King James and the Miami Heat may need to start preparing to pass the crown by the end of this NBA season. Since the start of January, the Heat have taken on both worthy and not-so-worthy opponents, but have only been able to walk away with 5 wins next to their 6 losses, including the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards who currently hold the 3rd and 5th seat in Eastern Conference, respectively. The Hawks had lost to the Heat in their last 9 meet-ups but a final 7 point victory, without the help of their best player Al Horford, snapped their losing streak and handed Miami yet another loss, adding to their 29-12 record.
Losses aren’t the only place the Heat are starting to slip as they have gotten comfortable up high on their championship throne. The fire, pun intended, that seemed to fuel the Heat into their court-raging-dominance seems to have dwindled as they have allowed 69 and 71 points in the first half of their last two losses. Did they make come back attempts and damn near succeed? Of course they did. But it wasn’t enough. A pattern seems to be emerging as the Heat head dangerously towards a pride-filled spiral, with their lackadaisical approach on the court that seems to rely on the skills they know they have yet are too bound by pride to use. Championships don’t simply fall into one’s lap and with Dwayne Wade warming the bench for 11 of 41 games with limited availability, Miami is lucky to be in the position they are in.
Around this time last year the Miami Heat were about to spark off on their 27 game winning streak after watching an intense and nail biting Superbowl between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, and it’s looking as though Miami is going to need a similar source of inspiration if they are looking to break away from the second seat in the Eastern Conference.
Pickings are slim when it comes to fierce competition in the East right now, but there is a team whose name is being thrown around like it hasn’t been since Reggie Miller was a household name with his career average of 18.2 points per game. To this day he still holds over 10 of the franchise’s career records. That’s right, the Indiana Pacers have started their ascent to the top and they don’t look like they are willing to stop anytime soon.
The Pacers struggled to keep their name atop the sea of success in the NBA after losing Miller on their roster, but clearly are on the rise. At the end of the 2010-11 season, the Pacers clinched their first playoff slot since the 2006 season under the guidance of their new mid-season coach change, Frank Vogel. Last season, the Pacers took it one step further, not only entering into the playoffs but taking home their first Central Division championship since the 2003-04 season and following that through with a rampage to the Eastern Conference finals where the came face to face with the Miami Heat. Despite the Heat being the contenders that they were, the Pacers managed to take the series to a full seven games, finally losing by 23 points in the final game.
Apparently the time they spent strengthening their bench in this past offseason has done them justice as they now lead the league with a 33-7 record, putting them ahead of even the legendary Spurs and a full 4.5 games ahead of the Miami Heat, currently comfortably holding onto 2nd Eastern Conference seat. On top of that, Indiana is holding onto an impressive 21-1 home game record, also the best record in the league currently. With their astounding 13 game lead on the nearest contender in the Central Division, the Indiana Pacers are set to bulldoze through the remainder of the season as long as they can hold onto the momentum they’ve built up so far. The next big question is is it enough to take down the Heat when it counts.