They also got the opportunity to let several key players, including their Big Three LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, rest and heal up from nagging injuries while giving backups more playing time.
And those backups didn’t just play. They also won.
In their last 10 games, the Heat went 9-1 even though only once were James, Wade, and Bosh all available. Even in the game all three played, a 109-101 win over Boston on April 13, the Heat were without Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier.
Thus it will be a deeper and more game-tested Heat club that will begin defense of its NBA title when they host Milwaukee Sunday night in the first game of their first-round Eastern Conference series.
Probably the biggest beneficiary of the extra time on the court has been forward Rashard Lewis. Over the last 10 games of the regular season, Lewis averaged over 28 minutes an appearance and scored in double figures six times.
In 45 games through the first five months, he had reached the 20-minute mark in a game only four times -- three of them in November -- and scored in double figures only six times.
Guard Norris Cole was averaging less than 20 minutes a game as Chalmers’ backup at the point for most of the year, but he averaged over 29 minutes a game over the last 10. He, too, was in double figures in scoring six times, doubling his total of double-digit performances for the year.
Against Cleveland in the next-to-last-game of the regular season, he went from potential goal to hero in a matter of seconds. He missed two free throws that would have put the Heat up by three points with 14.2 seconds left, but then blocked Kyrie Irving’s attempt at a game-winner with three seconds remaining to preserve the Heat’s one-point win over the Cavs. He just missed a triple-double in that game, coming up 16 points and 11 rebounds but coming up an assist short with nine.
Forward Chris Anderson, who joined the team in late January, hadn’t played more than 18 minutes a game through his first 32 appearances with the Heat, but he averaged 19 minutes an appearance with three games with at least 22 minutes over the last 10.
And forward Mike Miller, who had played a total of 25 minutes for March until starting for an injured Wade against Charlotte on March 24, averaged nearly 27 minutes a game over his last 10 outings.
Their minutes are almost certain to go down with a healthy Heat roster available for the playoffs, but reducing their playing time is not necessarily going to make them unhappy, coach Eric Spoelstra said Saturday.
“The biggest word we had all year was sacrifice,” Spoelstra said. “Our guys understand that during the playoffs it’s whatever it takes to get the job done.
“They’ve made it very easy for me with their buy-in, that they’re willing to sacrifice. That might mean proven players might not get the opportunity to play one game.
“But what we’ve learned the last two years is that every single player at some point gets called upon, and they’ll have the opportunity for their moments” -- he stressed the plural -- “to help us have, hopefully, the ultimate moment.
“That’s what it’s about. Our guys are playing for the right reasons, and they’ve had to sacrifice a great deal to be a part of this.”