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Feeling the heat: Playoff road often unkind to Atlanta

POSTED: April 25, 2009 12:47 a.m.

MIAMI — Dwyane Wade needed only a millisecond to explain how much the home-court edge means in the NBA playoffs.

"Easy. It’s huge," Wade said.

Especially when Atlanta Hawks are visiting, it seems.

Few teams are more woebegone on the postseason road than the Hawks, who haven’t won a playoff game outside of Atlanta since May 8, 1997 — so long ago that Wade hadn’t played a varsity high school game.

Atlanta is 0-11 in road playoff games since, blown out in 10 of those. Miami will aim to extend that drought today, when it hosts the Hawks in Game 3 of an Eastern Conference first-round series tied at one win apiece.

"Anything is possible," Hawks guard Joe Johnson said. "Even though we haven’t done great on the road, I think we can go down there and do it."

Atlanta is one of only five teams that came into Miami this season and pulled off a double-digit victory, beating the Heat 87-73 on Dec. 12. But for whatever reason, postseason games and road uniforms haven’t mixed well for the Hawks, who made a splash by taking eventual champion Boston to seven games in the first round a year ago.

Maybe it wasn’t such a close series. The Hawks lost road games in Boston by 23, 19, 25 and 34 points — forgettable outcomes, but experiences Atlanta wants to remember nonetheless.

"We know how bad it got on the road and how intense it was in Boston," Hawks forward Al Horford said. "We kind of know what to expect and that way we can play through it."

Still, if the Hawks don’t get a win before this series shifts back to Atlanta on Wednesday for Game 5, they’ll be in deep trouble.

"We should be better," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "We’re a better team overall this season. I feel totally different than I did last year playing the Celtics on the road. But I don’t feel too bad after taking the Celtics to seven because nobody in the playoffs beat the Celtics on their floor."

Miami grabbed control of the series with an 108-93 win in Game 2 at Atlanta on Wednesday night, swiftly erasing the memory of the Hawks’ 26-point cakewalk that opened the best-of-seven.

Firing up the Heat after a loss, coach Erik Spoelstra said, was easy.

Keeping that fire stoked for nearly three full days after a win, that’s what Spoelstra views as the vital challenge.

"We have to. We have to continue to stay on edge," Spoelstra said.

"We were a different team and the mind-set was different last game. We can’t relax."

That part has been an ongoing struggle for Miami all season. After losses, the Heat are 29-11. After wins, just 15-28.

"There shouldn’t be any excuses," Heat center Jermaine O’Neal said.

"Even the young players can understand, these two games coming up at home would solidify what we did by winning up there in Game 2."

In that Game 2 win, Miami did all the things Atlanta will try today — get off to a quick start to neutralize the crowd, keep the lead throughout and quickly snuff out any rallies that might give the home fans any reason to get rowdy.

It’s what the Hawks have talked about ever since Game 2 ended.

"We’ve got to have a great start," Woodson said, before his team headed to Miami. "Again, we’re playing in a hostile environment, just like they came in here in front of our fans. ... We’ll tweak a few things and see what happens."

The Heat expect a sold-out crowd, with most fans dressed head-to-toe in black — a playoff promotion Miami tried in Wade’s rookie season, with great success.

The 2006 NBA finals MVP said he’s eager to experience that environment again, but knows a wild crowd won’t guarantee anything.

"At the end of the day, that’s not enough to win a game," Wade said.

"We have to play the game. We have to control the game."Notes: Heat F Jamario Moon (sore groin) was held out of Friday’s practice, but may play today. ... Miami is 23-6 in home playoff games with Wade. ... Hawks point guard Mike Bibby was on the winning side in his first five career playoff road games, but his teams have gone 4-20 away from home in the postseason since.



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