It is still too early for a final answer, with the stakes yet to be raised. But after becoming an afterthought at the end of last season's championship run, the Miami Heat's bench may actually be a factor this postseason.

Granted, several elements contributed to the impressive effort of the Heat bench in the first-round sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks, including the level of competition, the knee injury that limited Dwyane Wade and the decision to keep Shane Battier as a reserve.

But unlike during the latter stages of last season's playoffs, when there only option seemingly was major minutes for the starters, the outlook appears to have changed for coach Erik Spoelstra.

"In Game 2, they saved us," Spoelstra said of the first round. "In the other games, the last two games, we felt the dynamic was a little bit more from the sense of we wore on them and that second unit came in as a body blow. And that's initially how we envisioned that group, to come in with great energy, toughness, defensive presence."

While an enduring memory of last season's championship run was Mike Miller making 7 of 8 3-pointers to close out the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the reality was that Spoelstra not only tightened his bench to Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem, James Jones and Miller, but that only Haslem received consistent minutes.