LeBron James scored 34 points and Miami held on for a 98-90 win over the Atlanta Hawks, which, along with the Boston Celtics falling 95-94 to the Washington Wizards, clinches the No. 2 seed for the Miami Heat.
The Heat will face either the New York Knicks or the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. Currently, the 76ers appear to be the Heat's most likely opponent as they are one-and-a-half games back of the New York Knicks for the sixth seed.
The Hawks nearly rallied all the way back from a 20-point deficit in Miami and tied the game 88-88 late in the fourth quarter. Perhaps fatigue began to set in, but Miami looked visibly out of sync early in the fourth quarter as the Hawks began to pressure the passing lanes and rallied behind Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford, who scored 17 and 13 points, respectively.
The game was marred somewhat near the end of the final quarter when Atlanta's Zaza Pachulia drove inside for a basket. Zydrunas Ilgauskas felt that there was excessive contact on the play and a la LeBron James' play on Jermaine O'Neal a day earlier against the Celtics, bounced the ball off Pachulia's back as he ran back to the offensive end of the court.
Ilgauskas was ejected, and the technical foul shot tied the game as the crowd began to smell a Heat meltdown. But Miami put the Hawks away with a 10-2 burst to end the game. James Jones, a member of the Heat's much-maligned bench, made two huge three-pointers during the run.
The win guarantees the Heat homecourt advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs at least.
Now the question is: Will Heat coach Erik Spoelstra rest his starters for the remaining game of the season against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday?
With the starters all playing big minutes in the win over the Hawks, it seems likely he will.
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