Miami Heat: The Real Team To Beat In The East?

The Miami Heat are pretty long in the tooth, averaging 31 years old across the board, making them the third oldest team in the NBA. Led by perennial All-Star Dwyane Wade, they are one of the league’s most veteran-laden teams.

With that being said, the way they stomped their collective muddy boots all over the proverbial furniture of the Charlotte Hornets is making me have some second thoughts about the Cleveland Cavaliers being a lock to come out of the Eastern Conference.

With their defense, led by center Hassan Whiteside’s 3.7 blocks per game, Miami finished first in the NBA in blocked shots, fourth in field goal percentage and fourth in opponents field goals per game. It’s looking like four is an unlucky number for the rest of the Eastern Conference. 

At times during the regular season it seemed like the Heat were simply going through the motions. The playoffs are what they’ve been working toward all year long.

When Chris Bosh went out back in February, some prognosticators that may have had the Heat reaching the Eastern Conference semifinals may have taken a step back. Bosh is a player who is tailor-made for the modern, uptempo brand of “eurocentric” basketball that has permeated the NBA over the past five years. Even at this relatively advanced age, he can still run like a gazelle, shoot the three with a high average, rebound and block shots.

With such a weapon no longer at their disposal, the fact that they’re even in the playoffs is an eye-opening revelation for some. However, the loss of Bosh has given head coach Erik Spoelstra all the impetus needed to play a more uptempo style. Not only has it helped make up for the team-leading 19 points and 7 rebounds per game that they were missing in Bosh’s absence, but it fits with the personnel at hand.

Now the Heat can get real avant garde with a three-guard line up featuring Wade, point guard Goran Dragic and newly-acquired shooting guard “Iso” Joe Johnson or Gerald Green, with Hassan Whiteside in the middle and Loul Deng at power forward. Or they can play a more traditional lineup with great proficiency as well.

Additionally, Whiteside has proven to be an offensive force more often than not this season in averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds. His 21 points in Game One against Charlotte were no surprise.

Against the Hornets, D-Wade was on the the low block on a regular basis, abusing Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lin and Nicolas Batum. Additionally, the Heat reserves give maximum effort on the perimeter, perhaps emboldened to gamble because Whiteside is looming in the paint to erase any potential mistakes.

Once seemingly a lock for the NBA Hall of Fame, power forward Ama’re Stoudemire has been reduced to little more than a role player in his latter playing days, but he showed brilliant flashes of the footwork, touch and athleticism that made him a $100 million-man back when he signed with the New York Knicks, scoring 11 points in only 17 minutes of play.

If Game One was any predictor of future habits, the Heat will likely continue to space the floor with shooters to allow Wade, Deng and Dragic room to either get to the rim or feed Whiteside. Speaking of Whiteside, if he is able maintain his composure and follow the examples of professionalism put forth by Wade and Deng, there is chance that the Cavaliers, who barely defeated the No. 8 seed Detroit Pistons in their first playoff game, will have no answers.

Looking at D. Wade’s 16 points and seven assists against the Hornets is somewhat misleading. Although he has surrendered primary ball-handling duties to the younger Dragic, Wade is such a cunning and intelligent veteran that he will demand the ball when required. Goran ain’t stupid. He knows exactly who butters the bread in South Beach. However, it’s not like he’s the raggedy slice left at the bottom of the bag either. He orchestrated the offense to perfection and finished with nine points and 10 assists in 33 minutes of play.

31-year-old Loul Deng took it back to ’08 with an eye-popping 31 points. To be certain, there’s no way in the world he can keep that pace up for the entire series, but the Heat have a bevy of players who still can drop 30 in a sneeze, Joe Johnson and D-Wade being primary among them.

Johnson’s 11 points and four personal fouls are also misleading in that they belie his dominance. But his .625 field goal percentage doesn’t lie at all. It means, if given the opportunity, he could have scored on his man whenever he got the chance.

No longer encumbered by the pressure of being “The Man”, Iso Joe is free to simply go out and do what he does, get buckets. To top it all off, the Heat have just enough youth in Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Gerald Green that it is highly unlikely that any team short of the Golden State Warriors can just run them out the gym. 

Look out Cleveland, or else LeBron’s return to South Beach will be a bigger disappointment than when he left the first time. Their record 123-91 smack down over the young Charlotte Hornets was no fluke.

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