The Miami Heat and LeBron James went into the NBA All-Star Weekend scorching hot, winners of seven straight. The Atlanta Hawks went into the weekend playing decent basketball and likely knowing the next week would be full of trade rumors and speculation.
On Wednesday, these two teams at opposite spectrums of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference will meet.
Miami has won both meetings between the teams this year, so the Hawks should be pretty significant underdogs coming in. Still, Atlanta is a playoff-caliber team, has plenty of talent and will have the home crowd pumped with Miami in town.
Let's take a closer look at this potential playoff preview.
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA
When: Wednesday, February 20 at 8 p.m. ET
Watch: Sun Sports (Miami); SportSouth (Atlanta)
Streaming: NBA League Pass
Listen: 790 AM / 104.3 FM / 710 AM (Miami); 680 AM / 93.7 FM (Atlanta)
Betting Line: N/A
Heat Injuries (via ESPN)
None to report.
Hawks Injuries (via ESPN)
None to report.
The Heat won the first two games played between these teams this season, so Atlanta should be looking for some measure of revenge in this meeting. Oh, and Miami is 7-1 against the Hawks in the last eight meetings between the teams.
Yeah, Atlanta should want some revenge.
Still, the Hawks could have a much different look by the time these teams meet on Wednesday, as forward Josh Smith could be traded. There certainly is a lot of interest around the league for Smith, via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
Smith is a free agent next season, so the Hawks may not risk losing him for nothing over the summer. He currently leads the team in scoring (17.4 points per game) and is second on the team in rebounding (8.6 rebounds per game).
Beyond that, this could potentially be a preview of a playoff series between these teams. I would expect this game to be a fun one.
Key Matchup: LeBron James vs. Josh Smith
Well, this will be the key matchup if Smith is still on the Hawks, that is.
LeBron has posted 21 and 27 points in two games against Atlanta, while Smith has gone for 13 and 22, so it's safe to say LeBron has gotten the best of the matchup thus far. Huge shocker there, I know.
Atlanta can win this game if it bangs the boards and scores easy buckets down low with Al Horford, Anthony Tolliver and Smith, so expect to see him posting up LeBron early and often. Besides, any chance to possibly wear down the league's top player is worth a shot.
And Smith is a long, athletic defender, so don't expect LeBron to have an easy night. Still, there aren't many players slowing down LeBron these days. If Smith can at least contain him, Atlanta will have a shot. If LeBron has his way, well, the Heat will win their eighth straight.
X-Factor: LeBron James
We're well beyond superlatives this season for James, so we'll just lay out the facts.
- He leads the Heat in points (27.3), rebounds (8.2), assists (6.9) and steals (1.7) per game.
- Seriously, you should probably read those numbers again. Absurd.
- He's scored 30 or more points in seven straight games.
- He's shot 52 percent from the field or higher in nine straight games.
- Last week, he became the first player in NBA history to score 30 or more points and shoot at least 60 percent from the field in six straight games.
Yeah, putting anyone other than James as this game's x-factor would be a joke.
Projected Starting Lineups
PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: LeBron James
PF: Udonis Haslem
C: Chris Bosh
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Devin Harris
SF: Josh Smith
PF: Anthony Tolliver
C: Al Horford
Is the third time the charm for Atlanta? No, probably not. Miami comes into this game on the heels of a seven-game winning streak, while the Hawks are 4-4 in their last eight and could be subjected to a whole lot of trade rumors this week. The Heat win, 103-96.