How do you know the Miami Heat will win the Eastern Conference?
As a lifelong Miami resident and passionate Heat fan, I'm not what you'd call an unbiased party. I've watched almost every Heat game since the days of Glen Rice and Harold "Baby Jordan" Miner, and I haven't missed one this season. Needless to say, I am familiar with the Miami Heat's strengths and weaknesses and at times, fueled by the kind of emotion that makes sports so appetizing, I magnify each almost telescopically. I realize that over the years I've become an overzealous homer, but I'm also capable of objective and critical basketball observation, the product of years of Miami Heat irrelevance and joyous NBA Sunday afternoons.
Until the Heat hired gangster Pat Riley, who changed the culture of the organization and acquired Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning(notes), I was a basketball fan before I was a Heat fan. I watched the Manute Bol Heat, but I relished watching Magic, Air Jordan, the Dream and the Admiral. I recognized all of the nuances that amounted to greatness: the art in those players' games. It wasn't just efficiency and athleticism, but it also was a conscious use of creative imagination and skill that distinguished the legends. Their brand of basketball was a form of expression, not a trade.
Riley, an artist himself, has sculptured a masterpiece in Miami, the David of the modern age, a veritable magnum opus. With each game played, the Heat inch closer to their unavoidable destiny: becoming legends. They will write this league's history.
So as envious outsiders sensationalize the necessary struggles involved in any organism's maturation, know this: You won't stop them. As this thing grows, you'd better become a fan, or at least an appreciator, or you'll be wallowing in despair for quite some time.
Will the Heat win the East this year? Probably. Below you'll find a compelling argument why they will. But even if they don't, there's nothing stopping them from winning the next three or four championships.
Cue the “NBA on NBC” theme, pop the champagne, take the photographs and stitch the banners.
Here's why I think the Heat will win the East this season:
The Heat's Big Three are producing numbers comparable to some of the best trios in NBA history. Below is a statistical comparison of the combined field goal percentage, rebounds and points of some of these notable trios:
1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers
Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, and Wilt Chamberlain – FG%: 51, REB: 27, PTS: 66.5
1979-80 Los Angeles Lakers
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and Jamaal Wilkes – FG%: 56, REB: 24.9, PTS: 62.8
1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers
Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Andrew Toney - FG%: 51, REB: 24.9, PTS: 65.6
1985-86 Boston Celtics
Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish – FG%: 54, REB: 27.4, PTS: 63.2
1991-92 Chicago Bulls
Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant – FG%: 53, REB: 24.1, PTS: 65.3
2003-04 San Antonio Spurs
2007-08 Boston Celtics
In terms of player efficiency rating, an offshoot of the Sabermetric revolution in baseball that seeks to rate an NBA player's performance in one statistic, the Heat superstars are even more historically awesome. LeBron James'(notes) career PER is second in NBA history (behind His Airness). Dwayne Wade's PER is sixth all time (behind Wilt Chamberlain and ahead of Kareem, Magic, Bird, and Kobe) and Chris Bosh's(notes) PER comes in at a praise-worthy 40th all time (behind Alonzo Mourning(notes) and ahead of Clyde Drexler and Patrick Ewing).
Better than you think
Sure, Joel Anthony(notes) is no Hakeem Olajuwon, but the Heat are dominating most of the key team statistics anyway. They lead the league in SRS, a predictive rating based on a team's margin of victory that is adjusted considering strength of schedule. The Heat are allowing only 91.0 points per game, also first in the NBA. Their plus-9.77 average margin of victory is second only to San Antonio, and the Heat are fourth and fifth in team field-goal percentage and offensive rating, respectively. If you're focused on the disparity between the Heat's greats and not-so-greats, just make sure you keep these team statistics in mind. The only thing stronger than these players' individual egos is the collective ego brewing in South Florida. Failure is not an option; it's group dynamics.
If you're questioning their ability to perform in the clutch, just ask Avery Johnson or any player on the 2005-06 Dallas Mavericks or 2006-07 Detroit Pistons what they think about Dwyane Wade(notes) or LeBron James in the clutch.
If the playoffs were to start today, the Celtics would probably win the NBA championship. They're sporting an All-Star starting lineup, depth to boot, and the only reason they didn't win the last three titles was because of injuries. They lost Kevin Garnett(notes) for an entire year and still managed to take the Orlando Magic to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals and then reached the NBA Finals and took the defending champion Lakers to seven games. Unfortunately, the playoffs don't wait for the sick to heal or the Heat would have won in 2005.
The bottom line is the Celtics have been plagued by injuries even more severely than the Heat. Shaquille O'Neal(notes) is out with a sore calf, Jermaine O'Neal(notes) is out with a sore knee and both Kendrick Perkins(notes) and Delonte West(notes) are out indefinitely after undergoing knee and wrist surgery, respectively. Rajon Rondo(notes), Boston’s All-Star point guard, has been playing but has been hampered by hamstring issues. In a bout of delicious coincidence, the Celtics are hurting at the center and point guard spots exclusively, the Heat's most vulnerable positions. As long as the Heat's most obstructing roadblock is hobbled in a way that caters to them, Miami has a realistic possibility of taking the East this season.
Miami Heat lite
To this day, we have not witnessed the Heat's full potential. Mike Miller(notes) hasn't played a regular season game for Miami due to surgery on his right thumb. Miller should be on the floor with the Heat's big three for over 75 percent of each game, being a career 30-plus minutes player. He hasn't played one minute.
Take a look at what playing with Wade, James and Bosh has done for the Heat's perimeter players. Carlos Arroyo(notes), a career 44-percent shooter from the field and 33-percent shooter from the three-point line, is shooting 50 and 51 percent (the latter ranking third in the league). James Jones(notes), 40 and 40 for his career, is putting up 45 and 45. Now, imagine what the extra space will do for someone who shot a remarkable 50 and 48 on a John Wall(notes)-less and Gilbert Arenas(notes)-less Washington Wizards. Imagine adding the Heat's best rebounder, Udonis Haslem(notes) to this tougher, board-oriented Miami Heat incarnation that has steamrolled through the last nine teams, regardless of their records.
Imagine the parade on Biscayne Boulevard.
It's easy if you try.
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