(AP) — The acquisition of Goran Dragic has been key to the Miami Heat’s playoff push, and their eventual reward could be a series with the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks.
With Dwyane Wade among several injured players, the Heat may need another strong performance from Dragic in this possible first-round playoff preview with the Hawks on Friday night.
Miami (33-38) is seventh in the East, with Boston, Indiana, Brooklyn and Charlotte in close pursuit. The Heat have gone 9-7 with Dragic in the lineup since acquiring him from Phoenix in a three-team trade Feb. 19, with the veteran point guard averaging 17.0 points, 5.6 assists and 1.5 steals.
He was particularly impressive Wednesday, scoring 22 points with seven assists and five rebounds to lead the short-handed Heat to a 93-86 road win over the Celtics. Wade (knee) and centers Hassan Whiteside (hand) and Chris Andersen (calf) all sat out.
“The example he set, constantly hitting the floor for loose balls, it set the tone and the example for everybody else,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s probably what would decide this game. … Those loose balls and the extra rebounds were what really decided it.”
Wade and Andersen are reportedly questionable to return Friday, while Whiteside is doubtful. That could lead to more shot attempts for Dragic, who had six points and as many assists while going 2 for 7 from the floor in a 93-91 loss to Atlanta (54-17) on Feb. 28.
Wade had 22 points in that meeting, while Whiteside added 14 with 24 rebounds as Miami lost its fifth straight in the series. Luol Deng, who scored 15 on Wednesday, has averaged 18.8 points in 16 career regular-season visits to Atlanta for his best road mark against any team from the East.
While the Heat are chasing a franchise-record seventh straight playoff appearance, the Hawks have already clinched an eighth consecutive trip.
Atlanta ended a season-high three-game losing streak with a 95-83 win at Orlando on Wednesday as it played on the road for the seventh time in eight contests.
“It was a big win for us just to get our confidence back,” said guard Jeff Teague, who had 16 points and nine assists after averaging 10.3 and 3.7 during the skid. “We know we’re a good team. We just had to go out and play like one.”
That hasn’t been a problem at home, where Atlanta is an East-best 30-5.
Paul Millsap has totaled 47 points and 18 boards in the last two games, adding a season-high four blocks against the Magic. The forward had 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting against the Heat last month, while Teague, Pero Antic and DeMarre Carroll were given the night off by coach Mike Budenholzer.
Teague was terrific in his last meeting with Miami, shooting 8 of 11 and finishing with 27 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals in a 112-102 road win Dec. 3.
The Hawks’ winning streak over the Heat is their longest since a 10-game run March 11, 1989-Nov. 9, 1991. Adding another victory would move Atlanta within two of matching its single-season record set in 1986-87 and tied in 1993-94.
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