Cleveland, OH -- On Friday, the Miami Heat entered the Quicken Loans arena accompanied by the narrative likely to define the entire campaign: Can this Heat squad challenge a Cleveland Cavaliers team that has unceremoniously snatched away the Eastern Conference benchmark?
Some say yes, others deem the deficiencies too great. While the definitive answer is still months away, the experience gained on a brisk Ohio autumn eve was simply invaluable for this reconstituted team.
Consider this. Right from the get go, the organization knows exactly where it stands and exactly what it must find to measure up and make the intangible tangible.
If anything, the scheduling Gods did Miami a favor by sending them to the Midwest to face an extremely strong Cavaliers team often showing mid-season chemistry during a 92-102 defeat.
Even walking into an arena populated by rabid natives sensing this is finally their time, this was less of an acid test and more of a testing of the waters.
"There's still a lot of things we have to learn as a unit and it's going to take time," a reflective Chris Bosh told reporters. "It's the second game of the year for us, we still have a lot of gelling to do."
What'll please many Heat fans isn't so much what the ever-forthright Bosh said, it's the calm confident and convincing way he said it. While its unclear whether Miami will get there, you wouldn't know it from listening to Bosh.
"We've got a long way to go. They know their rhythm, they know their rotations, they know their plays, they know where the ball is going at all times and that's a huge advantage they have on us.
"It's going to take a full season to get to that sort of confidence and continuity, it's definitely something we can learn from."
That continuity, as Miami's newly-appointed tri-captain put it, was in short supply, beyond the strong first quarter in which the Heat traded blows with the reining kings of the East.
While the team stayed in striking distance, Cleveland seemingly had plenty in the tank with Kevin Love and James clicking on offense and Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao dominating on the boards and the bench guys offering perhaps the greatest moments of disparity between the two teams.
However, again, there was value from this experience. Despite struggles for Goran Dragic and the entire second unit, what an education for Justise Winslow just two games and three days into his professional career. What happened last night, up against the world's best player will undoubtedly serve him well moving forward. It was a timely reminder for Hassan Whiteside the hard work is only just beginning.
Dwyane Wade, who led the team with a spritely 25 points, offered a similar sentiment.
Speaking to reports after the game, Wade said: "This was a great environment. I'm glad our team got the chance to play in an environment like this early in the season. Give them credit.
"It's early in the season. We have to go through these moments of learning, so we can learn what we need to do. And what better teacher than the Eastern Conference champions? That's the team that we and the rest of the guys are trying to get to. They gave us a lesson. We're gonna learn from it."
Opportunities to learn can never come too early. We'll see whether Miami can heed those lessons, but for Wade and Bosh, it isn't a case of ‘if.'