After a very convincing win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and an 9-3 run through their last 12 games dating back to February, the Miami Heat are turning a lot of heads in NBA circles.
One of many contributing factors to the team's success over the past month has been the spreading of the love. The Heat have been one of the worst bench scoring teams in the league this season, but have bucked that trend at the right time. They've shot up to fourth in the NBA in bench scoring over their past ten games, averaging an extra 11-points a night from sideline contributions (Season avg - 28.4 PPG - Last 10 - 39.7 PPG) in that span. Of course a lot of it has to do with the rapidly blossoming games of rookies Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow alongside Hassan Whiteside, who has been dominant in his bench role.
With their win over the Cavs, the Heat hit the 40-win milestone for the eighth time in ten years. With that, you'd think they'd be able to take it easy a little bit before the playoffs begin. That's not the case though, with the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks each nipping at their heels going 8-2 through their last ten. The two are in heavy pursuit of the Southeast Division leading Heat, but Miami -- now sitting at the third spot in the East -- are still the odds-on favorite to take the division and maybe more. According to topbet.eu the Heat's odds to win the Eastern Conference are climbing, now fourth most likely to take the East.
Why are they so far ahead of their division rivals? The schedule gods have finally blessed us with a (seemingly) paved road instead of a dirt one for the final stretch. The Heat have one more big test tonight with the San Antonio Spurs, but after that they meet Orlando three times, Detroit twice and the Nets and Lakers once. The other potential threats they face will come in the form of Sacramento, Portland and Chicago. We're not saying the Heat are going to run the table, but their winning trend should continue onward and upward. That's a good thing too, with Charlotte, Atlanta and Boston all having virtually the same record as Miami in what will be a dogfight heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.
From all early signs, it looks like Miami should be able to at the very least secure third or fourth in the East. If the postseason began tomorrow, they'd then likely meet up with either Boston (5th) or Charlotte (6th). This is where the problems arise a little because the Heat are 0-2 against the Celtics and 2-2 against the Hornets. Needless to say though, at the rate this team is going, the sky is the limit once the playoffs kick in next month -- especially if Chris Bosh and/or Tyler Johnson can return in time to be able to meaningfully contribute off the bench.