ATLANTA (AP) – A seven-game series is supposed to be the ultimate playoff thriller.

So, what can we say about this Miami-Atlanta matchup?


Even with Dwyane Wade playing a starring role, the Heat and the Hawks have managed to wring all the drama out of a to-the-limit series that – mercifully – will be decided Sunday in Atlanta. If creating a bit of excitement was required for advancement, neither of these teams would get a chance to face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round.

The playoffs: Where boring happens.

“Neither team,” said Marvin Williams, managing a weak smile after Atlanta practiced Saturday, “has executed as well as they want to.”

They certainly haven’t bothered to show up in tandem. The Hawks have won their three games by an average of 17 points; the Heat’s average margin of victory is a staggering 23 points. Three games have been decided by at least 26; none has been closer than 10 at the end.

The first basket doesn’t always win, but whoever is ahead by the end of the first quarter is in good shape. There have been a grand total of 12 lead changes the entire series, none of them occurring after the opening period. Heck, these teams managed to go two straight games without the lead switching hands even one time.

“It definitely is crazy,” Hawks forward Josh Smith said. “It seems like when one of us makes a run, the other team isn’t able to make a push to come back. I don’t know what it is. Just confidence, I guess. But I know we’ve got to get off to a good start.”

As things stand, this series might be remembered for Atlanta’s real-life mascot, Spirit the Hawk, flying around Philips Arena during the early minutes of Game 2, refusing to go to its handler. After being released from the rafters, the fierce-looking bird perched on the scoreboard high above the court, then swooped down to a handrail in the lower deck and finally settled atop the backboard for, uhhhh, a birds-eye view of the court.

After watching these teams for a few possessions, Spirit probably wondered how long it would take to fly to Chicago or Boston. The Bulls and Celtics went into Game 7 Saturday night having already gone to triple-overtime in one game, double-overtime in another and just plain ol’ overtime in two others. Only one contest had been decided by more than three points.

“I guess you could say we’re the exact opposite of the Boston-Chicago series,” Williams quipped.

Well, at least there’s Wade, coming off a brilliant performance in Game 6.

The NBA’s leading scorer erupted for a series-high 41 points to lead Miami to a 96-72 rout with its season on the line. Time and time again, Wade found gaps in the Hawks’ defense and either made the shot or drew the foul, finishing 16 of 17 at the free-throw line.

He can’t wait to try again.

“There’s nothing better in the playoffs than playing a Game 7,” Wade said. “I’m one of those guys that live for these moments to try to do whatever I can to help my team win. Sometimes you fall short of the glory, but sometimes you come through. There’s no sweeter feeling than coming through.”

The Hawks hope Al Horford’s gimpy right ankle has recovered enough for him to come through. The second-year center went down with a sprain in Game 5 and didn’t play Friday, but he’ll be back in the lineup for the clincher.

“Al is a big part of what we do,” coach Mike Woodson said. “We missed him (Friday) night, that’s for sure.”

Horford said he’ll be ready to play, even though his ankle is still hurting.

“To be honest, there’s not much difference,” he said. “I was hoping the swelling would go down a little more. But I’m going to play regardless.”

Williams is still nursing a sprained right wrist, which kept him from playing in Games 3-5. He tried to give it a go Friday, but played less than 5 minutes and missed his only shot.

Even though Williams is expected to suit up again for Game 7, he’s not likely to make a major contribution.

“The pain is still there when he shoots. The pain is still there when he dribbles the ball. That’s not good,” Woodson said. “We rely on him to score points, rebound and play defense. You have to have both hands to do that.”

The Heat have injury problems of their own. Jermaine O’Neal sat out Game 6 with a concussion – slept through it, actually, because of his medication – and Miami isn’t sure if the playoff-savvy center will be able to go. He will travel to Atlanta just in case his symptoms clear up.

Those are the most noteworthy ailments. Everyone is hurting a little bit.

“If you don’t have something right now – whatever it is a bruise, a deep contusion, a busted lip – if you don’t have that right now, you’re not sacrificing your body to (do) what’s absolutely necessary to win this series,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our guys understand that message right now.”

No one is concerned about providing the first nail-biter of the series. Woodson said he would gladly take another blowout in Game 7, as long as his team gets to keep playing.

“That,” he said, “would be fantastic.”

AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.

AP-ES-05-02-09 1911EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.