Making four consecutive Finals appearances is no easy accomplishment. Do LeBron James and the Miami Heat have the legs to make history?
The Story So Far
After trailing the Indiana Pacers for much of the season, the Heat have made a late-season push to contend for pole position in the Eastern Conference.
They currently own a 53-25 record and only trail the Pacers (54-25) by half a game with four games remaining. The final seeding for the East could come down to Indiana’s final trip to Miami on Apr. 11.
Miami has shown signs of wear and tear this season. But when you consider the extracurricular workload the core of their team has undergone since the start of the “Heatles” era – three finals appearances and the 2012 Olympic Games – it is understandable that they be a little fatigued.
Taking a page out of the “Gregg Popovich’s Guide to Managing Players”, Miami has reduced the minutes of their Big Three. Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade in particular has been on a strict program resting him on back-to-backs and games he is not 100% healthy, appearing in only 51 of Miami’s 76 games so far – including missing 10 of the Heat’s last 11 games.
The consensus opinion before the season started was that the Heat did not care about retaining the No. 1 seed in the East and were content with nursing their team into the playoffs in second place.
However, Indiana’s late season struggles – 4-8 over their last 12 – have seen the Heat inadvertently stumble within reach of first place out East.
LeBron James (27.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game) is having another MVP-calibre season. His efficiency from the field has continued to improve, the two-time champion shooting 56.9% from the field (62.5% from two-point range, thanks in large part to a monster 80.0% at the rim) for the season.
Meanwhile, Chris Bosh (16.4 points (51.6% FG and 34.4% 3FG) and 6.7 rebounds per game) has been an ever-steady presence on the floor, especially with Wade missing so many games.
Postseason Performer to Watch
While James is clearly Miami’s best player, the health of Wade will have an enormous impact on whether the Heat can reach their fourth consecutive Finals series or not.
He has managed only 51 games so far this season, but when he does play, he makes a clear difference to the result of games. The Heat are 36-15 (70.6%) with Wade in the lineup this season and 17-10 (62.9%) without him.
Wade no longer has the elite athleticism he did in his earlier years, but he has adapted his game accordingly. While he used to attack the rim with reckless abandon, regularly getting easy points at the free throw line, Wade has evolved into an efficient jump shooter to compliment James.
He is averaging a career-low 4.7 trips to the stripe this season, but is shooting a career-high 54.6% from the field (55.5% on two-point attempts) and 32.1% from beyond the arc – although he has only attempted 28 threes for the season, making nine.
The majority of the burden is still on LeBron’s shoulders as Miami venture into the postseason, but the play of Wade is one of the biggest barometers for the Heat. They will need him to be fit and firing if they want to make their dreams of a threepeat a reality.
Miami has the experience and the star power to go all the way again this season.
However, the question on everybody’s lips is “do they have the legs?”
If Indiana falter at the final hurdle and allow Miami to snatch the first seed, and the all important home court advantage for a potential Eastern Conference Finals showdown – then that could be the final nail in the Pacers coffin.
The Heat have proven in the past that they have the ability to flick the switch and take their game to the next level in the postseason. And while it might seem that they have fallen off the pace this season, all the rest and lighter workload for their stars could allow them to come out with fresh legs at the pointy end of the season.
Avoiding a second-round war of attrition against the Bulls is also a key factor in their title defence, and role players like Michael Beasley and Norris Cole need to stand up in the absence of Mike Miller, but even in a matchup with Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami is poised to win it all again.
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