When the Heat started its run to the championship last spring, point guard Norris Cole didn’t have much say in Miami’s first-round knockout of the Knicks.
Cole, then a rookie, played just more than six minutes — combined — in Miami’s wins in Games 2 and 3 and never left the bench in the final two games of that series.
That wasn’t the case in the opening round of these playoffs.
Cole not only found more playing time this postseason but a bigger role as Miami’s main option at the point in the fourth quarter.
“This is fun,” Cole said. “The time of year we’ve all been waiting for. This is when it all counts.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra was quick to praise both of Miami’s point guard options with Cole and the more experienced Mario Chalmers both seeing an increased amount of court time during the sweep of the Bucks.
In last year’s postseason, Miami used LeBron James and Dwyane Wade more at the point than it did against the Bucks.
“They [Chalmers and Cole] are both giving us positive, consistent minutes, and we’re playing more point guard basketball than we have in the past,” Spoelstra said after Wednesday’s practice at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“It’s been an interesting, subtle change in our game, but those guys have been earning those minutes. We have confidence in them. More importantly, their teammates have confidence in them. You need that in a playoff series.”
Spoelstra likes how Cole has been working on his offense, pointing out how he will wait until everyone else is out of the gym before he calls it a day.
Cole works on his jump shot long after practice ends, yet it is his defense that has led him to the court in the fourth.
“Having [Chalmers] and Cole is definitely beneficial to our team,” James said.
“Norris’ ability, with his speed and his strength, is on defense. I think he’s one of the best on-ball defenders that we have in the Eastern Conference if not the whole league. He will get some credit on that soon.”
Cole played almost 29 minutes in Miami’s Game 1 win over Milwaukee and played more than 20 minutes in the first three wins before dropping off to 13:21 in Game 4. In these playoffs, Cole has eight assists and 24 points.
Chalmers, who is in his fourth postseason with the Heat, averaged just more than 28 minutes in the opening round with 26 points, 18 assists and seven steals.
“I haven’t looked back on last year, but just look at the progress I’ve made this year,” Cole said. “I’ve put in the hard work, and I’m trying to put that to use during the games.”
Said Spoelstra: “He’s getting so much more education and experience than he had last year. He’s earned a bigger role.”
Cole was a first-round pick out of Cleveland State in 2012 by the Bulls before being acquired by Miami. Cole shot out of the gate in his rookie season and grabbed headlines by scoring 20 points — with four three-pointers — in the Heat’s 2011-12 home-opening win over the Celtics.
In the playoffs, however, Cole found playing time to be sporadic at best. He didn’t play in the final two games of the Knicks series, and also didn’t play in Game 1 of the east semifinals against the Pacers. He followed that up by getting more than 17 minutes in Game 2.
In Miami’s Game 7 win over the Celtics to earn a berth in the NBA Finals, Cole played 90 seconds — yet was handed the Eastern Conference championship trophy by owner Micky Arison.
The Heat has won all five postseason series since Cole joined the team.
“That’s a good feeling,” Cole said, “but it’s not something I really think about. This job is a day-to-day job. You have to stay in the moment, and that’s how I approach it. I come in each day and take care of what I have to that particular day. That’s the only way you can get better.’’
The Waiting game
The Heat continued to wait for its second-round opponent as Chicago played host to Brooklyn in Game 6 of its opening-round series Thursday night.
Regardless of the opponent, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals will be in Miami on Monday.
Spoelstra said Wednesday he isn’t rooting for anyone in this series and is watching as an “interested observer.” The Heat went 2-2 against the Bulls and 3-0 against the Nets.
Miami took Thursday off but will return to practice Friday morning.
“We’re not focusing on either team,” Spoelstra said.
“Our scouting department is a little more detailed with each team, but it’s not that way with us. We’ll deal with whomever we’re given. We have enough experience to know not to get into that game; be careful what you wish for. We can’t control it so lets just wait and prepare our bodies and our minds.”