The most noticeable moment of the 2011 NBA Finals for Norris Cole was watching the Miami Heat struggle to defend the opposing point guard.
Cole, then a college senior, specifically focused on Dallas Mavericks guard J.J. Barea, who became the breakout star by averaging 8.8 points and 3.2 assists during the series.
"When I was watching it, I couldn't believe it," Cole said.
The goal for Cole was avoiding a repeat Tuesday when he faced Barea, now with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Barea finished with 10 points, but only shot 3 of 9 from the field. He spent most of the game being hounded by Cole, who disrupted Minnesota's halfcourt offense most of the night.
"I remember what he did to this team [in the Finals]," Cole said. "I was watching in college what he did to this team a couple years ago. I didn't want him to do that to us with me guarding him. I was just playing the game. That's one of the gifts that I bring to the team is my on-ball defense and my aggressiveness. It's not every night I get to go against somebody smaller than me."
Cole continues to help the Heat become a better defensive team, especially at point guard. Barea, in fact, said Miami is much improved in the area because the growth of Cole and Mario Chalmers. The Heat in 2010-11 were older at the position, with Mike Bibby and Eddie House on the roster.
"They're a little bit younger and quicker at the point," Barea said. They're just a little bit smarter. (Heat coach Erik) Spoelstra is doing a good job of putting Chalmers and Cole in good situations."
Cole finished Tuesday's game with two steals and two blocks.
"He's always been that defensive-stopper," center Chris Bosh said. "That's all he wants to do is play defense and get his box haircut. He works extremely hard."
Shane Battier is often at a disadvantage because of size when defending power forwards. He uses what he calls "tricks" to make up for it.
Battier opened the whole bag when defending the Timberwolves' Kevin Love.
"Well, it's a man's game down there," Battier said. "Everyone gets away with their own little tricks. I can't divulge that. Read my book in two years."
Love said he respects Battier's defense, but felt he got away with a lot of fouls in the paint.
"I kept telling the refs you're going to go back to the tape and see a lot but he's done it his whole career," Love said. "He continues to get away with that stuff. He's a good defender. He plays to his strengths and he's limited in a lot of ways but he's still able to get the job done. But he knows he was fouling a lot out there."
CHALMERS GETTING HEALTHY
Chalmers tied his season-high with 12 points on four 3-pointers against the Timberwolves. It was his first double-figure scoring game since Nov. 11 against the Phoenix Suns, a span of 10 games.
Chalmers said he is finally starting to feel healthy after tearing a tendon in the ring finger on his left non-shooting hand. The protective wrap he's worn since sustaining the injury Dec. 4 against the Washington Wizards had caused discomfort.
"I'm just trying to get back to the way I played in the Finals," Chalmers said.
HEAT 'NOT THE `BEST'
Dwyane Wade wasn't alone in saying the Heat had to work to do. He told ESPN, "right now we're not the best team in the NBA. We have to work to be the best team in the NBA."
After needing to rally against Minnesota, Bosh agreed the Heat are still improving.
"Not right now," Bosh said. "We've got to pick it up a little bit to catch ourselves from last year. It's a new year. We just have to slowly build back to that place."