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LeBron James took a seat in the fourth quarter, his Miami Heat team well ahead behind a sensational night the King. About the only thing he had to do was avoid the dreaded "Kiss Cam." No problem. He did it the same way he evaded a woeful Atlanta Hawks defense all night -- with relative ease.
James posted 43 points on a 16-for-21 shooting night from the field to lead the Heat to a resounding 106-85 win over the hapless Hawks on Friday night before a sellout crowd of over 20,000 at Philips Arena.
How easy was it for the Heat? It was like they knew what was coming on both defense and offense.
Of course, it helped that Miami had former Atlanta point guard Mike Bibby on the bench. He was calling the Hawks' offensive sets out to his new team. I'm not sure that mattered. The Hawks beat themselves by shooting 44-percent (35-for-79) from the field, missing 10-of-22 free throws and losing the battle of the boards 50-27.
And then there was James.
The King was a perfect 8-for-8 from the field in the first half, posting 20 points while his Heat team built a 50-43 lead at the break. James began missing shots in the third quarter, but he still managed to more than double his game total and outscored the Hawks 23-20 in the frame.
What was Atlanta's response? Let's put it this way: the Hawks were down by 18 and Josh Smith lined up at the 3-point line and missed a wild trey. You knew that Atlanta had zero chance after that.
About the only one who was playing any sort of defense on King James was Zaza Pachulia. He committed a hard foul on the King in the waning minute of the third. But in typical NBA fashion, Zaza received a Flagrant-1 and James went to the line -- splitting a pair of free throws. Pachulia, perhaps annoyed that his team was down by 30 at the time, also picked up a technical for bumping shoulders with Joel Anthony in the third quarter.
Along the way, James converted on a 3-point play and the same Philips Arena crowd that lustily booed the Miami superstar and his partner in crime Wade for most of the game turned on the home team. Chants of "MVP! MVP! MVP!" reigned down upon another NBA player who was wearing a visiting uniform here.
While the Hawks fans were a tad bit schizophrenic with James, they were clearly behind Bibby, cheering the point guard when he took the floor late in the first quarter. Bibby finished with two points and six assists.
Al Horford posted 11 points and Smith 10 for Atlanta, which connected on just 3-of-12 shots from behind the 3-point line.
James has 43 points on 16-for-20 shooting from the field to lead the Heat to an 86-57 demolition of the lowly Hawks through three quarters at Philips Arena.
How bad did it get?
James outscored the Hawks 23-20 in the frame. The Hawks have connected on just 10-for-17 from the free throw line and Josh Smith is taking an ill-advised 3-pointer down 18 points instead of going to the hoop.
You can't exactly blame the Hawks fans at the Bulb for turning on their terrible basketball team that is guarding LeBron James like he's Shelden Williams or some 12th man on an NBA team.
Zaza Pachulia is about the only one who is playing with any sort of emotion in this one.
He did something to defend th King. He pushed off on a foul. And, of course, the refs called a Flagrant-1 on the play with just over a minute left in the third quarter. But that's expected. You can't commit a rough foul a superstar in this league without getting some sort of extra punitive penalty. Pachulia also picked up a technical for bumping shoulders with Joel Anthony.
Al Horford has 11 points and Smith 10 for a Hawks team that is getting destroyed on the boards, 35-19.
LeBron James hit all of his shots from the field. He nailed his only 3-pointer and converted his free throws. If the Atlanta Hawks were even remotely close to same from the charity stripe, they might actually be in the ballgame.
James has 20 points to lead the Heat to a 50-37 lead at halftime at Philips Arena.
Atlanta on the other hand, forgot that free throws are free. They connected on just 4-for-10 from the charity stripe in the frame.
Miami quickly pushed a four point lead to start the second quarter to a double-digit edge, scoring the first seven points of the quarter on a pair of free throws by Bosh with 10:04 left in the frame.
Atlanta never really made a push thereafter, trailing by as many as 17.
Joe Johnson and Al Horford have nine points each for Atlanta, which is shooting just 41-percent (16-for-39) from the field. The Hawks are even worse from behind the 3-point arc, where they have connected on just 1-of-8 shots from behind the arc.
To their credit, the Hawks have pushed it into the paint in this one. They just simply can't stop James. Unless they figure out a way to front him, they're going to have a rough time erasing the deficit in the second half.
Dwyane Wade and LeBron James got booed most times they touched the board. Al Horford dunked on Chris Bosh. And Wade barely went to the hoop. That pretty much sums up the first quarter of the contest between the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat.
James has 13 points on 6-for-6 shooting from the field to lead the Heat to a 25-21 lead through the first quarter at Philips Arena.
Bosh has seven for Miami, which shot a blistering 65-percent (11-for-17) in the frame.
The Hawks were doing all the right things until James got hot. They were penetrating the paint and either taking it to the hoop or kicking it out to the open man as they built a 9-4 lead. But then the stupid jumpers happened. James was all too happy to take advantage.
Wade also didn't try very much in the first. He had just one shot. He missed.
Former Hawk Mike Bibby entered the game with six seconds left in the first quarter and got an ovation from the Atlanta crowd.
The Miami Heat are here. Did you hear? The Miami Heat a/k/a the former Best Team Ever* made it to Atlanta in time for LeBron James to headline at a local club and maybe, just maybe, play some sort of game where he puts a ball through a hoop.
So forget about your NCAA bracket, put aside your green beer from St. Patrick's Day and get ready to watch in awe as the best
82-0, 72-8, 66-16, 60-22 team ever to play the game of basketball comes to Atlanta on a night that should be full of front-running Miami Heat fans that used to wear Cleveland Cavaliers jerseys last year.
This one is chuck full of plenty of storylines.
So what should we expect to see on Friday night at the Bulb?
Celebrities galore, $500 scalped club tickets, a lot of traffic around the arena near tipoff, and a lot of brand spanking new LeBron James jerseys. Sounds like a fun night all around.
As far as the action on the court goes, the teams have generally been evenly matched in the first two matchups, both of which were in Miami. James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh dominated the first time these two teams met, posting 77 points in an 89-77 win on Dec. 4. But Atlanta got its revenge on Jan. 18, beating the Bosh-less Heat 93-89 in overtime.