5 Things to Watch as LeBron James & the Miami Heat March Toward the NBA Playoffs

Matt Parker@@parkem24Contributor IIIMarch 2, 2013

5 Things to Watch as LeBron James & the Miami Heat March Toward the NBA Playoffs

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    The Miami Heat's 2012-13 campaign has been largely devoid of

    Sure, there has been the occasional blip: the team's perceived
    lackluster effort at times; Dwyane Wade's alleged decline; Wade and Chris Bosh
    being benched late in Miami's loss at Utah; Miami's road woes; LeBron James'
    pregame dunk exploits.

    However, gone is the questioning of head coach Erik Spoelstra, the
    doubt in LeBron James' ability to finish games with a pass-first mentality and
    the interest in seeing this team fail to live up to the hype, that admittedly,
    the team branded itself.

    The Miami Heat, winners of 12 in a row, host Memphis Friday night on ESPN at 7 p.m. CST in a match-up of the two hottest teams in the league.

    Memphis has won eight straight games following a 1-3 spell to begin the post-Rudy Gay salary-dump.

    The Grizzlies walloped the champs at home on Nov. 11, 104-86, in a game also seen on ESPN.

    Miami will look to start the month off right against a good team with a clear size advantage that has already thoroughly handled them this season.

Heat Will Make a Statement Against Good Teams Beginning with Memphis & New York

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    The Heat have won 17 of its last 19 games entering Friday's contest against Memphis.

    And while they're 25-3 at home and 21-5 against the Western Conference, they have been beaten easily by Memphis, New York (twice) and Indiana (twice).

    Admittedly, four of those losses have been on the road and the home loss to the Knicks was nearly three months ago, but each still represents a significant regular season blemish on Miami's resume.

    Four of those losses were on national TV as are the two games this weekend against Memphis and New York.

    The Heat know how much effect these games could have in the court of public opinion come MVP vote time.

LeBron Will Follow Stephen Curry's 54 with a Command Performance of His Own

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    LeBron James already owns two of the best Broadway performances in the last 20 years.

    With two near 50-point triple doubles to his credit, LeBron knows how to captivate the sophisticated Garden crowd.

    However, his best performance at MSG as a member of the Heat came nearly two and a half years ago when he registered a triple double Dec. 17, 2010.

    The last time he scored 52 came on the heels of Kobe Bryant's Garden record 61, so don't be surprised if Stephen Curry's 54 Wednesday night inspires him to try for an encore.

Heat's Visit to MSG Begins a Stretch of 11 Road Games in March

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    Early-season struggles away from American Airlines Arena have largely dissipated of late, with a win in Oklahoma City Valentine's Day sending a statement to the rest of the league that the champs are still the champs and you doubt them at your risk.

    After splitting its first 20 road games, Miami has won six of its last seven away from home. This new found mettle will be supremely tested this month as the Heat play 11 of its 18 March games away from Miami.

    The month of March ends with a visit to San Antonio in a possible NBA Finals preview. My guess is Coach Popovich with have all of his top guys available for that game. 

Claiming Number One Seed Will Yield Clear Path Back to the NBA Finals for Miami

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    The Heat are on a blistering pace to claim the Eastern Conference's number one seed, a mark they've failed to reach during the team's first three runs to the NBA Finals in 2006, 2011 and 2012.

    Each time, they entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed. This meant likely having to conquer the one and three seeds to advance to the title round.

    They had some (for lack of a better phrase) good fortune last year with top seed Chicago losing 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose late in Game 1 of the Bulls' first round series against pesky Philadelphia. However, Boston proved to be a worthy challenger all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

    And after the way the Heat handled Chicago in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, few people were putting an asterisk on their championship.

    If the Heat can clinch the conference's top seed, they will likely avoid either New York or Indiana as the Eastern conference is quickly becoming a three-horse race.

LeBron's Quest to Match Bill Russell's Run of Four MVP Awards in Five Seasons

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    LeBron James' MVP coronation may have reached its peak leading into All-Star weekend what with the whole scoring 30+ and shooting at least 60 percent from the field in six straight games hoopla.

    However, what it represents is something that has only been done one time and not in nearly 50 years: win four MVP awards in five seasons.

    The other guy is Bill Russell, who accomplished the feat in the middle of an eight-peat: 1961-63, 1965.

    After finishing February as the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in March of 1983 to shoot 64 percent for a calendar month and being named Eastern Conference Player of the Month every month this season, LeBron looks well on his way to matching Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to win exactly four MVP awards.

    Only Russell, Michael Jordan and Kareem have won more.