Hawks-Heat Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 11, 2013
LeBron James once carried a team to 66 wins. Ray Allen played for a club that won 19 consecutive games. Dwyane Wade led a team that finished with the Eastern Conference's best record. For each, it's a footnote in a season where no championship was won. There's no arguing that the Miami Heat are playing better than any other team in the NBA right now. They've won 18 straight games, are sitting atop the league standings and have a very real chance of wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the East playoffs by the end of the month. While all that sounds good, it's not changing the singular priority of this Heat season. Championship-or-bust was the thinking Miami carried into this year, and not even the seventh-longest winning streak in NBA history has changed that. "It's not our goal," James said. "Our goal isn't to win games consecutive. Our goal is to win a championship. Right now, our goal is to get better each and every game, to continue to improve. That was never one of our goals coming into the season, see how many games we'd win in a row. Our goal is to win a championship and not take any shortcuts in that process." Miami (47-14) will try for its 19th straight win Tuesday night, when the Heat play host to the Atlanta Hawks - a team that's 0-3 against the reigning NBA champions this season. After that, a trip to Philadelphia awaits on Wednesday, to face a 76ers team that has lost 13 straight regular-season meetings with Miami. Win on Tuesday, and the Heat would match the fifth-longest winning streak in NBA history. Win Tuesday and Wednesday, and then it becomes truly rarefied air, because Miami would be just the fourth team to ever win 20 straight in the same season. "You don't want to take a team like this for granted," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We've talked about this with our group for the last few days. It's a special group. It's a special opportunity. Nothing is guaranteed. We're going after something that's an unknowable future. But we have an opportunity, a legitimate opportunity, so we have to make the most of every day we have together." The streak's latest addition came Sunday night, when even on a rare subpar scoring night from James, the Heat rolled past Indiana 105-91 in a game where Miami took control with a huge start to the third quarter and was never seriously threatened again. Sunday's win was significant for many reasons, namely that the Pacers are the closest thing the Heat have to a nemesis these days in the East, that they were 2-0 against Miami this season and that they were the last team to beat the defending champions way back on Feb. 1. In the five-plus weeks since, all the Heat have done is take what was a close race in the East and make it a total runaway, assume the top spot in the NBA standings and become the first team to clinch a playoff spot - not that getting one was ever, ever in doubt. "Right now, honestly, it doesn't really feel like we are on this kind of win streak," Wade said. "We are just coming in and we're just taking care of business. We come in every day when coach calls us in, and we do our work and we come back and we just play. We're not in the locker room saying, 'Aw, we're on this win streak and it's amazing.' To us, we're just playing basketball." They've won six straight against the Hawks (34-28), who have lost five of six to begin March - including four in a row on the road - to fall into a tie for sixth in the East. Atlanta is dangerously close to the No. 8 spot, which would almost certainly mean a first-round matchup with the Heat. The Hawks were quickly aware of their next challenge following Saturday's 93-80 home loss to Brooklyn. "We have a tough task ahead of us," Al Horford said. "We have to regroup and go to Miami." The Hawks' best hope may be a huge performance from Horford, who has posted four straight double-doubles and is averaging 22.9 points on 62.3 percent shooting in his last 13 games. The big man has managed 19.0 points per contest while shooting 65.8 percent against the Heat this season, but teammate Josh Smith is hitting just 36.0 percent from the field while the Hawks have averaged 90.3 points.
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