The Miami Heat and the Best Road Teams of the NBA's First Half
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One of the truest marks of a contending team in any sport is how it plays away from home, and the NBA is certainly no exception.
Being able to win in a hostile environment in the postseason is an issue that faces every team that fancies itself in the running for a championship, so what better way to get ready for such scenarios than winning on the road during the regular season? It's a solid practice strategy.
Only nine teams can boast road records above .500 headed into this weekend's All-Star break, a testament to how hard it is to win away from home even during the regular season. Not surprisingly, all nine of those teams would be in the playoffs if the regular season ended today.
So with that, let's take a look at the best road teams in the NBA.
9. Dallas Mavericks: 8-7
Dirk and the defending champs have been much better on the road of late after a slow start.
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In defense of their first-ever title, the Mavs overcame a slow start to the season and are now firmly entrenched within the Western Conference playoff picture as the No. 4 seed. They've won seven of their last nine games going into the break, and four of those wins came on the road (three of which—Denver, Philadelphia and Minnesota—are at least fringe playoff teams).
Dallas, as would befit its near .500 record away from American Airlines Center, is in the middle of the pack on the road statistically, ranking 18th in scoring. But the Mavs only allow 90.9 points per game on the road, almost exactly even with what they allow at home.
Add that to the fact that last year's championship team won seven playoff games away from Dallas, including five in a row at one point, and the upswing in which the Mavs have experienced for the past month-and-a-half looks like it will continue on the incline.
8. L.A. Clippers: 8-7
The Clippers have been so good at home, their near .500 mark on the road has been enough.
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The new-look Clips lead the Pacific Division and would be the No. 3 seed in the West if the playoffs started today. That they're playing better than .500 basketball on the road is certainly a factor in their current standing.
The Clippers are living proof of the age-old theory that if a team can win at least two-thirds of its games at home, all it has to do is play at or near .500 on the road and be just fine. L.A. is 12-4 at the Staples Center, a far better percentage than two out of three, making its 8-7 road record better than OK.
Their splits support the Clippers' status as a near .500 team away from home; they score and allow the same amount of points (95.7). But they're still slightly better than that. If they keep up their outstanding play at home throughout the season's second half, that will do just fine.
7. Atlanta Hawks: 10-9
The Hawks are a game over .500 on the road, but haven't exactly been skying lately.
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The Hawks are trending downward, having lost three in a row and eight of 11 in February. Two of those three wins, though, have been away from Philips Arena, one of them against division rival and frequent playoff foe Orlando.
Like the Clippers, Atlanta both scores and allows pretty much the same amount of points (90.5 and 90.6) on the road, a stat that backs up its 10-9 mark away from home. With All-Star Joe Johnson recently joining Al Horford on the injured list and some remaining, healthy players griping about playing time and allegedly asking for trades, that mark may well go down after the break.
6. San Antonio Spurs: 11-9
Tony Parker's near 20 points and career high eight assists per game are big reasons the Spurs play well both at home and on the road.
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The Spurs have been one of the league's biggest surprises so far this year, and in addition to a sterling mark at home, they've also been holding up their end of the bargain on the road.
Despite Tim Duncan's advancing age and the nearly season-long injury problems of Manu Ginobili, San Antonio is 23-10, in second place overall in the Western Conference. They have won 11 games away from the AT&T Center.
On average, the Spurs lose on the road by three points per game. But they've managed to get to the free-throw line three more times as well as out-rebound their opponents on those nights.
It also doesn't hurt that they just lost their first game in February on Tuesday night in Portland after winning 11 in a row, including seven straight on the road, a trip that included a long Eastern Conference portion.
Getting back to the sterling home mark, San Antonio is 13-1 in the Alamo city, making its road mark a nice bonus. If the Spurs continue this pace, they won't have to play as many games away from home come playoff time.
5. Orlando Magic: 10-6
Howard could be on the move at any second, but that hasn't stopped the Magic from putting up a road mark almost equal to the one they've posted at home.
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It's a bit of a wonder the Magic are where they are, third overall in the East, given the daily soap opera surrounding Dwight Howard's trade status and the mostly inconsistent performance of his supporting cast. But there they are, 22-12 and 10-6 on the road.
The Magic have also lost six games at home, making them one of the few groups on this list to have nearly equal records at home and on the road (they are 12-6 in the Magic Kingdom). But they are outscoring and out-rebounding their opponents away from Amway Arena, not to mention getting to the line six more times per game.
They are also a road-tested team, having played several playoff games over the past five years with several of the same faces. This is a well-coached team that has learned to how to function at a high level under adverse circumstances.
4. Indiana Pacers: 11-8
Hibbert, a first time All-Star this year, is a big reason the Pacers are winning away from home even more than in Indy.
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The up-and-coming Pacers, one of this season's highest-achieving sleeper teams, are fifth in the East, just a half game behind Orlando, and have done it winning 11 times on the road, one more win than they have at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
It should be noted that while they are 10-4 at home, they have played five more games on the road than in Indy, hence the one more win away from there. But the total is no less impressive. The Pacers are one of the youngest teams in the league and have just five games of playoff experience in the past seven years. But like Orlando, they are scoring and rebounding more than their opponents on the road as well as getting to the line more too.
Indiana hit the break on a four-game winning streak. If Danny Granger, Paul George and company want to keep it rolling, they will have to do so playing four of their next six on the road, including games at Chicago, Miami and Orlando. That's a tall task, but the young, spry Pacers seem up to it.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder: 12-6
Durant and Westbrook look to have gotten last year's Western Finals loss out Dallas out of their systems.
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The West's best team is also its best road team, with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder riding a nifty .667 winning percentage away from Oklahoma City.
The front-runners for a Finals berth out of the Western Conference boast averages of 100 points per game, 98 points allowed, a rebounding differential of plus-three and get to the line five more times a night than their opponents away from the Chesapeake Energy Arena. All of that bodes well for an excellent road record.
Of course, the Thunder are also the West's best home team, having won 15 of 16 in OKC, so anything beyond .500 away from there is gravy. The Thunder have looked like they are ready to take the next step all year on the heels of last year's Western Conference Finals loss to the eventual champion Mavs. Their stellar road record is proof of that.
2. Chicago Bulls: 14-6
Boozer and Noah have kept the Bulls more than afloat at home and on the road through Derrick Rose's injury issues.
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Like last season, this year's Eastern Conference standings look like the Bulls, the Heat and everyone else. And Chicago, which was the East's No. 1 seed last year, stands just a half-game behind Miami (one game down in the loss column) at the All-Star break.
The Bulls work away from the United Center has been very impressive. Playing five more games on the road than at home in the first two months, 10 without MVP Derrick Rose, Chicago has won 70 percent of the time. Add that lofty number to its outstanding 13-2 home record, and you have the makings of a true championship contender.
Despite Rose's superstar status, a better-than-solid supporting cast and the league's best defense, the Bulls feel a bit like they are one player away from truly being able to challenge the Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy. Whether they make a move before the March 15 trade deadline, it's clear that they're a force to be reckoned with, even in a hostile environment.
1. Miami Heat: 12-5
Wade has missed nine games, but still is as big a reason as any for the Heat's success on the road.
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The perennial favorites in the Eastern Conference thanks to their Big Three, the Heat, last year's runners-up, are tearing through their schedule at a breakneck pace and can claim the NBA's best road mark at the All-Star break.
Tied with Oklahoma City for the best overall record in the league, the Heat are slightly better on the road. They've won eight in a row, 11 of 13 and 18 of 21, with just one of those three losses coming away from South Beach. During the current stretch, Miami played six straight and eight of 10 on the road, winning seven of them, including victories in Indiana, Atlanta and Philly.
It would seem that the only thing that can stop the Heat (aside from an alarming lack of depth) is themselves. Their winning ways on the road, particularly this season in which they look to be on a mission, lend quite a bit of credence to the thought that they are truly the league's best team.