They’re Heating Up

Thanks to LeBron James’ spectacular play, the Miami Heat look to be in prime position to win back-to-back titles.

At the midway point of this year’s NBA season I don’t think it can be any more clear who the 2013 champion favorite is.

Nothing has changed from the beginning of the season; in late October, 70 percent of the NBA’s general managers all felt it was pretty clear cut.

Shoot, even my wife noticed this as we were watching the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Miami Heat this past Sunday evening.

“They are good!” she says, and she was regretfully not referring to the beloved Lakers. This is when magically it clicked to me that the Miami Heat are just downright, well, good or even perhaps great. A team that is good enough for all to speculate a valid run for a repeat and a team that has it in them to be considered great by America.

Only then though can that consideration be made, which is why this team has an extra incentive. It’s not like this team needs it, but only five other NBA franchises have ever successfully repeated: the Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics and the Houston Rockets, all historical teams whom I do not have to name names in order for you to remember who they were. The Miami Heat will soon be in their company.

One would justifiably ask why? Why are the defending champions such an obvious choice for this year’s champion? In this case it may be more easily explained if I answered the question, why not?

We’re Going Streaking

Miami’s LeBron James had an incredible streak of six straight games in which he scored at least 30 points per game and shot more than 60 percent from the field. That streak was broken against Oklahoma City. James had 39 points and only shot 58.3 percent. A look at his numbers during the streak:

2/3 @ Toronto: 30 points, 10 out of 16 from the field

2/4 Charlotte: 31 points, 13 out of 14 from the field

2/6 Houston: 32 points, 11 out of 18 from the field

2/8 L.A. Clippers: 30 points, 9 out of 11 from the field

2/10 L.A. Lakers: 32 points, 12 out of 18 from the field

2/12 Portland: 30 points, 11 out of 15 from the field

The Miami Heat are playing the best basketball in the NBA going into the All-Star break. They have an 8-2 record in their last 10, winning six straight. They are averaging 103.1 points per game and rank first in the league in field goal percentage and third in the league in three-point percentage.

The Heat currently boast the third best record in the NBA, first in the Eastern Conference. The two teams that best the Heat in the won-loss column are the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs. Both teams have strong cases why they should be the favorite.

The Spurs, though playing at an unsurprisingly high level, seem to be that team that is always there at the end of the year. But this season, San Antonio doesn’t appear to have it in them to pull off a seven-game series win over teams such as the Thunder or even the Los Angeles Clippers. The Spurs currently have a record of 1-3 against those two teams, the three losses by an average of 10.3 points and the one win by a two-point margin. The youth and energy that many teams from the Western Conference play with are at a different level.

Oklahoma City has the youth, talent, and now playoff experience, making it to last year’s Finals and with the development of their two All-Stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they have potential that is yet to be reached. What is always questionable is the maturity and attitude of Westbrook. The larger picture shows though, that they are more prepared and capable of winning it all this year than they were last year. The problem is, so are the Miami Heat.

LeBron James leads the team in assists, rebounding and scoring. Amassing an impressive historical record this week of scoring at least 30 points and shooting at least 60 percent from the field in six straight games, James is playing at an unmatchable level and he is making it look easy.

He is shooting from anywhere on the floor. Pulling up from the three-point line, shooting from the post, sinking fadeaways, and driving to the basket at will.

Although James has demonstrated his insurmountable skill and talent in the NBA, even this current streak of his is unlike anything he has ever done before. If this is indicative of how great of a season and postseason he will have, then just hand him his second ring. An X-factor that no one seems to be talking about is James’ willingness to take even more initiative than usual.

His confidence is at an all time high, which is why I would argue, in the past, he has been reluctant to take the big shot at the end of games. With this newfound supremacy he has showcased a new element to his game; the will to take “the shot.”

This year the Heat added a key component that has led to improved success of the team and James. Ray Allen, one of the greatest shooters of all time, has led to overall high field goal and three-point percentage. The Allen addition has also opened up the floor, which gives James more room to isolate and more one-on-one opportunities.

All reasons, lately, to think the Heat will repeat; look at their recent dominance demonstrated by examples such as the manhandling of the Thunder in their final game going into the All-Star break.

This was a statement game, the buzz during All-Star weekend will be more about the Heat than the mundane Slam Dunk contest, pointless Three-point contest, or thanks to Shaq and Barkley the semi-entertaining Rising Stars challenge. All other NBA teams were put on alert.

What these other teams can hope for is that this break does what the power outage did for the San Francisco 49ers on Super Bowl Sunday. Unfortunately for them, they will soon find out that in the end they will all still come up short.

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