Last Friday night, the Heat defeated the Hawks for the second time in 48 hours. However, something was noticeably different in the home/away series. Last Wednesday, the Heat destroyed the Hawks 115-91 in their first matchup of the week (and the fans let the Hawks hear about it). Although the Hawks dropped the second game 124-118, their hustle and intensity were markedly better.
Since that time, the Hawks are 2-1 with two consecutive home wins. For the first time since November, this team is showing signs of life. What's most interesting is they are accomplishing this without Clint Capela and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Sure, Trae Young went off for a combined 67 points in the back-to-back wins. Besides the consistent greatness of Young, the biggest X-factor has been Onyeka Okongwu. Yesterday, I wrote about how the 21-year-old is untouchable and the five of the team's future.
As has been the case throughout most of the season, the Hawks are second in three-point percentage and offensive rating. Unfortunately, it's offset by their third-worst defense. The Hawks will struggle until they make consistent strides on the defensive end of the floor.
The Heat are the type of team that feasts on haphazard defenses. They run a slower, more methodical offense which lends itself to high-percentage looks. It's one of the reasons why Tyler Herro cooked the Hawks for 45 cumulative points last week. It's no fluke that the Heat are tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
If the Hawks can make a run at a play-in game (which I believe they will accomplish), it's quite possible they end up playing the Heat in the first round of the playoffs. So Hawks fans better get familiar with their Southeast Division foes.
The Heat list Tyler Herro (Health & Safety Protocols), Kyle Lowry (personal), Markief Morris (conditioning), KZ Okpala (wrist), and Victor Oladip (quadriceps) as out.
The Hawks injury report lists Clint Capela (left ankle sprain), Gorgui Dieng (non-COVID illness), Danilo Gallinari (right Achilles soreness) as questionable. Once again, Bogdan Bogdanovic (right knee soreness) is out.
SI Sportsbook lists the Hawks as 1.5-point favorites, and the over/under is set at 220.5. As I often like to remind you, the Hawks are tied for the worst record against the spread in the NBA. For what it's worth, they are 2-6 on Friday night games (0-3 at home). But I believe the Hawks win this game tonight thanks to their improved play and the depleted Heat roster.
As always, we will be live-tweeting the game and have you covered with the post-game wrap-up following the post-game press conferences. Stay locked into Sports Illustrated's AllHawks.com for breaking news, highlights, and analysis.
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