We learn more about the Miami Heat with each game of the playoffs.
The core group of the Miami Heat has played 300-plus games over the past three seasons, and we're still learning more about them with each passing day.
Whether it's the emergence of a forgotten bench player or the unique dominance of a superstar, Miami continues to grow and evolve as a team each time they step out onto the court. LeBron James is the unquestioned leader, but the roles of his supporting cast are constantly morphing and shifting.
What this ultimately means is that Miami may be tougher to deal with now than when they captured the Larry O'Brien Trophy a year ago. The more that other teams learn about what the Heat are capable of, the harder it is to stop them.
Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra will never get the credit he deserves, but the fact is that there are very few men on NBA benches who could have had similar success with the Heat.
In this postseason alone, Spoelstra has faced three high-level coaches—Tom Thibodeau, Frank Vogel and Gregg Popovich—and has more than held his own in terms of strategy. And while the performance (or lack thereof) of his team in Game 3 of the NBA Finals clearly frustrated Spoelstra, he came back two nights later with a game plan that resulted in a 13-point Heat victory.
Leading a team to three consecutive NBA Finals is a remarkable achievement regardless of the circumstances. Fortunately, people are beginning to recognize Spoelstra's accomplishments, and perhaps he'll finally receive the adulation that he's rightfully earned.
Norris Cole isn't just an intriguing change-of-pace option for Miami—he's shown he has all of the tools needed to be a starting point guard in the NBA.
Cole has arguably been better than Mario Chalmers during the playoffs. He's an exceptional on-ball defender, and the per-36-minute averages for Cole and Chalmers are nearly identical. A 40.7 percent career shooter, Cole has shot better than 48 percent from the field so far in the postseason and nearly 55 percent from beyond the arc.
This offseason, Cole would be wise to focus on his playmaking ability. His 1.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio won't cut it long term. But if and when Miami parts ways with Chalmers (who has a $4 million player option for next season), they have a solid backup plan with Cole in the fold.
Those who doubt the statement above only need to look at the box score from Game 4 of the NBA Finals. In the Heat's 109-93 victory, Miami's Big Three accounted for 85 points, 30 rebounds, 10 steals and nine assists.
No other team—not the Spurs, not the Oklahoma City Thunder or anyone else—has a three-headed attack as proficient as Miami's. More importantly, when the Heat are rolling, the level of intimidation they strike into their opponents' hearts is immeasurable.
Mike Miller is both a liability on defense and woefully out of place as a starter, but there appears to be some life left in his 33-year-old legs.
More than a decade removed from winning the 2001 NBA Rookie of the Year award, Miller still has the stroke that made him one of the league's best young talents once upon a time. There were games this postseason in which it seemed like Miller couldn't miss, and his lights-out marksmanship—48.3 percent from beyond the arc—has opened things up for James and Co. in the half court.
Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is a master of using Miller to take advantage of certain situations/opposing lineups, and Miller's lack of athleticism is the only reason why he doesn't play 25-plus minutes per night.
The reports of Dwyane Wade's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
It wasn't too long ago when many were wondering if Wade was counting down the days to retirement. The Miami Heat shooting guard went 12 straight games this postseason without scoring 20 points or more and is clearly a diminished version of his former self.
The narrative changed in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, however. Wade's 32-point, six-assist, six-steal performance evoked memories of 2006 when the man then known as "Flash" led the Heat to the championship.
We won't see performances like Game 4's on a nightly basis, but to write Wade off as being little more than a fringe contributor would be a mistake.
Miami has had their proverbial back against the wall a couple of times during this year's playoff run, and each time, LeBron James has responded with a masterful performance.
He didn't revert to the same, bull-in-a-china-shop style from his Cleveland era, however. These days, he meticulously picks apart opponents with a breathtaking blend of scoring, passing and lockdown defense.
James isn't the type to put up 42 shots in a so-called "must win" game like Michael Jordan used to do for the Chicago Bulls. As we saw in Game 7 against Indiana (32 points on 8-for-17 shooting), James will do what it takes to get his teammates involved before assuming control of the action when necessary.
It's an intriguing approach for a player of his skill set, and one that basketball fans are slowly embracing. James has shown that one can take over a game without dominating the basketball—a refreshing sight in today's NBA, where isolation sets rule the day.