The Atlanta Hawks might not be regarded by most basketball fans as a legitimate threat to knock off LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference because of a perceived lack of star power.
But for now, the Hawks continue to be a pain in the neck for the Miami Heat.
Led by 26 points and nine assists from speedy point guard Jeff Teague — who didn’t look like he could be guarded by anyone in the building — Atlanta won its seventh in a row against Miami, 98-92, in front of the 249th consecutive sellout crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Hawks (4-1) put on a passing clinic, collecting 25 assists on 37 field goals. Miami, meanwhile, turned it over a season-high 19 times (leading to 22 points) and finished 5 of 28 from three-point range.
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“Even though they were in control — double digits — for good parts of this game, it was still probably decided by a handful of 50-50 loose balls, ball in the air, ball on the floor, possession plays and a handful of one more opportunities to move it onto a better shot,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You do have to give them credit into forcing us into some tough possessions with their activity level. We’ll learn from that.”
The Heat is still learning a lot about itself — and against good competition. Counting Atlanta, Miami’s past three opponents all played in last season’s conference finals. Considering the starting unit has only been working together for a month, Chris Bosh said he is encouraged with the progress.
“We held them to 41 percent, that’s pretty good,” said Bosh, who finished with nine points (4-of-14 shooting) and 14 rebounds. “But yeah the  turnovers, especially here at home, we can’t expect to win many games if we’re turning the ball over at a clip like that — especially with this team. They thrive on turnovers and everything.”
Hassan Whiteside again provided a dominating performance in the paint for Miami. At one point late in the second quarter, he fought off three Hawks in a battle for the ball and made a reverse layup while falling to the floor. He finished with 23 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots.
“My teammates just find me and I just finish it,” said Whiteside, who finished 11 of 12 from the field. “They really make me better.”
We can take a lot of positives from tonight. Our two losses are to the best two teams in the East last year. We’re playing catch-up a little bit. We’ll eventually get there.
Dwyane Wade, who went to the locker room with 5:23 to go in the third quarter and returned midway through the fourth with a migraine, finished with 21 points in 27 minutes. It’s only the fourth time in his career Wade has scored at least 20 points in the first four games of the season.
Wade said he started getting blurry vision in the second half when he went to the foul line. His string of consecutive made free throws ended at 24, and soon after he went back to the locker room. He took medicine and laid down for awhile. Wade, plagued by migraines throughout his career, said he has taken precautions to avoid migraines at home, but sometimes he can do nothing to stop it.
“My house is like a dungeon when I wake up,” he said. “I just hope this doesn’t linger.”
Miami trailed 79-65 after three quarters before opening the fourth quarter on a 10-0 run behind its bench, which until that point had managed only three points (all from Tyler Johnson).
Justin Holiday, though, squashed Miami’s momentum when he swished a corner three with 8:03 to play, and the Heat (2-2) never cut the deficit to fewer than five until Bosh hit a layup with 8.7 seconds left.
Chris Andersen, active for the first time since the season opener against Charlotte, saw his first action of the season. “Birdman” replaced Josh McRoberts, who picked up three fouls in 39 seconds, with 2:47 left in the third quarter and received a loud ovation. He had a putback dunk on a Goran Dragic miss and finished with three points and four rebounds in 10 minutes.
Dragic, who hadn’t scored more than 11 points in a game this season, finished with 19 on 6-of-11 shooting, including three three-pointers. But he matched Wade’s four turnovers and often had trouble guarding Teague.
“They’re a really good team, have a lot of weapons,” Dragic said. “It’s hard if you help too much. We still need to get on the same page. But they’re a good team you know.”
After shooting 52.6 percent and exchanging the lead seven times with the Hawks in the first quarter, the Heat missed its first nine shots of the second quarter before Whiteside made a reverse layup with 7:19 left in the half. By then, the Hawks’ 25-24 lead after one quarter had grown to 37-26.
Atlanta’s lead eventually grew to as many as 15 before going into the break ahead of Miami 51-40.
“I think we’re coming along all right,” Bosh said. “We can take a lot of positives from tonight. Our two losses are to the best two teams in the East last year. We’re playing catch-up a little bit. We’ll eventually get there.”