Friday night’s victory. There’s concern with center Clint Capela, who exited with a knee injury. In the short term, there was a positive response to his absence.
“When Clint went down, I just said, ‘Win this game for Clint,’” Hawks forward Onyeka Okongwu said.
The Hawks find key players in various roles. Reserve Bogdan Bogdanovic gave a boost on the court and in a leadership role Friday night.
“He got us fired up,” McMillan said.
The Heat are the NBA’s top team in terms of 3-point shooting at 37.9 percent. Against Atlanta, Miami checked in at 50.9-percent shooting from the field in the four games this season.
Game 2 will be held Tuesday night before the series shifts to Atlanta. The winner of the Atlanta-Miami series gets the winner of the Philadelphia-Toronto series in the next round.
–Field Level Media