The Miami Heat have proven they can compete with anyone in the wide-open Eastern Conference. Right now, they are the third seed in the conference with a 19-7 record. They came into the season seen as a playoff contender, but no one thought they'd be this good.
As of today, the Heat rank Top 10 in the NBA in points per game, assists per game and opponents points per game. They are doing this with Kendrick Nunn, an undrafted rookie, as their second-leading scorer. Duncan Robinson, another undrafted player, leads them in threes per game. Their superstar, Jimmy Butler, is only averaging 21 points per game. Even Goran Dragic, their starting point guard, has missed eight games.
In other words, this is a deep basketball team.
Bam Adebayo, their center, has drastically improved this season. At one point he was leading the team in assists and is currently averaging 10.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. There is a legitimate chance he can make the All-Star team this season.
On top of the defense from Adebayo and the shooting from Nunn and Robinson, there is also Tyler Herro. The 11th overall pick out of Kentucky is averaging over 13 points and 37.5% shooting from three. In a recent game against the Bulls, he scored 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime while also hitting the game-winning shot with 39 seconds left.
In a playoff series, Miami is not the place a team wants to go. The Heat are now 11-1 at home this season. They might even deserve to be 12-0. They lost their first home game against the Lakers, who are tied for the best record in the NBA, on Friday night in dramatic fashion. The NBA admits in their two-minute report that Jimmy Butler was fouled on his 3-point attempt, which could have tied the game. Regardless, they have proven that South Beach is not an easy place to win this season.
There are other good teams in the Eastern Conference; the 76ers, Bucks, Raptors and Celtics come to mind. However, none of these teams have proven anything in the playoffs. Last season, the Celtics and Bucks were the front runners to come out of the East, but the Raptors prevailed. This season, the Bucks are the favorite to make the finals again. However, they'll have to prove they can overcome their own postseason shortcomings to get there.
Ultimately, the Eastern Conference is open, and no one has a proven track record that it's their's to lose. The Miami Heat have the superstar and coach with a deep enough roster and dominant home-court advantage needed to surprise a lot of teams in April and May. Don't say we didn't warn you.