Miami Heat Are Team to Beat in the Eastern Conference

By Nathan Grubel
Miami Heat
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

If anyone was beginning to question whether the Miami Heat can win games without Dwyane Wade, they should look at the performance that the team put on Friday night.

The Heat were absolutely dominant in their 98-86 win over the Indiana Pacers. Miami was not projected to have an easy time in this game without their star shooting guard (Wade) who has missed 28 games in the regular season. The team as a whole stepped up, especially superstar forward LeBron James.

James scored 36 points on 11-of-20 shooting including 2 of 4 from three and 12 of 13 from the free-throw line. James put on an absolute scoring clinic, scoring from every spot on the floor. From three point shots to dunks in traffic to lay-ins and even floaters and mid-range jump shots, James showcased the entire offensive package, and did it at an efficient rate.

James’ two biggest weaknesses have been jump shooting and free throws. James has always been an efficient scorer around the basket (72.6% on shots within three feet of the basket for his career), but those two areas have given him trouble because of his lack of a consistent knockdown jump shot. James has improved his shooting over the years, but if he is able to put on shooting displays like he did against the Pacers, then he becomes the most unstoppable player in the NBAHis ability to create separation and get to the rim at will is so impressive.

James was not the only player to have a productive night on offense for the Heat, as four other players scored in double figures, including Udonis Haslem, Ray Allen, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers. With all of these players being able to pose a threat on offense, Miami was able to properly spread the ball around and create open shots for one another, and it worked due to the Heat shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three as a team.

Not only did the Heat score efficiently and overwhelm the Pacers with their spread out offensive attack, but the team also played tremendous defense.

The Heat defense as a whole forced 16 turnovers, which was a big reason why the Pacers were not able to put a lot of points on the board. What might be more impressive is that the Heat held Pacers’ big man Roy Hibbert to just five points on 2-of-7 shooting, and point guard George Hill did not even get a shot off the entire game, finishing with zero points. The Pacers only had three real scoring threats all night in the form of Paul George, David West and Lance Stephenson, and they could not overcome the shooting barrage put on by Miami.

With this win, the Heat gain a half-game lead over the Pacers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Not only could this win lock up that top seed for Miami, but it could also go a long way in proving that Miami will not be knocked off by another team in their own conference, including Indiana.

The Pacers have continued to slide, but this win may be what ignites the Heat and sends them on a run to a third consecutive NBA championship.

As long as Miami can possess a potent offensive attack like they showed tonight and James continues to assert his dominance over the rest of the league, then the Heat are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

Nathan Grubel is a Memphis Grizzlies writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @The_Only_Grubes, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google

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