By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com
MIAMI — There is comfort in consistency, and over the last three seasons, since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined forces with Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat have created something of a cottage industry around winning in the postseason. Since the 2011 Playoffs, the Heat have compiled a 48-19 record.
Being in Miami for a playoff game throughout this era, there have been many of the same sights on display: Fans dressed head-to-toe in white; Julia Dale belting out the National Anthem; intros set to “Seven Nation Army” with flame-throwers spitting fire into the sky.
None of those things would change in Miami’s 2014 playoff debut. And 90 minutes before tip-off, the mood in the Miami locker room didn’t seem to betray any extra nerves on the verge of the newest playoff push. On one side of the room, James sat in his locker, focused on an iPad, rapping along to whatever was playing in his headphones. Over by the door, Shane Battier offered dining recommendations to a visitor in town for the series. Across the room, Michael Beasley discussed the design history of Air Jordan sneakers.
These days, playoff basketball is the business of the Miami Heat, and business has been terrific. But maybe the most important performance in Miami’s 99-88 win over the Charlotte Bobcats came from Dwyane Wade. After a season in which we only saw flashes of Flash, Wade provided the Heat with exactly what they needed to take a 1-0 lead. Even if Wade almost burned a timeout one minute into the game.
“I wanted to call a timeout with like 11 minutes left in the first quarter,” Wade joked after the game. “I was so tired. I was so happy when Rio (Chalmers) got his leg hit so we had to call the timeout. After that everything just settled in. It was that first rush of the playoffs and everything. But after that I felt fine.”
Wade finished the game with 23 points on 10-16 shooting, and led the Heat with 5 assists. If resting Wade for 28 of the 54 games gives you this version when the postseason rolls around, perhaps it’s worth enduring the games off and constant monitoring of minutes.
“Physically, this is where I wanted to be,” Wade said. “Feeling good today. No limit or limitations. It was a good first game.”
Wade referred to his play as a “natural day,” meaning he was able to play instinctively instead of dealing with limitations. “I didn’t have to think too much,” Wade said. “Just was playing, making the reads. That’s a sign I was feeling good. I want to continue, want to get better. Still want to get my conditioning back to where I want to get. I played 34 minutes tonight, which is pretty good.”
Wade’s 34 minutes were the most he’s played since March 16 against Houston. “He couldn’t look better,” said James. “He’d get to the rim and work the transition, had his step-back game on, he is feeling good.”
“He’s put in a lot of work,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “If I hadn’t seen the extra work he’s been consistently putting in, I would have been a lot more cautious about it. He probably wanted to be cleared a week before we cleared him. He’s been putting in that time of all that extra miserable conditioning. Other than the fourth quarter, he never really played more than an eight- minute stretch and then, probably more important, a full amount of minutes.”
Wade was not only able to log a bunch of minutes, he was able to sustain production. There were hints of the Wade who would fall down seven times and get up eight throughout the game, like when Wade called for an alley-oop (which never came) on the fast-break early in the third quarter. Overall, Wade looked energized all afternoon, taking on double-teams, hitting jumpers, even initiating offense. A drive and one-handed dunk with 1:36 left in the game punctuated the performance.
“We know what to expect out of Dwyane,” said Chris Bosh. “We play 82 games for this. The excitement, the energy going for another championship, it’s everywhere. So we know that we’re going to raise our game to another level, and he’s no different. We expect the best from him.”
Despite a few runs from the Bobcats, Miami consistently answered back. And a 18-4 run in the fourth quarter put the finishing touches on Charlotte. If the Heat weren’t ready for another playoff run, you’d never know it from watching them.
“You have to know how to prepare, to be able to lock in on your opponent and not worry about anything else,” Bosh said. “We’re not thinking about anything else. We’ll watch the other games for entertainment, to see what everybody else is doing. But our focus is the Bobcats. I wake up thinking about the Bobcats. I go to sleep thinking about the Bobcats.”
You can forgive the Bobcats if they have a few nightmares about the Heat. Sunday’s loss was the 17th in a row against Miami. Which isn’t to say the Bobcats were not worthy opponents. But after a first-quarter foot injury seemed to slow Al Jefferson, the Bobcats struggled to play consistently, not to mention regain the same momentum that gave them an early 16-9 lead.
Before the game, LeBron was asked if seeing Indiana get blown out at home by the Atlanta Hawks one night before would serve as a reminder to the Heat that the postseason had started.
“You shouldn’t have to have a reminder in the playoffs,” James said. “It’s not our concern, really.”
Perhaps not. But it is what they do.