MIAMI (AP) — After an intriguing week in the life of LeBron James, the superstar is excited about the next challenge for his Miami Heat.
James and the Heat will try to cool off the red-hot visiting Atlanta Hawks on Monday night in an early showdown for first place in the Southeast Division.
The reigning league MVP was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year last week to add to his list of numerous honors. On the court, James drew attention for a post-game workout behind closed doors after a dismal 112-92 loss to New York last Thursday.
Miami (13-5) avoided its first three-game slide with Saturday’s 106-90 home victory over New Orleans. The Heat lead Atlanta (12-5) by one-half game in the division, and James said he’s ready for a game with first place on the line.
“It’s always fun,” James said. “And it’s a divisional opponent and they’re playing some really good basketball right now. They had the one loss to Cleveland at home, they didn’t win that game but everybody has a little bump.”
James is correct since Atlanta’s lone defeat in 10 games was a 113-111 loss to the Cavaliers on Nov. 30. The Hawks have opened December with three victories and arrive in South Beach after Saturday’s impressive 93-83 victory at Memphis.
Atlanta showed once again why it is one of the league’s better defensive teams, limiting the Grizzlies to their lowest point total. The Hawks are allowing 93.6 points per game while holding foes to 43.3 percent shooting.
The Heat were disappointed with their defense during last week’s two losses in which they allowed the Wizards and Knicks to shoot 46.5 percent. They limited the Hornets to 44.9 percent Saturday.
“We didn’t do everything right,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We still had a handful of breakdowns. But the commitment on the defensive end was better than the past two games.”
Miami has won four straight over Atlanta, including a 95-89 road victory Nov. 9. James just missed a triple-double with 21 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists as he played through right knee pain after getting hurt in a collision with the Hawks’ Josh Smith.
James made the clinching jumper with 13.6 seconds left on a night when his best was needed with Dwyane Wade out with a nasty cold.
That contest was part of Atlanta’s 3-3 start. The Hawks look like a better team now.
“They’ve got three point guards that’s very quick, three guys that’s very quick in Lou Will (Williams), Devin Harris and Jeff Teague and those guys really speed the tempo up, and an All-Star in Al Horford and Josh Smith is really playing at a high level as well,” James said.
“We have to do a good job of slowing their point guards down, trying to contain the point of attack and then put a little bit of pressure on those other two guys.”
Williams is among the top bench scorers in the NBA with a 14.2 scoring average in his first season with Atlanta. He scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half to key Saturday’s win in Memphis.
“Just confidence. Just continue to shoot,” Williams said. “I got a layup, and then I was able to get a 3 and it snowballed from there.”
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