ATLANTA — The longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances in the Eastern Conference belongs to the Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks clinched their seventh straight playoff berth and delivered a blow to the Miami Heat’s hopes of earning the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with an impressive 98-85 win over the defending champions Saturday at Philips Arena.
Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague had 25 points, and guard Lou Williams came off the bench to add 23, 18 coming in the fourth quarter, as the Hawks recorded their second consecutive win over the Heat.
A day after beating the Indiana Pacers and moving into first place in the Eastern Conference, the Heat looked sluggish. They turned it over 20 times, leading to 29 Atlanta points.
Heat guard Dwyane Wade returned to the starting lineup after missing nine games with a strained left hamstring. He hit his first seven field goals and finished with 24 points in 24 minutes.
“I was planning on playing him 20 minutes or so,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “If we had gotten closer (at the end), (our trainer) and Dwyane said he could go if needed. Obviously we were very encouraged by that. We’ll proceed with a very careful eye and see how he feels tomorrow.”
Forward LeBron James had 27 points and eight rebounds for Miami (54-26), which enters its final two games tied with Indiana in the race for the No. 1 seed.
Miami finishes the season at the Washington Wizards on Monday and at home against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. The Pacers host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday and finish up at the Orlando Magic on Wednesday. If both teams win out, Indiana owns the tiebreaker over the Heat.
The Hawks (37-43) are locked into the eighth seed and will face either the Pacers or Heat in the first round. Atlanta won at Indiana, 107-88, on April 6. The Hawks split the season series with Heat.
“I’m happy that we get to play more games and I get to talk more about improving and getting better each practice,” Atlanta first-year coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We want to build something here. It takes time to build your habits. (Miami’s) habits are outstanding. We want to continue to build our habits and continue to improve. Our group has really fought hard and competed hard this year. I think they got what they deserved.”
Miami shot 61.8 percent in the first half, yet the score was tied 49-49 at intermission. Turnovers kept the Hawks in the game.
“On some of the plays, we’re trying to make the right plays, and some of them are just careless,” James said. “That’s the fine line, because we’re an attack team and we like to get into the paint and make plays. It’s a fine line between jumping in the air and making passes on a quick team like this. They get their hands on a lot of loose balls and passes in the interior. So we have to be more conscious about it.”
Atlanta took control in the third quarter and built a 69-62 lead into the fourth quarter. Williams’ three-point play pushed the lead to 11 early in the quarter, and Atlanta answered every Miami challenge en route to its third straight win.
Led by Williams and forward Mike Scott, the Hawks’ bench outscored the Miami reserves 35-8. Williams scored the Hawks’ last 12 points.
“You could see the focus,” he said. “Guys were talking, scrambling to the ball. I think we got 95 percent of the 50-50 balls.”
Teague was spectacular, pushing the pace and severely outplaying the Miami point guards. He’s averaging 22 points during the Hawks’ three-game winning streak.
NOTES: Heat G Dwyane Wade made his first appearance against the Hawks this season. He sat out the three previous meetings. Wade, who missed the last nine games with a strained hamstring, made all seven of his field goals in the first half. … Hawks six-time NBA All-Star Lou Hudson died Friday. Hudson, who played 13 seasons in the NBA, 11 with the Hawks, is one of three players whose retired jerseys hang at Philips Arena. “Sweet Lou” scored the first basket in Hawks history. Hudson was 70. A moment of silence was observed before the game. … Atlanta ended a nine-game losing streak to the Heat with a 121-114 home win on Jan. 20. … Hawks PG Jeff Teague made an acrobatic reverse layup in the first quarter but missed the ensuing foul shot, ending his streak of 24 consecutive made free throws. … The Hawks sealed their spot in the draft as well. They’ll select 15th.
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