In what can only be described as the most shocking outcome of the early 2012-13 NBA regular season, the Miami Heat were upset by the Carmelo Anthony-led New York Knicks. By upset, of course, we really mean to say the Heat were blown out.
By blown out, of course, we mean to say obliterated.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Knicks held down their home court with a jaw-dropping season-opening 104-84 victory over the defending champions. Carmelo Anthony led the way with 30 points and 10 rebounds, while sharpshooter Steve Novak dropped in 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc.
In total, the Knicks made a breathtaking 19 three-point field goals. The Miami Heat, meanwhile, countered the output by committing 21 turnovers.
In other words, the Knicks were on fire and the Heat simply crumbled.
Is this a matter of the Knicks discovering the one-time, never-to-be-repeated formula for knocking off the Heat? Or is this a sign of things to come?
Some fans are going to jump the gun and state the obvious. Not only will the Heat not duplicate their 19 three-point field-goal outing when the teams meet again on December 6th, but there may not be another performance like this by any NBA franchise.
The fact of the matter is, this loss was about much more than three-point shooting.
This was not a fluke. This was a matter of an elite team firing on all cylinders and dominating both sides of the ball.
It was also a sign that the Miami Heat are going to have a much tougher road to repeating as champions than previously believed.
No Longer Larger Than Life
Believe it or not, the fact that the Miami Heat have finally won an NBA championship with LeBron James and co. has made them human. At least that's how they suddenly appear to the competition.
Throughout the first two years of the "Big Three" era, it was a common belief that it would take the perfect storm to pull off an upset. As the Knicks have shown us, however, the Heat are just like any other team in the NBA.
If a team executes as planned, they too can defeat the Heat. Even if they don't hit 19 three-pointers.
This is not to establish a belief that the Heat will not repeat as champions, as they remain the favorites to take home the gold until proven otherwise. What this does provide, however, is evidence that the Heat are not the only team who could win it all.
Even if the fans disagree, the Heat's peers no longer believe it to be an uphill battle. Instead, they simply view the Heat as the team to knock off.
Not the team they'd be lucky to upset.
Eastern Conference Is Rising
In previous seasons, the Eastern Conference consisted of two to three elite teams and five teams that would be lucky to make the postseason out West. As of 2013, however, the East is bringing balance to the power structure of the NBA.
And no team is going to feel the power struggle quite as much as the defending champions.
The Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers have already established themselves as powerhouses in the conference. The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks, meanwhile, improved tremendously this offseason and have the potential to make a run through the postseason.
Even the Philadelphia 76ers, who acquired All-NBA center Andrew Bynum and a plethora of depth on the perimeter, have become players in the East.
The powerhouses now have company at the top of the conference. Instead of the previously assumed outcome, the end-of-the-season rankings are up in the air.
Keep in mind, the Heat's current core has never finished atop the conference after the regular season.
Not So Lonely at the Top
What's so tremendous about this rise in Eastern Conference talent is that the powerful teams are not the only ones to watch for. The Atlanta Hawks, for instance, traded Joe Johnson for a limitless amount of depth.
Depth that they'd never previously possessed.
No longer is it Josh Smith, Al Horford, Joe Johnson and a game of "Who?" Instead, there is Smith, Horford, Lou Williams, Jeff Teague, Devin Harris, Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow, John Jenkins and Zaza Pachulia.
Three stars, three All-Star-caliber scorers and an overwhelming list of sharpshooters. Sounds familiar, doesn't it, Heat fans?
Other teams to watch include the Milwaukee Bucks, who are led by the up-tempo offense of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, and the defensive-minded Toronto Raptors, who ranked ninth in scoring defense one year ago.
Although neither would be considered favorites to upset the Heat, the competition is at an all-time high in what was previously the weaker conference.
Although this is not a guarantee that the Heat will be knocked off, it signals a changing of the guard. The Heat are no longer the clear-cut favorite in the Eastern Conference, as there are more than a handful of teams that could potentially pull off the upset of the postseason.
The Knicks did not establish themselves as the best in the East. They simply proved that the Heat are not untouchable.