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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, February 1, 2013 at 8:00 AM

Friday Night, the Miami Heat visit the Indiana Pacers in a game that will be nationally televised by ESPN. Sports bettors just watched Miami crush the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday Night in a TV game. Will this be a replay? Is there anyone amongst the Eastern contenders who has a real shot to derail LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and company before they make a return visit to the NBA Finals?

Here is the Eastern Conference playoff picture heading into Friday action

EASTERN SEEDS

1…Miami 29-13

2…New York 28-15

3…Chicago 28-17

4-5…Indiana and Brooklyn 27-19

6…Atlanta 26-19

7…Milwaukee 24-20

8…Boston 22-23

If the playoffs started today, Indiana and Brooklyn would be playing for the right to face Miami in the second round. So, it’s fitting that Miami is on the road this week against those two teams. Handicappers and sports bettors will get a sense of what the playoffs might look like down the road. Miami clearly treated Wednesday night’s trip to Brooklyn like a playoff game. Will they do the same Friday in Indiana?

Let’s check off the potential threats one-by-one, going in reverse order.

BOSTON

The loss of Rajon Rondo makes it very unlikely that the Celtics can be a championship threat in the East. Yes, they did beat Miami this past Sunday on TV…rising to the occasion without their fallen warrior. It’s much tougher to do that four times in a best of seven series. And, there’s no guarantee that Boston will reach the playoffs because there are some threats behind them. If the Celtics throw in the towel or make some trades to build for the future, there just not going to be a team that matters. Best case scenario is a longshot where a feisty team digs as deep as it can to maybe force Miami to a sixth game.

MILWAUKEE

This is not currently a team that’s well suited to thrive in the playoffs. They would need to shoot lights out night after night to beat a top team. Maybe they could do that in a 2-7 or 3-6 series if an opponent takes them too lightly. Defensively, they’re not match for what Miami brings to the table. Offensively, the inconsistency is too big a hurdle to overcome.

ATLANTA

A recent injury to a key player probably took Atlanta out of the mix, though it’s debatable they were in the mix to begin with. The East is full of mediocrity. Miami is a true juggernaut that sits in first place even though they’ve been going at three-quarter speed defensively this season. If you watch the bulk of their games on league pass…you get the sense that they’re biding their time until it matters. Atlanta would be in trouble against three-quarter speed Miami, and would have no shot amidst playoff intensity.

BROOKLYN

There was a lot to like about Brooklyn until they were badly outclassed the other night. The players are responding to the new head coach. They are clearly much superior to the lousy teams in the East. But, they looked awful on the road against Memphis and Houston last week, then non-competitive down the stretch against Miami Wednesday. It’s very tough right now to take Brooklyn serious as a championship threat in the East. It’s possible they can make a series interesting with the Heat.

INDIANA

The Pacers are showing some similarities with Brooklyn in that they can dominate bad teams but they start to look very mortal vs. quality. Friday Night’s home game will be a good test…because it seems the Heat are loaded for bear since blowing the Boston game. You regulars know that we love defense here in the NOTEBOOK, which means we would give the Pacers a fighting chance in a series against the Heat. They had a fighting chance last year and blew their opportunity!

CHICAGO

Derrick Rose is working out, which makes the Bulls VERY interesting down the stretch. They didn’t match up well vs. Miami two seasons ago…the year the Heat eventually lost to Dallas. Did they learn from that experience? Will a fresh Derrick Rose be able to shoulder the burden of scoring in a short playoff series? To us, Chicago is still a clear dog. But, their combination of defensive intensity and chip-on-their-shoulder swagger makes them the best option to threaten Miami if Rose is able to come back at anything resembling full speed.

NEW YORK

The thinking here is that the team peaked way too early. The return of Amare Stoudemire doesn’t help the offense as much as you think (the offense was already scoring enough), but kills the defense. Stoudemire is awful on that end. And, his teammates tend to slack off when he’s on the court because there hasn’t been punishment for slacking off. Raw numbers totals would suggest New York is the best threat to Miami…but that’s because great three-point shooting can make you look better in metrics than you are in real life. Treys are fickle in the postseason. Strong defense is not. If New York isn’t playing strong defense, they won’t make it to the Eastern finals anyway.

Can anyone compete with the Heat in the East? Well, compete and BEAT are two different things when it comes to the playoffs. We don’t want to suggest that Miami will sweep whoever they face in four straight on the way to a tough series against the eventual Western champs. There’s nobody on that list who’s got a good chance of knocking them out unless LeBron James suffers a major injury.

Friday’s TV contest will give handicappers a good chance to evaluate the Heat from a pointspread perspective. The general theory for this team is that they’ll be overpriced in the playoffs because the public always bets on superstars. Were they overpriced in Brooklyn Wednesday? Are they overpriced Friday in Indiana? Barring surprises, YOU will be handicapping a lot of Miami Heat games between now and the NBA championships. You’d better get used to charting their strengths, their weaknesses, their priorities, and their differences in results when they play at three-quarter speed compared to full speed.

And, since you have the Eastern Conference fresh in your mind now, check out Friday’s schedule!

Miami at Indiana

Chicago at Brooklyn

Milwaukee at New York

All three of those are potential first or second round matchups. All six teams have reasons to bring peak intensity tonight as a result. HUGE night in the East!

JIM HURLEY has some strong opinions on the Friday NBA card, as we continue to build bankroll for Sunday’s Super Bowl. He’s looking at those games we just listed, as well as a few Western Conference games like Portland/Utah and LA Lakers/Minnesota (the nightcap on ESPN). You can purchase his top plays right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about service, or you want to set up a combination package for basketball and the Super Bowl, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Be sure you’re building your bankrolls for Sunday’s long awaited SUPER BOWL with pro and college basketball! The BIG MONEY you make can be re-invested to make a huge score on the biggest betting day of the year. BIG, JUICY WINNERS and MAGNIFICENT MONEY MANAGEMENT from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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