It was hilarious and embarrassing and an omen all at the same time.
The Atlanta Hawks' pregame player introductions normally kick off with an actual hawk named Spirit swooping in from near the top of the building down to center court.
Only, Spirit never left his handler's hand Wednesday as players, coaches and fans waited, watched and laughed until everyone decided to go on with the introductions without the stubborn bird.
The Heat seemed to follow the bird's lead, though, stalling early before finally taking off and beating the Hawks 96-74 to begin a five-game road trip.
"It was one of those ugly games from the beginning," forward Shandon Anderson said. "Nobody could make shots. You looked up with six minutes to go in the first quarter and it was like 6-6. You knew at some point the game was going to pick up."
With Dwyane Wade going scoreless in the first quarter and shooting 2 of 12 for six points in the half, the Heat managed to pick up the pace thanks to a solid bench effort and the continued improving play of Jason Williams, who had arguably his best game of the season with a game-high 21 points and nine assists.
Gary Payton was 5 of 5 from the floor in 23 minutes off the bench, and Anderson, playing his first extended minutes of the season, was 4 of 5 for 10 points and four rebounds in 17 minutes.
The Heat bench helped turn an unsightly 9-8 Heat lead with 4:26 in the opening quarter into a 12-point advantage just four minutes into the second quarter.
"I thought the reserves were efficient, but they also came in with some energy," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Antoine Walker came right in and got a fast-break layup. I was sort of shocked, and so were the Hawks, that one of our guys actually ran hard. Our starters did a very good job of lulling them to sleep by jogging the entire first quarter."
That may have actually been the plan, given how effective the Heat was running the fast break in the second half. After Wade recovered to score 14 of his 20 points in the third quarter, the Heat had just about everything working, which became apparent when Walker, Wade and Williams all made behind-the-back passes for fast-break assists.
The Heat used the easy buckets to extend a 76-68 lead to a 24-point advantage in the game's final minutes. "Stan's been stressing run, run, run," said Udonis Haslem, who finished with nine points and five rebounds despite a broken right pinkie. "Even though it was toward the end of the game, anytime we can get baskets like that, we'll take it."
Haslem finished off the Heat's final fast-break with a pass from Williams, whose nine assists were a season high.
Williams said he's finally understanding how he will be most effective in the Heat offense.
"When I first got here I was trying to keep everybody happy," Williams said. "I don't know if I was worried about myself. Now I see they need me to knock down shots when they get it to me."
So the first month of the season is done. The Warriors capped November with a 113-106 win over the Sacramento Kings before a bipartisan crowd of 19,279 at the Arena, a victory sealed by 12 fourth-quarter points from Mike Dunleavy.
Despite having the most hectic first-month schedule in the league (they were the only team without consecutive off days between games), the Warriors won 11 games in November for the first time since 1974-75 - when the team finished November 11-4 and went on to win the franchise's only NBA title. As it stands now, the Warriors are in a virtual tie with the Clippers for first place. The last time they were in first place was March 19, 1992.
It's safe to say they got the good start they wanted.
"You can't be satisfied," Warriors coach Mike Montgomery said. "There are 82 games. I look at teams that I saw early that I thought were struggling. I look at them now, they're better. They're doing things better. They're running stuff better. They're executing better. The Kings are a prime example of that.
"We've got to build on that," he added. "There's too many games, too many things can change. For us to sit back and say, `Aren't we grand?' That wouldn't work."
In other NBA action: Cleveland 112, LA Clippers 105; Washington 96, Portland 89; Detroit 93, New Jersey 83; Memphis 92, Toronto 66; Boston 110, Philadelphia 103; New York 109, Chicago 101; Phoenix 109, Indiana 91; New Orleans 102, Denver 95; Seattle 104, Charlotte 94.