After coasting to an easy 98-81 win over the New York Knicks on Sunday, the Miami Heat moved a half-game in front of the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Indiana Pacers are two games back of the Heat. The Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons are 2.5 games behind.
That's five teams fighting for four playoff spots with only 2.5 games separating them, and with less than 30 games remaining the race is heating up. Will anyone in the East solidify themselves in the race for home-court advantage in the first round? Are the Heat that team?
There's been hope all season that Miami might possibly challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers. They have struggled to play consistently, however, which is why they're in the jumble of teams fighting for the fourth seed.
Sunday's win over the Knicks gave a glimpse of what the Heat are capable of. Dwyane Wade led the way with 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists as the Heat slashed their way through the Knicks defense. It wasn't just Wade who was attacking offensively for Miami. Goran Dragic added 13 points and six assists, Luol Deng had 15 points and seven rebounds, Hassan Whiteside had 16 points and 11 rebounds and Joe Johnson had 12 points in his first game with the Heat. Despite only shooting 1-of-8 from deep, they were too athletic for a lackluster Knicks defense.
They played tough, suffocating defense and flustered the Knicks at every turn. Their speed on both sides of the court is the reason they can hang with anyone in the East.
The key for the Heat now, is finding a consistency. It's likely that Chris Bosh isn't coming back this season, so the Heat will work with this roster moving forward.
For the Knicks, it was another loss in what's turned into a disappointing season. Carmelo Anthony had 25 points but was only 9-of-24 from the field. Kristaps Porzingis didn't have a great night, scoring only nine points and grabbing eight rebounds in 21 minutes, but he did have four blocks -- including two in one possession.
It was one of the few blunders for the Heat, who could not be stopped all night. Now, the Heat must continue to play with this kind of energy. Bosh might not be coming back, but Miami is capable of earning that fourth spot in the East -- and don't count out the third seed, either.
2 other things we learned
The Cavaliers struggle without LeBron James
After getting blown out 113-99 by the Washington Wizards on Sunday the Cavaliers are 0-2 this season when James sits on the bench. Last season wasn't any better -- they were 3-10 when he didn't play. Kyrie Irving filled up the stat sheet with 28 points on 9-of-20 shooting, but the Cavaliers failed to launch without their star -- especially on the defensive end of the court. Irving is one of the most skilled offensive players in the game and takes the offense to new levels when James is out there with him. But on Sunday, the Wizards offense ran circles around a miserable Cavaliers defense.
John Wall took the game over. He had 21 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds with zero turnovers in a big win for the Wizards -- who were lucky James was taking a rest day. Wall was wheeling and dealing all game.
At 28-30, the Wizards keep creeping up the Eastern Conference standings. If the season ended today, they would be only two games out of the playoffs.
Kyle Lowry makes the Toronto Raptors go
It was a Sunday for resting players. Just like the Cavaliers with James, the Raptors rested Kyle Lowry against the Detroit Pistons. And just like the Cavaliers, it didn't work out for them. The Pistons outscored the Raptors 37-20 in the third quarter and never looked back on their way to a 114-101 win. Andre Drummond picked up his 51st double-double of the season with 15 points and 18 rebounds and Reggie Jackson added 19 points and eight assists -- having his way against backups Cory Joseph and Delon Wright. The Raptors clearly missed their point guard. DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross did their best to keep the Raptors in it, but the Pistons were eventually too much.
It was a big win for Detroit, who won their fourth straight game after losing five in a row. At 31-29, they're in the ninth spot out East, but are zero games back of the Hornets and Bulls -- who are both 30-28 -- in seventh and eighth. Tobias Harris has been a good fit in the Pistons system thus far. He had 14 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes against the Raptors. He's averaging 17 points per game in his six games with Detroit, and hitting 42.9 percent from deep. It's a good fit for the Pistons, who need Harris to continue this level of play if the Pistons are going to make the playoffs.
Play of the night
Dwight Powell almost fell on his face he dunked so hard.
3 fun things
The aftermath of Stephen Curry's ascent into a basketball hierarchy was spectacular. He broke NBA 2K and put people through seven stages of being amazed, but neither Phil Jackson nor Russell Westbrook were impressed.
Brad Stevens can dunk, as long as there's a trampoline.
It was superhero night in Dallas, and War Machine, who looks a lot like Iron Man, joined the Mavericks for a huddle.
Wizards 113, Cavaliers 99 (Bullets Forever recap | Fear the Sword recap)
Hawks 87, Hornets 76 (Peachtree Hoops recap | At the Hive recap)
Blazers 111, Pacers 102 (Blazers' Edge recap | Indy Cornrows recap)
Magic 130, 76ers 116 (Orlando Pinstriped Post recap | Liberty Ballers recap)
Pistons 114, Raptors 101 (Detroit Bad Boys recap | Raptors HQ recap)
Mavericks 128, Timberwolves 101 (Mavs Moneyball recap | Canis Hoopus recap)
Heat 98, Knicks 81 (Hot Hot Hoops recap | Posting and Toasting recap)