In what has become an annual tradition, the Miami Heat are headed for the NBA Finals, winning a laugher of a series from the Indiana Pacers that concluded with a 25-point Miami win that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
Indiana was completely run out of the building on Friday, scoring a mere 34 points in the entire first half, solidifying the result before the teams headed to their locker rooms. The Pacers would have been better off had 57-year-old team president Larry Bird donned a uniform and come into the game.
In a conference where teams averaged just over 37 wins this past season and 38 in 2012-13, the Heat have been in a league of their own, no pun intended, with their path to the NBA Finals significantly easier than their foes to the west, who regularly have to go through much tougher competition for a shot at the NBA’s ultimate prize.
In contrast, Western Conference teams averaged 45 wins this past season and just over 43 in 2012-13, clearly showing a trend that has been apparent over the past half decade: the West is simply better as a whole.
So what if the Heat faced a stiffer challenge? How would they fare as a team in the Western Conference?
In a realignment scenario ridiculous for obvious geographical reasons, Miami would undoubtedly have a tougher time if they had to play a full Western Conference schedule, and may not be the same squad that has dominated the East since LeBron and Co. decided to team up in South Beach.
For purely hypothetical purposes, let’s say the Heat finished with the same record this past season, though it’s highly unlikely they would have had as many wins seeing Western teams more often than Eastern ones.
Miami’s 54-28 record this season, good for second place in the East behind the self-imploding Pacers, would have seen them tie for fourth in the West with the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.
The Heat would have won the tie break over both teams due to having the best win percentage in total games against the other two, and would have played the Rockets in to opening round of the playoffs, with the winning team most likely to play the San Antonio Spurs in the second round and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the West Finals, clearly a harder path than the Heat’s run against the Bobcats, Nets, and Pacers, who Miami rolled over 4-0, 4-1, and 4-2, respectively.
So the Heat will face either the Thunder or Spurs in this year’s NBA Finals, a rematch of either 2012 or 2013, and will attempt to become the first team since the 2000-2002 Lakers to win three straight titles, while the winner of the West will look to dethrone the two-time defending champs.Jeff Pini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JeffPini