John Wall and Bradley Beal make their playoff debuts Sunday in Chicago. No matter what happens against the Bulls, the Wizards backcourt pair won't be any worse than Dwyane Wade in his first-ever postseason road game.
As a rookie with the Heat during the 2003-04 playoffs, Wade scored 21 and 15 points in the opening games of a best-of-7 series with the New Orleans Hornets. Not a bad start especially since the Heat won both home games. Eventually Miami would advance into the second round.
First, the series shifted to New Orleans. Then Wade learned what all the talk about playoff intensity was no joke.
"My first postseason, we won in seven games," Wade said before Miami faced Washington on Monday night at the Verizon Center. "But I remember my first road game. It woke me up early to the NBA life. I think I had like two points."
Not just only two points, but he missed seven of eight shots from the field and committed six turnovers in a Miami loss.
Clearly, Wade recovered. In those playoffs he reached double-digit points in Miami's remaining 10 games. Three NBA titles and four finals appearances would follow in the years to come.
Norris Cole entered the NBA in 2011, selected by the Heat in the first round, 28th overall. That meant joining Wade, Lebron James and Dwyane Wade after the Big 3 lost in the finals to the Dallas Mavericks. Even under that intense spotlight that came with that crew throughout the regular season, Cole quickly realized the difference in the postseason.
"The room for error decreases. It's just a different feel to it, that's the best way I can describe it," Cole said in the Heat locker room. "The best players are playing at their best. The best teams end up playing at their best.
"As a young player on the best team, I had to boost up if I didn't want to get left behind. Speed up my game mentally and physically. It helped me out and it's going to help me out as my career progresses."
Who knows what's to come for Wall and Beal over the rest of their career. Perceptions of their future, especially nationally, could look dramatically different even two weeks from now depending on their level of success against Chicago's NBA-best scoring defense. Either way, the backcourt tandem will have a playoff series under their belt. From Wade's perspective and in that context of growing as players, that is half the battle.
"Just the experience itself," Wade said. "It's a different level than you see in the regular season, different intensity. I think when [Wall and Beal] get in it, they'll find out it's a different level. Those guys are top of the line players even though they're so young. They're great young players."