Having overtaken the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat find themselves in an unexpected place: atop the Eastern Conference standings. The heights are unexpected because the Indiana Pacers looked like the better regular season team right up to the trade deadline. Plus, the Heat let it be known that they weren’t interested in securing the east’s No. 1 spot. For them, the NBA Finals was a more appropriate goal. A team accused aplenty of cruising would cruise some more—until now.
The almighty Heat aren’t thinking of resting anytime soon. They’ve let it be known that everyone but Dwyane Wade will be running at all cylinders up until the postseason. That means LeBron, Bosh, and the rest of the supporting cast.
That certainly brings up an interesting development as, despite the overtaking of the Pacers (who have their own problems right now), the Heat are looking extinguished. King James, for his part, has suffered a bevy of injuries this year and has certainly taken on a bigger load with Wade out of the picture for a third of the season. The playoffs might not be anymore different as James will be Miami’s leading man even with Wade back in a full-time role. The MVP has seemed indestructible up until this point but injuries also have a habit of showing their ugly face when players are forced to play heavy minutes after a string of ailments. James is good but he’s not god.
Still, the Heat seem willing to push James and Co. to the brink in an effort to keep the east’s No. 1 seed. Doing so will help them in the scenario that they meet Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals. It would also facilitate the road to the finals as their first-round opponent would be either the Melo-led Knicks or the depleted Atlanta Hawks. As a No. 2 seed, a first-round matchup with Al Jefferson‘s burly Bobcats, followed by the winner of a potential Bulls-Nets showdown (two teams that can give Miami plenty of headaches), is certainly not optimal for a weary squad. Instead, they’d plow through the Knicks or the Hawks, take on either the Raptors or the Wizards (though it should be noted that either squad can cramp Miami’s style when fully healthy), and finish against the throne-hunting Pacers.
But that’s when the issue of rest rears its mane. Even with grabbing the No. 1 seed, Miami’s road to the NBA Finals is all but clear. Their optimal scenario in the Eastern Conference paradigm is not exactly optimal; both the Raptors and the Wizards have the goods to pull off an upset. Then, if they happened to scrape by Indy, they’d face either a rejuvenated Spurs team (which might be better than last year’s squad), a stacked Clippers group, or a Durant-potent Thunder squadron. There will be no rest for the weary Miami Heat now but there’s also no guarantee that there will be more opportunity to cruise their way into the chosen land this season.