If you haven’t noticed, the top two teams in the NBA are on pace to collide in the finals in June.
We’re past the midway point of the truncated season and the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder both sit at the summit of their respective conference and continue to remain fast on not surrendering their positions. What’s most compelling about the Heat-Thunder rise is how two teams on opposite ends of the spectrum are oddly similar. Traditional powerhouses such as the Celtics, Lakers and Spurs have aged, and it seems the Heat and Thunder righteous paths are destined to intersect in June. Although their roads to the chip will certainly differ, both clubs will continue to rely on their two superstars to lead the way.
In their first game since the All-Star break, the Heat won their ninth consecutive games by 12 or more points in defeating the Portland Trail Blazers 107-93 at the Rose Garden on Thursday. Behind LeBron James’ 38 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and five steals and no turnover performance and Dwyane Wade’s 33 points and 10 rebounds, Miami was able to overcome the absence of Chris Bosh, who was away for the first of two games following the death of his grandmother, to dominate the Trail Blazers from the opening tip. Now resting comfortable atop of the Eastern Conference with a record of 28-7, the Heat are off to their best start in franchise history; thanks in large part to James having the single most efficient season in NBA history, en route to possibly winning his third league MVP.
Last season, the superstar-laden Heat was a team of unprecedented construction that were met with unprecedented scrutiny for a disappointing finish in the finals last June. James bore the brunt of the attack and was disparaged by fans, and the media, for wavering in the waning moments of close games. All criticism were with merit, and James responded in the off-season by honing his moves in the post and adjusting his game for the betterment of the team.
The Heat are on a roll right now and their explosive play and dynamic defensive schemes are a testament to the work James’ put in during the extended league lockout. Miami has won 16 of their last 18 games and in that stretch their average point differential is 10.6 points per game, with 12 wins by 10 or more points. What other player in the league can play and guard all five positions on the court which such ease and grace than James? As he demonstrated last night in Portland, starting at center defensively and power forward offensively, LeBron turned in a Magic Johnson-type performance that hasn’t been seen since the days Erving brought Showtime to Los Angeles. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters after last night’s win that, “[James] eases a lot of my anxiety and a lot of our team’s anxiety…I don’t think there’s many players that can play point guard through center. Man, he really took the challenge.” Perhaps accepting the challenge, the criticism, the scorn, is what motivates LeBron the most, but it his MVP start to the season that will continue to catapult the Heat back to the finals. Win Shares is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a players through his offense and his defense. LeBron has 8.4 Win Shares, which is 1.6 more than any other player in the league. Kevin Durant is second with 6.8.