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Streaking Hawks Look to Cool Down the Heat in Hotlanta

By Vershawne Pennyamon | 4/12/2014, 12:13 p.m.

The playoffs are so close for the Atlanta Hawks that the can feel it.

The Hawks (36-43) come into Saturday's matchup versus the Miami Heat (54-25) one win away from capturing the final Eastern Conference postseason spot, after defeating the Brooklyn Nets (the same team that swept the Heat in the regular season). The Hawks own the tie-break versus the New York Knicks, so one win in their final 3 games will allow them to go to the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.

The Miami Heat defeated the Indiana Pacers (54-26) the other night, as they reclaim the no.1 seed in the East. If the standings remain constant for the last 3 games, Miami and Atlanta will play each other in the first round. So, consider tonight a warmup.

Lebron James has a 12-3 record versus the Hawks, since joining the Heat, who are 2-1 versus the Hawks this season. Dwayne Wade will most likely miss the final three games to nurse that strained left hamstring--advantage for the Hawks.

There are not a lot of key matchups, due to the rotating nature of the Heat. Besides the two of the Heat's Big 3 superstars, such as Lebron James and Chris Bosh and the Hawk's studs Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague, the players to watch are the high-flying big-man Chris “Birdman” Anderson, nifty guard Mario Chalmers, and always clutch X-factor Ray Allen for the Heat., and wily vet Elton Brand, the flashy but productive Lou Williams, and X-factor sharpshooter Kyle Korver.

“Birdman” is presence in the hole with major shot-blocking and rebounding abilities. He is not a major offensive threat but he is regarded as a game-changer, because his emphatic dunks and hustle. His play is guaranteed to fire the Heat up.

Sixth-year pro Chalmers, who is the little brother of the team, comes up huge when the Heat need him. Dwayne Wade missing the last few games with the hamstring puts Chalmers into a bigger role and he has not yet disappointed. When Lebron brings the ball down the court, he has a tendency to stand around and become lost in plays, but is consistently in perfect position for a kick-out in the corner to Chalmers. A 3-point specialist and a playmaker, Chalmer’s will have a significant impact on tonight's game.

Elton Brand has been stellar in the Hawks' push toward the playoffs. He may not be as quick as many players, or have the leaping ability, but he is fundamentally sound, especially on the glass. He also has a big body, which is hard to get around, and can put a defender off their game a little. Brand’s strength and defensive presence will be key. But he is not the only one.

The unpredictable Lou Williams is the Hawks' best ball-handler and shooter off the bench will play a huge role in this game. His honey-sweet stroke and killer crossover allows the second-unit scorer to rack up points in a hurry. Williams' quickness will also play to his advantage against the Heat and it should lead to buckets and free throws. His scoring prowess should take pressure off Teague, Mack and Millsap.

Lastly the All-time leader in 3-pointers, Heat's Ray Allen will be a major X-factor. On the other side of the court, the 3-point specialist of the Hawks', Kyle Korver, will be paging Dr. Drain from long range as well. The no.1 no-no here is leaving Allen and Korver alone by themselves behind the arc. Allen provides a spark off the bench and Korver contributes a lot to the starting lineup in Atlanta, but the final minutes should see them both on the floor.

In crucial game and season situations like these, having a 3-point specialist, with great off-the-ball movement, may be the tipping point tonight.