Miami Heat Playoffs 2012: 8 Things We Learned from the Heat's First Playoff Game

Joshua Carroll@JoshmaniiiCorrespondent IIMay 2, 2012

Miami Heat Playoffs 2012: 8 Things We Learned from the Heat's First Playoff Game

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    Finishing as the second seed in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat are expected to advance to the next round. Miami has been labeled contenders since the beginning of the season, despite their ups and downs, and thus far, they have looked prime from another run at the title. 

    In the first game of the playoffs, the Heat looked absolutely dominant, and although it's important not to take too much away from one game, there were clear signs that Miami is a much different team than the year before. 

    In 48 minutes, we learned a few things about this new and improved team hoping for a different fate at the end of this journey.

LeBron James Is on a Mission

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    Have we ever seen LeBron James playing on this level before? He's doing it all—defending, scoring, and most importantly, leading. This man is clearly on a mission.

    He's heard enough of all the chatter, he's put in the work and paid his dues and it seems as though this man will stop at nothing to attain that ring.  

    Not only is he doing the big things, but he's making the little plays as well. He's not afraid to step in and take a charge and hustle down a loose ball. 

    He's being asked to play every single position on the floor and is taking it in stride. If James keeps up this intensity and willingness to do anything to get the job done, the Miami Heat would have to be the last team I'd want to see in the playoffs this year.

    LeBron is on a mission, and it's far from impossible. 

Their Path Couldn't Get Any Easier

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    I mean really, could the Heat's path get any easier this year?

    They are matched up against an incompetent Knicks team not decimated by injuries, and although I'm sure they're being told not to look far ahead, I'm not sure that's possible.

    If by any chance the Magic can beat the Pacers, Miami would benefit in a multitude of ways. Not only would the travel be really light, but their biggest weakness at the center position will not be as exposed with no Dwight Howard banging inside.

    That being said, it's likely that the Pacers pull that one out, yet the fact that they are struggling against Orlando is quite alarming—shouldn't be a problem for Miami.

    Although the Celtics are battling injuries, and now the suspension of Rondo, their experience and talent will likely carry them to the Eastern Conference finals. And although the Celtics played the Heat quite well during the regular season, even mighty Boston can't stand in the way of LeBron and company.

    Miami might possibly be playing its toughest round (before the NBA finals) right now. Of course, it's still the NBA playoffs; there will be no cake walks.  

The Heat Are a Much Better Team Than Last Year

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    The Heat are a better team. It's clear. The thing is, it doesn't have to do as much with the personnel changes as much as it does with just having that year underneath their belt.

    Let's face it, last year was an experiment, and although the Heat clearly had the talent to get the job done last year, but at the end of the day, a great team will beat great talent nine out of 10 times.

    That being said, Miami has come a long way from day one. Spoelstra doesn't get enough credit for the criticism and pressure he has to deal with being the coach of the Heat. Then again, I'm sure many coaches wouldn't mind switching places with him.

    Last year, Miami was missing key pieces such as Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, and did have the experience and defensive abilities of Shane Battier available last year.

    The Heat have grown into a great team, rather than a group of great individual talents, increasing their chances of winning it all this year.

The Heat Understand That Defense Wins Championships

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    We've all heard it time and time again: defense wins championships. However, the Heat let their actions speak louder than their words and continue to demonstrate just how good their team defense is.

    The rotations are beautiful, the help side is perfect, and when they do make a rare miscalculation, they've got the length and athleticism to turn it into a highlight.

    Miami can score with the best of them but understand the fact that no matter what time of the year it is, easy baskets are the most important ones. The Heat benefit from team's carelessness with the ball. Carelessness that is often times the result of the pressure Miami puts on teams.

    When the big three came together a lot of the focus was on how good they would be offensively. However, we have seen the Heat grow into one of, if not, the best defensive teams in the league.  

Chalmers Is Much Improved

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    Mario Chalmers may not lead the team in anything (besides getting yelled at), but he's the perfect fit for this Miami Heat team.

    He can knock down the open jumper with the best of them but can also create his own shot. People forget he was a scorer in college. However, most importantly, Chalmers has always been a lockdown defender.

    Chalmers's worth will continue to show as the playoffs wear on, but it's clear he's much improved and ready to step up. He has been questioned time and time again, yet he continuously steps up and knocks down big shots.

    Remember when there was talk of starting Norris Cole over Chalmers? Wouldn't have been one of the biggest mistakes the Heat organization has ever made. That and thinking Jamaal Magloire could bring quality minutes last year.

Chris Bosh Is Not 100 Percent

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    I don't know what you saw, but it was clear to me that Bosh was a little gimpy out there.

    The Heat tried to play off his injury at the end of the season, but there's no doubt that he's not 100 percent. 

    Don't get me wrong, I do not believe Bosh is hiding some serious injury that will haunt him throughout the playoffs. It could be that he's just got to work off the rust. The point is, whether it's rust or a minor injury, Bosh is not all there, and he's going to need to be if the Heat want to win it all.

The Heat Can Win Without a "True Center"

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    People don't give Tyson Chandler enough credit for the role he played in the Maverick's championship last year. Soon to be named defensive player of the year according to multiple sources, Chandler is one of the best centers in the league.

    That being said, the Heat are doing just fine with their smaller lineup. By speeding up the game, perfecting rotations and really focusing on team rebounding, the Heat have turned their problem of being too small into a minor one.

    If it doesn't hurt them against Chandler and Amar'e, it won't hurt them against anyone else, besides maybe the Lakers. Rebounding is all about heart and so is the game of basketball. Heart will beat size any given day, and the Heat aren't lacking in that department.

Dwyane Wade Has Stepped Aside

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    Despite the fact that Skip Bayless loves to call LeBron James Robin to Dwyane Wade, who he's labeled the Batman of the Miami Heat, it's clear that LeBron has taken the reigns of the team.

    I shouldn't say taken because it was a smooth and willing passing of the hand. Wade is smart enough to realize the caliber of player James is just like he was smart enough to recruit him to South Beach.

    Wade can still be the closer when it matters most and a mentor to the younger LeBron, but it's clear that James is not only the best player on the team—but arguably in the league. 

    This is not a knock against Wade's game but is instead a demonstration of just how good LeBron is.