If there were any doubts whether or not the Miami Heat would be able to carry their winning ways from the first half of the 2011-12 NBA season into the second half of the season, they certainly put them to rest.
The Heat did so by absolutely dominating the Portland Trail Blazers in nearly every aspect of the game on Thursday night, even without Chris Bosh, who will miss at least two games due to a death in his family.
LeBron James led the way with one of his most efficient and productive games of the season so far, with 38 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and five steals, all while shooting an impressive 61.9 percent from the field.
Dwyane Wade added a stellar 33 points and 10 assists on 59.1 percent shooting to help the Heat get their ninth straight win, 107-93.
While the Heat, as a team, put together an impressive offensive performance against the Trail Blazers by shooting 47.6 percent from the field, 54.5 percent from beyond the arc and scoring 18 points off of turnovers, their most impressive performance came on the defensive side of the ball.
What was most impressive Thursday night was the way that Miami absolutely smothered the Trail Blazers on the defensive side of the ball. Watching the Heat defensively against Portland was like watching poetry in motion, with every member of the Heat seemingly on the same page.
As a team, the Heat forced an impressive 15 turnovers by the Trail Blazers, who looked overwhelmed by the Heat's consistent defensive pressure every time down the court.
The Heat didn't consistently double down on LaMarcus Aldridge, but instead, forced the Trail Blazers to beat them one-on-one, which was something that Portland proved they couldn't do.
Moving forward into the heart of the second half of their 2011-12 schedule, the Heat need to force teams to beat them one-on-one because they've proved that they have the individual defensive talent to do just that.
When the Heat rely more on athletic, individual defense than on help-side defense and constant double-teams, they are able to pick up the intensity, which in turn forces turnovers that lead to their high-paced and high-powered transition offense.
When the Heat are able to get into their transition offense, as evidenced by LeBron and Wade's rim-rattling connection against the Trail Blazers tonight, they are nearly impossible to beat.
Miami is playing more aggressively, with more intensity and more energy this season than they did last year. And it's showing in the way that they have been absolutely dominating all competition as of late, with 12 of their last 13 wins coming by double digits.
Can the Miami Heat extend their nine-game winning streak to 10 games with a win against the Jazz, before they head into the Staples Center to take on the Lakers and Kobe's broken nose?
Let your thoughts be known in the comment section below.
Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @peteremerick.