Miami is only half a game behind Cleveland in the East but can they actually challenge the leaders?
During the course of the last 3 seasons or, majority of that span of time, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been ruling over the Eastern Conference and with numerous talents from various East teams going West to escape the wrath of LeBron James and company, many pundits have come up with the observation that there will be no one left to challenge the Cavs come playoff time.
Things might change this season. Why?
The Boston Celtics currently own the best record in the Eastern Conference at 35-14 despite playing without new acquisition, Gordon Hayward. Then, one and a half game behind them are the Toronto Raptors with a 32-14 slate. Next are the Cavs with 27-19 after losing 7 of their last 10 games including two straight. Then, the Miami Heat 27-21.
While everyone else is talking about the sudden rise of the Celtics to the top and the ugly downfall of the Cavs, everyone is forgetting about the Miami Heat.
To begin with, the Heat used to rule over the East when they had LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. However, Finals disappointments made LeBron James retake his talents back to Cleveland then Wade signed with the Chicago Bulls a season after that then Bosh retired.
This season? They have already defeated the Celtics in two of their 3 games against Boston which include the one that snapped the Celtics' 16-game winning streak. They have risen to the top 4 of the East despite playing without a true superstar. They are not winning because of pure talent. They are winning because they are constantly following the system of Coach Erik Spoelstra.They are winning because they have 8 players who are averaging in double figures this season, led by the Dragon, Goran Dragic who is averaging 17 points per game. They are winning many games this season because they are the number 4 team in terms of limiting their opponent' points as the Heat's opponents are only averaging 101 points per game.
Question: Can the Heat make a deep run in the playoffs?
It's possible considering their current ranking. At the very least, they wouldn't meet the Celtics in the first round. However, if you want to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, you have to make sure that you are ranked as high as possible. While rankings don't ensure a trip to the NBA Finals- something that has happened to the Celtics last season, it can help increase the Heat's chances of lasting longer in the playoffs because they won't meet stronger teams early on.
Can they beat the Celtics or the Cavs in a 7-game series?
Why? While many say that season series is virtually useless during the playoffs, it can help in terms of familiarity especially when you've beaten a team more than twice.
The Heat have still a long way to go before they can reclaim the super-team status that they once owned during LeBron's reign in South Beach but the truth is, they don't need to become a super team to win more games. They just need to compete as a complete and solidified team on both ends of the court. And whether we like it or not, Erik Spoelstra deserves this season's Coach of the Year award.