The numbers don't align in the way you might expect.
The Heat leads the Eastern Conference with a 22-8 record.
Two of those defeats were to teams—Washington and Detroit—that the Heat aren't likely to see in the postseason, even in the first round, and can be largely attributed to arrogance and boredom. Two of the others were to the Knicks, and one to the Bucks.
So, as the Heat prepare for their 16th intraconference encounter of the season, their first against Chicago, which teams should they be taking more seriously? Can anyone keep Miami from reaching its third straight NBA Finals, where it is likely to meet Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Memphis or even one of the residents of the Staples Center?
“Injuries have the biggest story in the East,” Heat swingman Shane Battier said. “I think the team that can get the healthiest the quickest in the middle pack will emerge. I think you’ll see a team get healthy and put together a great few weeks or month, and that will really separate them."
Prior to the season, it was assumed that Boston, Brooklyn and Philadelphia would be formidable challengers, but Boston has appeared broken down, Brooklyn just bounced its coach and Philadelphia is still waiting on the debut of the beleaguered Andrew Bynum. Instead, New York and Atlanta have slid into the second and third spots in the standings.
So it's time to reassess.
Which teams are most likely to put up a fight in the spring?
(All quotes for this piece were collected as part of the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post. All statistics are accurate as of Thursday night.)