As the push for playoff position continues in the NBA, the two-time defending champion Miami Heat find themselves struggling to assert themselves as the clear-cut best team in the NBA.
With the forever-improving Kevin Durant leading the Oklahoma City Thunder in the West and the swift emergence of the Indiana Pacers in the East, Miami no longer is seen by many as the absolute when it comes to the franchise’s quest for a third straight title. So, how does Miami stack up statistically to the two teams that precede them in the overall standings?
First, it should be made known that all three of these teams are immensely different when it comes to style of play and philosophy. It’s no secret Miami and head coach Erik Spoelstra have a game plan to play through LeBron James. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, relies on the scoring Kevin Durant and the newly-returned Russell Westbrook, while the Indiana Pacers rely on their suffocating defense, depth and size.
When it comes to these three teams’ offensive play, Miami and Oklahoma City far outplay Indiana. The Thunder’s 105.4 points per game (fifth in the league) and the Heat’s 104.7 (seventh in the league) are more than five points better than the Pacers’ 99.1 points, 13th in the NBA.
On defense, however, it’s a different story. Indiana’s 91.3 points allowed per game is a league-best, with Miami’s 98.4 coming in at seventh and Oklahoma City’s 98.5 at eighth.
It is clear that the three of these teams are very evenly matched, all three within two games of one another for top spot in the league. So what separates Miami from these other two?
Two things: LeBron James and championships.
Indiana may boast a stellar defense, but their roster is riddled with youth and inexperience, even with the seven-game Eastern Conference Finals with Miami in 2013 under their belt.
Oklahoma City, a roster that has proved they can win behind Durant, is a team that is still seeking an identity both with and without the oft-injured point guard in Westbrook.
Miami? A two-time defending champion with a roster that boasts arguably the world’s best basketball player. Experience, championships and talent–Miami has it all.
Even with a diminishing supporting cast and a weakening “Robin” to LeBron’s “Batman” in Dwyane Wade, as long as No. 6 is suiting up, it is impossible to count Miami out of anything. LeBron James’ 27.4 points per game is still third in the league, trailing only Durant and Carmelo Anthony.
The differences between James and Durant are very little. Some even believe that Durant is the better of the two. But what separates the two is not measurable in any statistic, nor is it complicated.
For the same reason that many believe Michael Jordan still reigns supreme over LeBron, James towers over Durant–championships. Durant has yet to show he can lead his team to the goal of an NBA title, even falling to James himself and the Heat in 2012.
Bottom line, as long as the heat maintain the core of James, Wade and Chris Bosh, you can never count them out until a series is over the lights in the arena have been turned out. No, if you’re going solely on statistics, they would not be the favorite this season–but statistics don’t win championships. Players do.
And Miami has a couple of players who are pretty damn good.