Can the Heat burn the East?

Updated: March 23, 2004, 11:07 AM ET
By Chad Ford | NBA Insider
Are the Miami Heat the team no one wants to face in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs?

We know the question itself is an oxymoron. Is there a team in the East not named the Pacers or Pistons that teams don't want to face?

The third-seeded Nets are reeling without Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin.

The fourth-seed Hornets are missing Jamal Mashburn and sinking fast (4-7 in March).

The fifth-seed Bucks are even worse. They've lost five straight and eight of their last 10. How long is it going to be before folks tap the NBA's No. 1 scapegoat, Keith Van Horn, for the Bucks' implosion?

The sixth (Heat), seventh (Knicks) and eighth (Cavs) seeds in the East all have losing records. They're not going to scare any team that has its act together.

Of course, that's the real issue in the East. Only two teams have their act together, which means seeds three through eight are extremely vulnerable.

Enter Stan Van Gundy's Heat (sounds like a bad, soft-porn flick). Healthy for the first time all season, the Heat (pardon the pun) is on. Finally. After two seasons mired in injuries and disappointment, the kids in Miami are playing up to potential.

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer