Miami Heat: Still Favorites to Win the East?

Miami Heat

The two-time defending champion Miami Heat head towards the final stretch of the season with thoughts of reaching the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year, hoping to claim the illustrious three-peat. What stands in their way, however, is a defensive juggernaut, relentless Indiana Pacers squad. With a record of 46-15, Indiana finds themselves two games up on the 43-16 Heat. But are the Miami Heat still the favorites to win the East? A large part of it will depend on whether or not they can claim the number one seed.

Last season’s Eastern Conference Finals between the Heat and Pacers came down to seven games in which the Heat had the luxury of having that seventh game on their home court. This ended up being a big part of what propelled Miami to the NBA Finals. If Miami wants to repeat, it would be wise of them to steal the top seed from Indiana.

It’s not that the two-time defending champs can’t win on the road, they have proven otherwise time and time again. It’s more of the fact that Indiana hasn’t proven that they can win on the road. The Pacers are still a young team and Miami should take away any advantages that they might have.

But regardless of the top seed, Miami still has the number one advantage – LeBron James. As long as they have the best player on the planet, the Heat are in fact still the favorites to win the East. James is on pace for yet another MVP season. While some believe the award should go to Kevin Durant, it is still LeBron’s to lose given the fact that he has won it four of the last five seasons.

James is averaging 27.2 points, 6.4 assists, 6.9 rebounds and has a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 29.91 heading into Friday night. In NBA history, a player has only reached a PER of 30+ 18 times. LeBron is already the leader of that category, previously reaching it four different times. He is now on pace for number five.

But LeBron’s supporting cast cannot go unnoticed. The fact that Dwyane Wade has been able to take so many nights off, which mainly led to Heat losses, yet Miami is still only two games out of the first seed tells a lot about this ball club. When at full strength they are beyond dominant. A fresh(er) Wade in the playoffs is something that the Heat haven’t really seen in the Big 3 era. This will be the year.

As for Chris Bosh, he’s quietly having the best all around season of his career. While his scoring numbers are obviously down from his Toronto days, he is still averaging 16.8 points and 6.8 rebounds. But what is most impressive is his new-found ability to hit from long range. He’s shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc and having another solid shooting season from the field at 53 percent. Bosh may be the brunt of a lot of jokes, but he is no joke on the basketball court and is arguably a Hall of Famer.

The seasoned vets Ray Allen and Shane Battier seem to only get better when the moment is bigger. And the addition of the resurgent Greg Oden teamed up with the unpredictable Chris Andersen may come in handy against a bigger, stronger Indiana team. The bottom line is that Pat Riley is a champion and always knows how to pull all of the right strings at the right time to get the job done. And that’s why the Miami Heat are indeed still the favorites to win not only the Eastern Conference, but their third straight NBA title.

Opinion by Rich Peters

Sports Illustrated

Follow Rich Peters on Twitter @Tricky_Roma.

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