For the second-straight postseason, Heat guard Dwyane Wade again finds himself having to overcome knee issues.
However, that’s not to say drama was nowhere to be found.
The Bulls, despite being undoubtedly the most depleted team in the postseason, managed to grind out a Game 1 victory in Miami, swiping home court away from the defending champions.
And while Miami ended up winning the next four, Chicago’s grit and physical play left many wondering if the Heat, who have now won 45 of their last 48 games, still look as unbeatable as they once did.
The biggest storyline that emerged from Miami’s camp over the course of the series was that of Dwyane Wade and his health.
The Heat’s franchise guard is again battling knee issues, this time his right. Last offseason, Wade had surgery on his left knee.
Will Wade's health prevent Miami from being able to repeat as NBA Champions?
In a series of events eerily similar to last year’s conference semifinals against the Indiana Pacers, Wade’s limitations on the court led many to question if the Heat could win with a damaged Wade.
Miami was cornered, backs against the wall. Indiana held a surprising 2-1 series lead and were looking to go up 3-1 on their home floor.
But Wade had no intentions of giving into his critics, and he instead came out and dropped 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists, leading Miami to a series-evening win over the Pacers.
Neither Miami nor Wade looked back, as the Heat then cruised to win the series in six games.
And just like that, the doubts surrounding the guard once nicknamed “Flash” were out the window.
Getting back to Miami’s past series with Chicago, things on Wade’s front were again looking bleak after he re-aggravated his bruised knee. The Heat's starting shooting guard might as well have been invisible for Games 3 and 4.
After he shot just 3-of-10 en route to an overwhelmingly quiet six points in Game 4, the same doubts heard a year ago were once again discussed in basketball circles everywhere.
However, much like last year, Wade came out and gave everyone reason to believe there was still at least a little bit of Flash left in the tank.
After scoring just 16 total points in Games 3 and 4 combined, Wade chipped in 18 points in the Heat’s series-clinching win over the Bulls, including six pivotal points in the fourth quarter.
One of those buckets carried with it a heavy dose of nostalgia for Heat fans, as Wade burst along the baseline and rose up to slam home a put-back opportunity.
The rest is history, as the Heat would go on to hold off the Bulls in the final seconds and advance to the franchise’s third straight appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The question is, however, can Wade recover for the long haul of this postseason as he did a year ago? The concerns are certainly reasonable, and the question is fair, as the Heat’s 31-year-old guard is dealing with a significant knee issue for the second straight postseason.
And although he’s shown resilience and toughness countless times throughout his career, there will come a point when Father Time will ultimately prevent Wade from bouncing pack and performing at an elite level.
It might not end up being this postseason, but these past two weeks have undoubtedly served as a reminder of where Wade stands in his career.
Role Players Must Be Better
To put it simply, Miami needs more out of its role players, specifically Ray Allen and Shane Battier, if the Heat want to have any shot at repeating as NBA champions.
A lot more.
As a team that has formulated much of its success over the past two years by creating open opportunities from beyond the arc and role players effectively taking advantage of those opportunities, Miami will need their sharp shooters to be more efficient moving forward.
Against the defensive-minded Bulls, Ray Allen shot just 29 percent from three. Shane Battier wasn’t any better, connecting on just eight of his 28 attempts from downtown.
The Heat may have been able to take care of a Bulls team that was without Derrick Rose, Loul Deng and Kirk Hinrich in five games, but there’s little doubt that Miami will need more out of their role players on the offensive end as the conference finals approach, especially with the health of Wade remaining in question.
Both the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks are much better scoring teams than the offensively challenged Bulls.
If Allen and Battier can knock down the open jumpers created for them, the pressure on the rest of the Heat, specifically LeBron James and the ailing Dwyane Wade, decreases significantly.
Who is a tougher matchup for Miami?
And if the Bulls looked like a tough defensive team, keep in mind that many consider the Pacers, who are now favored to advance over the Knicks, to be the best defensive team in the league.
Indiana has the perfect mix to at the very least scare the Heat, a perfect combination of size and skill to give the defending champions a run for their money.
The Pacers' Roy Hibbert and David West have given Miami fits in the past, and Paul George, George Hill and D.J. Augustin have the potential to test the Heat's own elite defense.
Norris Cole is the Future
In the midst of an inconsistent and frustrating postseason for Miami’s Mario Chalmers, second-year point guard Norris Cole has proven the Heat have someone to count on at the one position for years to come.
Cole has shown promise since he landed in Miami two summers ago, but we’re now seeing the 6’2’’ point guard mature right before our eyes this postseason.
There’s arguably no one on Miami’s roster, aside from LeBron James, who has played bigger than Cole throughout the first two rounds.
He’s hit big shot after big shot (including eight consecutive three-pointers to start the series against Chicago), and unlike earlier moments in his young career, Cole has shown control and the ability to slow his game down when needed.
And don’t disregard what he can do on the defensive end.
Cole’s maturation is great news for Miami, especially given the current situation surrounding Dwyane Wade.
It’s been stated before, but it can’t be stated enough. If Wade isn’t going to perform at an elite level on a nightly basis for Miami, the Heat will be heavily leaning on their cast of role players to step up and fill in whatever void in offense there may be as a result of Wade’s struggles.
As long as Cole continues to play as he has throughout the first two rounds, and as long as Ray Allen and Shane Battier pick up the pace from beyond the arc, Miami will ultimately be fine.