The Miami Heat have the best offense in the NBA since Joe Johnson came over via trade. Dwyane Wade is often playing smartly and within the system instead of forcing things. Hassan Whiteside and Josh Richardson are one of the, if not the best, bench duos in the NBA. But this is the regular season, nothing more.
The Heat beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 122-101 in what has become something of a tradition. LeBron James comes to town with the Cleveland Cavaliers, hugs it out with Dwyane Wade, and then gets destroyed. It’s their fourth loss in Miami since James left the Heat to Cleveland, although LeBron missed one of those games. The Cavs have scored just 92 points per game in these contests and have been outscored by 15 a game.
Wade reached the 20,000 career points mark with 24 to lead Miami in one of their most impressive wins over the last two seasons. It puts them in sole control of the 4th spot in the East, a game ahead of the Celtics and Hornets, and erased the meltdown they had at home against Charlotte a couple of nights before. They jumped on the bad Cavaliers defense from the first moment, which allowed for plenty of garbage time. No one on the Cavaliers played for more than 29 minutes, and no more than 27 minutes from the lineup players.
Maybe more important than Wade leading in scoring is both Johnson and Goran Dragic feeling comfortable. Each scored 18 points, and Dragic also added 11 assists. When Whiteside joined the game both Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov had no answer to his dominance, finishing with 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks in only 24 minutes. Josh Richardson had another barrage of three-pointers, scoring 19 points. No one has shot better from beyond the arc than him since the All-Star break. Even you know who.
Not all is perfect in Miami. Chris Bosh still isn’t playing and often players coming back need time, not to mention chemistry issues with rotations and lineups. The defense isn’t always where it’s supposed to be. But more worrying than anything are the playoffs. The Heat haven’t played in the postseason without LeBron James on the team since 2010. They haven’t really done anything in the postseason without James since 2006. There’s experience, shooting and depth on this team, which means they’re good enough not to be afraid of some upset. But there are concerns.
Home court advantage is a must, at least in the first round. The Heat aren’t a terrible road team like the Bulls or the Hornets are, but finishing fourth (or maybe even third) seems like priority. As for the Cavaliers, the Heat shouldn’t be head hunting. The Cavs struggled with the Bulls and Hawks in the regular season before kicking them out in the playoffs. LeBron James teams have had problems against certain opponents during the 82-game stretch before, but things go very differently in the playoffs (Remember the Brooklyn Nets in 2014?). Maybe the East is more open than some expected it to be, but regular season hopes can often turn unrealistic in the postseason. Sticking to what works now while trying to tinker with the defense seems like a big part of building on current success without slipping back.