ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins likes the Miami Heat as dark horse favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference and win the NBA title. In a now deleted video tweet, Perkins on the “NBA Today” talked about his biggest takeaway from the slate of MLK Day games, and his focus was the Miami Heat.
“It’s only right for me to go with ‘Dem Goons’ from Miami,” Perkins said. “They hang their hats on the defensive end. They have enough firepower when it comes down to Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, and they have the best basketball coach in the game, Erik Spoelstra. … They can beat any team in the NBA in a seven-game series when healthy.”
Strong words from Perk. Let’s dig into it and see if he has a point.
The Heat are 28-16 and tied with the Chicago Bulls for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They are fifth in aNET rating, fourth in aORTG, and seventh in aDRTG.
Their star big man Bam Adebayo just returned after missing more than half of their first 44 games. Their All-NBA guard Jimmy Butler has missed about a quarter of the season, yet here they are atop the conference.
The Heat were in the NBA Finals just two seasons ago, and with the acquisition of Kyle Lowry and the development of players like Omer Yurtseven, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent they have depth.
Their ability to lock teams down will be critical if they hope to make another run to the NBA Finals and win the title. In the East, the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks and even the Philadelphia 76ers will be tough outs.
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As good as the Heat are on defense, stopping the defending champs will be no easy feat. This isn’t the same team Miami dismantled in the Bubble. The Bucks are proven champions now, and slowing down the three-headed monster of Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo will take a lot out of a team. Not to mention the Bucks’ three best offensive players are also their best defenders.
While the Philadelphia 76ers are currently sixth in the East, they are only 2.5 games out of first place and their big man Joel Embiid is playing like an MVP. He’s averaging 27 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and one block per game on 48/38/81 shooting splits. The 76ers are back to a top 10 defensive unit, and they have a giant Ben Simmons size hole/trade to fill or make. They are good now and can be elite come playoff time.
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Finally, there are the Brooklyn Nets, currently third and a half game out of the top spot. MVP front-runner Kevin Durant is out four to six weeks, and that would be a lot for any team to handle. But this team also has James Harden and Kyrie Irving (part-time), which can help weather any storm. If healthy come April, is there a more scary team to figure out how to beat four times out of seven than Brooklyn?
The Eastern Conference is the best it’s been in a long time. We discussed four of the best six teams, and we didn’t even include the Bulls, who are tied for first with the Heat, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the best aNET rating in the conference and the second-ranked aDRTG in the NBA.
Perk is right, the Heat can come out of the East. But it will be a tough road, and if they do they’ll have earned it.
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