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Heat suffer slight drop in ESPN power rankings as East makes overall improvement

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Though ESPN dropped the Miami Heat two spots on their NBA Power Rankings this week, the East continues to show much improvement this season.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN basketball writer Marc Stein dropped the Miami Heat from fourth to sixth in his latest power rankings released Monday.

"Good health. After 12 players totaled double-digit starts last season, the only member of Miami's starting five to miss a game this season has been Dwyane Wade (one). If the Heat can make it to April in once piece, they could make things interesting in the East."

Interestingly Stein has eight Eastern Conference teams and only four Western Conference teams in his top twelve spots, which signifies the East is not as weak as it was last season. As of Monday evening, 11/23/2015, two winning teams in East would be in the lottery and two losing teams in West would be in playoffs. That's the opposite of what happened last season.

The Heat have played thirteen games already, so the "it's early" mantra is fading. After sixteen games teams will already have played 20% of their games.

As of Monday night the supposedly weaker East Conference has a combined record of 105 wins and 100 losses while the West's combined record is 103 wins and 108 losses. Perception has not caught up to reality yet that the conferences are not as unbalanced as they were last season. We'll how things work out by March 2016.

The road to the post-season for the Miami Heat may not be as easy as earlier thought due to resurgence of the New York Knicks and collapse of the Houston Rockets, which alters the balance of the two conferences. With the addition of Justise Winslow, who climbed two more spots to #6 in the 4th week of the NBA Rookie Ladder, the Heat have surprised many critics with their solid performance so far. Injuries will still play a big role during the season, and Erik Spoelstra has a done great job in keeping the team healthy thus far.

To put the Golden State Warriors winning streak in perspective, the Heat won 27 games in row a few seasons ago. The game plans of the two teams are vastly different: the Warriors depend on accurate shooting, while the Heat base their success on defense. Both styles can win championships when done at elite levels. Even with the departure of LeBron James, Heat's top-notch management has regained the footing of the team near to the level of one that won 27 games in a row.

As long as the Heat can finish in the top four of the improved East, they are in a good position to have a deep playoff run. The Philadelphia 76ers scare exposed the Heat's weakness of sometimes not being fully engaged during games. Spoelstra smartly kept the closing unit in tact during the fourth quarter seeing their defensive intensity that did not give the Sixers an inch to operate.

Monday's Knicks game was an excellent test against a much-improved team that appears to be playoff-bound. Basketball is still a team sport, where even if individuals may have sub-par statistical performances, the Heat's ability to stifle opponents is a key ingredient to winning games.

As a note to the value of stability, the Heat gave a shout out to the dynamic duo of Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem.

"HEAT teammates Udonis Haslem and Dwyane Wade are the longest tenured pair of teammates to have made their NBA debut together during the same season in NBA history. Both made their NBA debut during the 2003-04 season and now enter their 13th consecutive season together... According to Elias, only two other pair of teammates have debuted and remained together for at least 10 years in NBA history..."

They were Calvin Murphy & Rudy Tomjanovich (11 seasons with Houston Rockets) and Bill Bradley & Walt Frazier (10 seasons with New York Knicks). Quite an accomplishment in today's free agent era.