Miami has the chance to get a little hotter

Updated: December 13, 2004, 12:04 PM ET
By Chad Ford | ESPN Insider

Divisions in the NBA are pretty meaningless unless they're used to show just how wrong we were about the league this fall. Before the season, we said the Southeast Division was the weakest in the NBA. Six weeks into the season, the three top teams in the East – the Heat, Magic and Wizards – all play there.

We also said the Southwest Division would be the best in the NBA. Statistically, it's the worst in the West.

Overall, the best division in the league is the Northwest. The worst? The Atlantic. The disparity? The five teams in the Northwest have a combined 60 wins. The five teams in the Atlantic have 40.

So it should come as no surprise that the top team in the Good and Upside categories this week, the Heat and Wizards, come from the Southeast. And the leader of the Bad, the Hornets, comes from the Southwest.

The Good

Miami Heat: The conventional wisdom coming into the season was that Shaquille O'Neal would give the Heat a shot at being the best team in the East.

Who would've thought it would be a combo of Dwyane Wade and some pitiful competition that would actually get them there?

The Heat have won four straight despite Shaq contining to have just a so-so season. Not only are his numbers down across the board (17.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg in his last five) but he ranks behind Wade, Christian Laettner, Udonis Haslem and Damon Jones on the team's plus/minus chart.

Still, it's tough to measure two things about the Heat's searing start. First, when you look at their opponents of late, maybe the Heat should be doing better than 15-7. They've played the Bulls, Raptors, Bucks, Grizzlies and Jazz in December, with their only loss coming at the hands of the Nuggets in Denver.

Second, Shaq's presence has opened things up tremendously for everyone else. Wade and Damon Jones have been the biggest recipients. Jones is shooting an impressive 46 percent from 3 and ranks first in the league in 3-pointers made. Wade doesn't really shoot 3s, but he's shooting 52 percent from the field this year – up from 46 percent last season. That improved field-goal percentage is primarily coming from jumpers.

However, one guy hasn't seen the same halo effect that Jones and Wade have. Eddie Jones has been awful. He's shooting just 30 percent from 3, down from 37 percent last year and 41 percent in 2002-03. Overall he's shooting just 34 percent from the field and seems out of synch.

That's why the Heat have been flirting with the idea of trading Jones to the Raptors for Jalen Rose.

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer