Winning the Southeast Division doesn’t mean as much to the Heat as it does to the Florida Panthers.
In Miami, after all, there’s only so much room in the rafters. A division championship doesn’t even get its own spot as the team puts multiple division titles on shared banners.
Perhaps that’s why Monday night’s division battle between the Heat and visiting Hawks didn’t have much hype to live up to. Regardless of the interest, or lack thereof, in a game pitting the two top teams in the Southeast, Miami still put on a show in its 101-92 win over Atlanta at AmericanAirlines Arena.
With the win, the Heat moved 1 1/2 games ahead of the Hawks in the Southeast Division and improved to 10-1 at home.
“I don’t think a bunch of people were saying, ‘This is a Southeast Division headliner,’ ” Heat forward Chris Bosh joked afterward.
“It was a big game for us, we want to win it. But we’re second in the East. So there’s always work to do. If they continue to play the way they are and so do we, it will be a bigger game. The division is cool, but I’m a big-picture guy.”
It could have been a mundane Monday for the Heat what with all the empty seats in the lower bowl early on.
Yet that wasn’t the case as LeBron James had more than his share of highlight plays, which led to 27 points. Dwyane Wade was a career-best 11 of 13 from the field and finished with 26 points.
James and Wade combined to hit 21 of 29 shots.
“If those guys can shoot that efficiently, it’s probably pretty tough to beat us in our building,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team has won five in a row against Atlanta, including a six-point win at Philips Arena on Nov. 9.
The Heat, which has won its division nine times since 1997 and has three banners to represent all of them, played a close game in the first half.
Miami needed a runner by James at the buzzer for a two-point lead after one; James’ layup and free throw kept it that way heading into halftime.
“We need to work on our starts a little,” said Bosh, who finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. “We have to get off to better starts in the first half. Once we get a feel for what they are doing, do a better job communicating, you see the potential of this team this year. We know what we have to do on defense. We just need to be consistent. Playing off misses and we’re very hard to beat. We need to keep that mentality.”
Miami (14-5) pulled away from the Hawks (12-6) in the third as James, Wade and Shane Battier (two three-pointers off fastball passes from James) had the building buzzing.
The Heat outscored Atlanta by eight in the third quarter with Wade getting 10 of his 26 points during that stretch.
“There’s going to be ebb and flow coming off knee surgery,” Wade said of his past two games in which he scored 26 points in each of Miami’s home wins after a lopsided loss to the Knicks.
“Some nights you shoot 11 for 13, other nights you go 3 for 13. The key is continuing to be aggressive and take your shots.’’
Miami went on a 10-2 run in the middle of the third with James, Wade and Battier scoring all of Miami’s points from the field. Ray Allen chipped in with a free throw off a technical to give Miami a 77-67 lead with two minutes left in the third.
After that, Miami wasn’t really threatened.
“We were able to pull away against a good team here at home,” Spoelstra said. “It was a good win, and we’ll move on. That’s a good team, and they came in playing the way they have been. They played extremely well in the first half.”
The Heat seemed to enjoy the fourth quarter — or at least the final moments of it — as Wade and Josh Smith traded words after Wade hit a long jumper.
Not long afterward, Norris Cole found Wade alone under the basket for an easy dunk to give Miami a 14-point lead.
“Obviously, I work on my shot but the biggest thing is making them,” Wade said. “Some nights it goes and some times it doesn’t. But you have to have the confidence to take them. I’m not the all-time leading scorer around here for nothing.
“Enjoy it while it lasts. Because it goes fast.”