We didn't learn a whole lot from the Miami Heat's sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, other than the Bucks weren't very good and the Heat are very good. But as we close out the 5 game series against the rival Chicago Bulls, we have learned some things about the Heat. Things that could give you encouragement or worry moving forward, depending on who you root for.
One thing is for sure, the further we move into the playoffs, the more we will learn about each team that is playing. Here's five things I gathered from the Heat-Bulls series in the Conference Semi-Finals.
1. The Heat can survive without a healthy Wade, but they won't thrive.
Dwyane Wade averaged 12.6 points per game in this series against the Bulls. Even though the Bulls were depleted from injury, they still play a team defense, and we learned that Miami can survive without Wade being Wade. But rarely will Miami thrive. Two of Miami's four victories were blowouts, and two were a bit tighter, all with Wade not eclipsing 18 points. Each series will become more difficult, and the Heat will need Wade to be himself to really thrive, otherwise they may be in for some longer battles.
2. Norris Cole is in the rotation for good.
Last postseason, Norris Cole never played more than 18 minutes and his scoring high was 6 points. He didn't even see action in 4 games. He averaged 8.9 minutes and 1.8 points in the playoffs. This year is far different. So far this postseason, Cole is averaging 22.1 minutes and 8.8 points per game. We've pointed out before how Cole has upped his game, but we were suspect if he would continue in the playoff rotation.
Now, it's clear. Norris Cole is here to stay. With Mario Chalmers not playing his best basketball, Cole has taken advantage of the extra minutes and made huge impacts on the game. He scored 18 points off the bench in Games 2 and 3 against the Bulls, and has given a heavy dosage of heart to a team that has lacked Dwyane Wade's typical intensity for most of the series.
3. Rebounding margins can be minimal when the Heat focus on it.
The Heat were the worst rebounding team in the NBA this season. With Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, the Bulls were ready to pound the Heat, and they did in Game 1 by 16 rebounds. The Bulls won that game. But then the Heat out-rebounded the Bulls by 13 in the following game. In Chicago, the Bulls won the battle by 2 and 10, and by 8 in the final match-up. Yet, the Heat still won those games. Being out-rebounded by 16 will really hurt, but when the Heat can minimize that gap when they focus on it, and shoot better, the margin doesn't matter.
This will be important to watch moving forward as the Indiana Pacers have also hurt Miami on the glass in the regular season.
4. Rough play doesn't bother Miami.
Chicago believed they had the formula to beat the Heat. Get physical down-low, get physical up top, and slap, smack, push and annoy Miami. They did all those things, and they got Game 1. But the Heat didn't back down. Miami took their physical play, added some of their own and knew when to stop and keep their cool, Chicago didn't.
Rough play doesn't bother Miami. The Bulls thought it was their key to success but it ended up backfiring on them. LeBron James always kept his cool even in the midst of being completely shoved to the ground. The funny part? The Indiana Pacers also think physical play and bullying is the way to beat the Heat. I suppose they will learn a similar lesson.
5. The Heat have not reached their playoff peak yet.
With Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers not playing to their potential, and a hobbled Dwyane Wade - the Heat are 8-1 in the playoffs so far. They have a lot of room to grow and get better. It's scary but we haven't seen their best game yet. If you've watched them much this season you know they are capable of taking it to another gear. They glimpsed it in Game 2 against the Bulls, the only time their back was against the walls.
There will be more flashes of greatness to come from the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Playoffs.
What else did you learn about the Heat in this series?
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