3 Positive Signs from the Miami Heat's Opening Week

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst INovember 6, 2013

3 Positive Signs from the Miami Heat's Opening Week

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    The Miami Heat are now 3-2 following their first road victory of the season, a 104-95 win over the Toronto Raptors where Chris Bosh stayed home to attend to his newborn child, while LeBron James picked up the slack and dropped 35 points, eight assists and eight rebounds in 36 minutes' worth of action.

    It's been an intriguing first week for the Heat. They started off with a dominant effort in the season-opening victory over the Chicago Bulls where they held a double-digit lead throughout, only to drop consecutive road games against the upstart Philadelphia 76ers and an inspired Brooklyn Nets club. 

    Miami's other win came by way of a relatively easy 10-point victory over the Washington Wizards at home. The victory over Washington prevented the Heat's first three-game losing streak since January 2012 and kept the Heat above .500, away from the unfamiliar territory they faced after the loss to the Nets.

    It was the first time since the very first game of the Big Three era where the Heat were under .500. It's safe to say the Heat didn't enjoy the feeling too much, as they made short work of Washington before moving on and handling business against a Raptors team that failed to impose its will in the paint for longer than a quarter. 

    But that's what the Miami Heat do. They make opponents uncomfortable. They play with a controlled panic on defense that forces the opposition into wayward passes and low-percentage jumpers, leading to the patented fast breaks that instill fear into the hearts of the unlucky players who are unfortunate enough to be on the opposite end of those highlights. 

    While the first week was rough, the team still learned a lot. The Heat–once again—recognize that they can't take opponents lightly, as seen in their hapless defensive effort against Philadelphia, and continue to realize that they need to play the entirety of the game in order to put opponents away.

    Every Heat opponent besides the Nets have staged a late-game comeback to either threaten Miami or even steal away a victory. It's the type of play you've come to expect from the Heat in the early months of the season. They recognize the insignificance of these games, and they treat them as such, once again putting the regular season's importance on the backburner. 

    And, yet, the Heat will end up winning at least 60 games and make another NBA Finals. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves. Instead, let's take a look at three positive observations from the first week of Heat basketball.

Norris Cole

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    Norris Cole is trying to make Heat fans everywhere forget about the pain of losing Mike Miller.

    On both sides of the court, the Heat's backup point guard has been everything the team envisioned when it traded for him in the 2011 draft. He's not only continuing to impose his well against opposing point guards, holding opponents to 27 percent shooting on 15 attempts, per Synergy Sports, but has also made some incredibly huge strides on the offensive end. 

    Cole is letting the game come to him. It seems that every passing year, Cole slows down and makes smarter decisions that come in the flow of the offense. He's keeping his head up on fast breaks, using his teammates to get to the rim, expertly leading the second-unit offense and continuing to consistently hit that three-pointer he put on full display near the end of last year's regular season.

    He's shooting 44 percent on threes and nearly 62 percent overall. He's also dropping nine points and dishing out over three assists per game. The 22 minutes he's averaging are also a career high, a result of the team being able to rely on him for longer stretches. 

    Per Synergy Sports, Cole has shot 63 percent on eight field-goal attempts as the pick-and-roll man, and 50 percent on 12 spot-up attempts. Small sample size, yes, but a simple observation of any Heat game and any knowledge of Heat games from the past two years can show that there is an obvious difference in the type of play we're getting from Norris. 

    As long as Cole is hitting that three-pointer, the second unit becomes all the more volatile. It leaves Cole on the floor with fellow shooters in Ray Allen and Shane Battier, the primary facilitator in LeBron James and an excellent cutter in Chris Andersen.

    And that's just the bench. Cole is supplying the Heat with an excellent one-two punch that provides them with dual dimensions. While Mario Chalmers heads up the starting lineup and does his defensive work off the ball, Cole leads a second unit significantly based on shooting expertise and his on-ball defense. 

    With Cole developing into an early candidate for Most Improved Player, the Heat can only continue to boast one of the strongest bench rotations in the NBA. 

Hot Potato

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    If you ever want to see basketball the way it was meant to be played, you should check out a Miami Heat game. 

    For the first time in franchise history, the Heat have scored at least 100 points in the first five games of the year. While the defense still requires adjustments, with the team allowing over 100 twice, the offense has played with a pristine feel that relies heavily on ball movement, penetration and open shots either around the rim or along the three-point line.

    Per Hollinger's efficiency ratings, the Heat lead the league in assist ratio at 21.2 percent, rank second in field-goal efficiency at 58 percent and lead the league in true shooting percentage at 61.7 percent. In case you're unaware of true shooting percentage and its meaning; it's a team's shooting percentage if we account for three-pointers and free throws. 

    Miami is third in the league in assists per game at 28, only percentage points behind a Los Angeles Clippers team that averages four more possessions and a Golden State Warriors team that averages seven more possessions than the Heat. 

    It comes as a direct result of the ball constantly moving, constantly on the search for an open player's hands to fall into. Every player who is on the floor is extremely unselfish and is willing to give up the ball if it means passing it to an open man. It's why there are five players on this team currently averaging more than three assists per game.

    There are four players averaging at least four dimes, with LeBron James leading the way at eight per. 

    When analysts were crediting teams like the Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets for making strides in challenging the Heat with their offseason moves, those same analysts failed to mention the improvements the Heat made by simply being able to play together for a fourth season.

    The Heat gradually improved, especially on the offensive end, in their first three seasons as a result of gaining experience in playing with each other and learning each other's tendencies. Both their true shooting percentage and field-goal efficiency have significantly improved from 52.4 and 57.3 percent, respectively, in 2010-11 to 55.2 and 58.8 percent in 2012-13. 

    Strangely enough, the Heat may have had the best offseason of any team because they were able to keep their core and rotation together. 

A Healthy Dwyane Wade Is a Scary Dwyane Wade

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    Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.

    How many times do critics of Dwyane Wade need to be wrong before they give in and admit that he's still a great player capable of playing at an elite level at a consistent basis? 

    Don't let the numbers fool you, Wade has looked as good as he has since prior to the knee injury he suffered near the end of the regular season. The injury was mistaken to be a sign of wear and tear as a result of age and minutes, when it was actually the sort of injury that any player could suffer from at any moment in any game. 

    The injury was a bone bruise that came as a result of Wade banging knees with an opposing player. It lingered throughout the playoffs, but not enough to prevent him from scoring 32 points in Game 4 of the NBA Finals or to record a 23-point, 10-rebound double-double in the Game 7 clincher. 

    After four games (he sat out against Philadelphia), Wade is beginning to remind us of the player who decimated respectable teams on a daily basis as recently as last March. He's averaging 18 points on 45 percent shooting but is coming off his third consecutive game of scoring at least 20 points following a 20-point effort in the win over Toronto. 

    What was especially encouraging about the game against the Raptors was how lethal Wade's mid-range game was looking. This is a significant part of Wade's game that has been brought into question not just based on whether or not he's making them, but on his shot selection in general. 

    This was not a problem against Toronto, where Wade was cooking early and often in the mid-range that he once owned early in his career. Per Synergy Sports, he's shooting 50 percent on spot-up jumpers on the year. 

    The Heat are going to need that mid-range game from him, as much as they're going to need him to simply be healthy and ready for the long half of the postseason. While it would be a sight to see the Heat attempt to utilize Chris Bosh as their No. 2 player for stretches, the team still invests a great deal of faith in Wade holding up and owning the role of No. 2 scorer. 

    Only four games into the season, and the Heat are already getting the Wade that can just as easily be a primary option if given the opportunity. Fortunately for Wade's knees, he need not perform those tasks anymore.