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dbarmmer

777_JamesEnnisDylan_150330.jpg

By Dylan Barmmer

It has been a fascinating and intriguing journey for James Ennis. With quite a few miles traveled along the way.

Over the past three years, the ultra-athletic, cat-quick Ennis has gone from under-the-radar college star at Long Beach State to champion and league MVP candidate in Australia to his current role – an intriguing and versatile component of the HEAT’s rotation.

Now that he’s been with the HEAT for several months, coaches, teammates and fans alike are beginning to see more and more of what made the dynamic 24-year-old swingman so successful in previous programs.

The 6-foot-7, 208-pound Ennis grew up in Ventura, California, and went on to basketball stardom at Ventura High School before splitting his first two college seasons between Oxnard College (2009-10) and Ventura College (2010-11). Ennis moved on to Long Beach State in 2011, and found great success in two seasons as a starter for the 49ers.

As a junior in the 2011-2012 season, Ennis averaged 10.0 points and 4.1 rebounds per game and helped lead the 49ers to the Big West Conference title. The explosive Ennis also garnered All-Big West Conference honors in his first season at Long Beach State.

As a senior in the 2012-13 season, Ennis really came into his own, averaging 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while leading the 49ers to a second consecutive Big West Conference title. Ennis was also named Big West Player of the Year and an Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American.

That season gave Ennis added buzz among NBA personnel people. The Atlanta Hawks selected Ennis in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft, tabbing him with the 50th overall pick. His draft rights were then immediately traded to the HEAT – but Ennis would spend his first professional basketball season not only miles away from Miami, but far away from the NBA as he signed with the Perth Wildcats of Australia’s National Basketball League prior to their 2013-14 season.

Ennis wasted no time starring in and at times dominating the NBL, averaging 21.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 steals in 31.7 minutes a game over 33 games. Ennis started all but one of those games for the Wildcats at the small forward spot, and shot 46.6 percent from the field, including 35.5 percent from behind the three-point arc.

More importantly, Ennis helped lead the Wildcats to victory in the 2014 NBL Championship. He finished third in NBL MVP voting, and won a handful of other league honors, including Forward of the Year and Import Player of the Year. He was also named All-NBL First Team and awarded the Gordon Ellis Medal as the Wildcats’ team MVP.

Not satisfied with dominating the competition in Australia, Ennis then immediately moved on to Puerto Rico, where he averaged 16.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks in 33.6 minutes over 12 games for Piratas de Quebradillas. Ennis started all 12 of those games for Piratas, shooting 47 percent from the field.

In June of 2014, Ennis left Puerto Rico to return to the continental U.S. – and pursue his ultimate dream of an NBA career. Playing for the HEAT’s entry in the NBA Summer League for the second straight summer, Ennis dazzled with his leaping ability, quick hands, ferocious dunking and accurate outside shooting, prompting the HEAT to officially sign Ennis to an NBA contract on July 15, 2014.

Ennis got his first taste of NBA action in the HEAT’s 2014-15 season opener, scoring five points and grabbing two rebounds in 15 minutes of action as the HEAT posted a 107-95 win over the Washington Wizards on Oct. 29, 2014. Ennis’ most talked-about moment in his debut was a thunderous fourth-quarter dunk over former HEAT swingman Rasual Butler – an explosive and vicious jam that made numerous highlight reels.

With an array of injuries slowing starters Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng, and key reserve Chris Andersen also battling assorted ailments, Ennis factored heavily into coach Erik Spoelstra’s rotation from mid-November through late-December. Given the opportunity to showcase his still-expanding skill set, Ennis flashed moments of excellence and suggested he could serve as a powerful sparkplug off the HEAT bench in the months and years to come.

Over a 20-game stretch from Nov. 16 through Dec. 23, Ennis saw 12 minutes or more of game action 14 times – including 22 minutes or more in six of those 20 games. He scored seven or more points in seven of those 20 games, including a 10-point outing in a 95-83 win at Brooklyn on Nov. 17 and a career-high 16-point outburst in a 100-84 victory over Boston on Dec. 21. Ennis also showcased his rebounding abilities during this run of games, pulling down a career-high eight rebounds in that win over the Celtics and posting an eight-point, eight-rebound performance in a 114-97 loss to Golden State on Nov. 25.

Ennis fell out of the HEAT playing rotation over the final week of 2014, but nagging leg injuries to Wade and Deng provided the high-energy reserve with additional opportunities in much of January. Given the chance to provide and produce more, Ennis once again delivered.

Ennis logged at least 15 minutes of floor time for the HEAT six times in January and scored seven or more points in three different games. Overall, he appeared in 10 games in the first month of 2015, averaging 4.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 0.5 steals over 17.1 minutes per game. Ennis’ finest January performance came in a 93-72 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 30, when he scored 15 points and hauled in four rebounds in 32 minutes of action. Ennis nailed 6-of-12 shots in that game, including 3-of-5 from long-range. His most emphatic basket came on a sensational, powerful alley-oop dunk on a pass from Mario Chalmers, and the tomahawk jam ignited the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd.

Two days later in Boston, Ennis again showed strong against the Celtics, recording eight points, three rebounds and a steal in an important 83-75 road win on Feb. 1. Ennis played 24 high-energy minutes in that game, and connected on 3-of-6 shots from the field. He also hit both of his free throw attempts, and his scoring output off the HEAT bench ended up being the difference in the eight-point victory.

Ennis would go on to appear in seven more games in February, and averaged 3.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per game for the month. The HEAT went 4-4 in the eight games Ennis appeared in during the month. When the HEAT signed gritty veteran Henry Walker towards the end of February, the still-learning Ennis faced an even tougher climb back into Spoelstra’s regular rotation.

Ennis has appeared in just six games in March, but he’s made a major impact in all but one of those games (and he only played one minute in that one). With the HEAT battling for a playoff spot down the season’s stretch and Wade, Deng, Andersen and Hassan Whiteside all missing varying amounts of time due to injuries, Ennis has done a little bit of everything when presented with the opportunity to again showcase his skills. And he’s done it while being asked to sit out eight consecutive games in between those opportunities.

Ennis appeared in three of the HEAT’s first four games in March, posting an 11-point, five-rebound performance during a tough 99-97 loss at Washington on March 6. Then came the eight consecutive stints on the sidelines, before Ennis reemerged as a strong cog off the HEAT bench over the past three games.

Ennis has delivered on Spoelstra’s decision to once again re-insert him into the rotation, scoring at least six points in each of those three games and pulling down six rebounds in two of them. His six-point, six-rebound, two-block performance helped key a crucial 93-86 victory over the Celtics on March 25, and on March 29, Ennis tied his career-high with 16 points and pulled down six rebounds in a 109-102 win over the Detroit Pistons.

Ennis has averaged 7.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 17.7 minutes per game in his six March appearances. He’s also shot a sizzling 56.5 percent from the field, including a remarkable 58.3 percent (7-of-12) from behind the three-point arc. Most importantly, the HEAT are 4-2 in those six games.

All told, Ennis has appeared in 53 games for the HEAT in his first NBA season. He’s averaging 4.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.6 assists in 15.2 minutes per game. He’s shooting 40.7 percent from the field, including 34.8 percent from long-range, and an outstanding 83.6 percent from the line.

Ennis has scored seven or more points in 15 of those 52 games, and grabbed three or more rebounds 20 different times. Ennis has scored at least 10 points in five different games, and grabbed six or more rebounds eight times.

Ennis has also thrilled HEAT fans and ignited teammates with a handful of high-flying, eye-popping, rim-rocking dunks – with the jam against the Mavericks and the season-opening stuff over the Wizards both gaining national acclaim.

As he begins to develop more experience, confidence, insight and savvy on the HEAT practice court and in critical NBA game situations, Ennis only figures to become an even more valuable, versatile and exciting option for Spoelstra to utilize off the HEAT bench. With the HEAT challenged by injuries this season, Ennis has even made a spot start, with that lone start coming just nine games into his first NBA season.

Ennis can play both the small forward and shooting guard positions, and his quickness, energy, leaping ability and overall athleticism are the kind of assets any team would welcome. As the HEAT launch full sprint into the stretch run of this intriguing and eventful 2014-15 season, Ennis stands ready to provide a serious jolt of energy, excitement and athleticism off the HEAT bench.

dbarmmer

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By Dylan Barmmer

This is not Henry Walker’s first go-around in the NBA.

Although technically, it just might be.

Formerly known as Bill Walker, the talented new HEAT swingman was once a standout sub for the New York Knicks, appearing in 121 games over parts of three seasons from 2010 through 2012. And even before his time with the Knicks, the former college teammate of HEAT forward Michael Beasley was the 47th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft who would soon appear in 37 games with the Boston Celtics.

But that was then. That was Bill Walker.

This is now. This is Henry Walker.

And this time around, Walker has wasted no time making his “new” name known. To HEAT teammates. HEAT fans. And observers all around basketball’s premier professional league.

Call him Henry. Call him Bill. Call him William Henry Walker (his given name, in full). Call him…

Clutch.

Or, in the words of HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra:

Fearless.

The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Walker has been all of these things and more in his first six games in a HEAT uniform. Determined to make the most of his second NBA chance, the seasoned swingman is playing with a tenacity that could pay huge dividends for the HEAT as they enter the stretch run of the 2014-15 season with a playoff berth hanging in the balance.

It has certainly been an instant impact. Signed to a 10-day contract with the HEAT after carefully honing his craft in three different leagues in the United States, Venezuela and the Philippines since his last NBA action in 2012, Walker became only the third player in HEAT history to score at least 10 points off the bench in each of his first three games with the club.

Walker made his HEAT debut against Philadelphia on Feb. 23, and promptly scored 11 points in 21 minutes off the bench to help pace the HEAT to a 119-108 victory. Walker connected on 4-of-5 shots – drilling three threes and throwing down a thunderous dunk.

Walker’s performance in his next game was not nearly as smooth, but it was certainly more dramatic. Playing a season-high 33 minutes, Walker scored 10 points, pulled down six rebounds, dished two assists and snared two steals in a 93-90 overtime road win at Orlando. Walker finished 3-of-13 from the field, including 2-of-11 from long-range, but those two threes were nothing short of game-changing.

The HEAT trailed 83-75 with just 37 seconds remaining on the clock, but Walker calmly drilled a pair of long threes to punctuate a 10-2 run that forced an 85-85 tie at the end of regulation. The HEAT went on to post a 93-90 win, and Walker immediately etched his new name into the annals of HEAT history.

Walker’s first game-turning bomb came from 26 feet away with 22 seconds left on the clock, and cut the Magic lead to 84-82. Even though Walker had shot just 1-for-11 from the field (including 0-for-9 from long-range) up to that point, Spoelstra called a play to free Walker for the shot, and he delivered in dramatic fashion.

After Magic rookie Victor Oladipo made just one of two free-throw attempts to put Orlando up 85-82 with 21 seconds remaining, Walker again found himself with the ball in his hands, drilling another long 3-pointer off a slick pass from Dwyane Wade to even the score at 85-85 with just two seconds left in regulation. The HEAT won overtime, 8-5, to win the game 93-90 and deflate their in-state rivals.

“He kept on shooting, and that’s what you like,” Spoelstra said after the game. “He has fearlessness about him.”

When asked by the HEAT’s Jason Jackson to recap his heroics, Walker himself insisted he had “nothing to lose,” adding that he “can’t be scared” of such moments.

“I’m just glad they had faith in me,” Walker told Jackson. “I’m glad Dwyane threw that thing to me. I’ve been through a lot. I’m a fighter. I missed a lot of shots, but I stayed in there and made it.”

Two nights later, Walker put forth another bold and big-time performance, scoring a season-high 16 points and grabbing three rebounds in a tough 104-102 loss at New Orleans. Walker hit 6-of-13 shots in that game, including 4-of-9 from 3-point range, and was on the floor for 31 minutes of the hotly contested game.

The next night, with the HEAT facing the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks on the second half of a back-to-back, Walker got his first start in a HEAT uniform. As part of a three-guard lineup alongside Wade and the newly acquired Goran Dragic, Walker scored 10 points, grabbed two rebounds and dished an assist in 26 minutes.

Two nights later against Phoenix, Walker got into some foul trouble and managed just 12 minutes on the court, but he still made an impact on the game with four rebounds and an assist. Most importantly, the HEAT posted an impressive 115-98 win.

And in a March 4 meeting with the L.A. Lakers, Walker scored eight points, pulled down one rebound and added an assist and a steal during a 100-94 win. Walker was on the floor for 25 minutes of that game, including the closing minutes of a very tight game.

In six games with the HEAT, Walker has averaged 9.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 24.8 minutes per game. He’s drilled 13 3-pointers, including two or more in five of those six games. And he’s given the HEAT a true spark, attitude and edge off the bench. The HEAT are 4-2 in the six games Walker has taken the floor, with each of the two losses coming by just two points.

While Walker’s instant impact may look like something out-of-the-blue on the surface, the truth is that the HEAT have been preparing to showcase his talents for awhile now.

Walker was originally acquired by the HEAT’s NBA Development League affiliate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on April 3, 2013 – his second NBADL stop since he was cut loose by the Knicks nearly a year earlier. He never played a game for the Skyforce, opting to sign with Trotamundos de Carabobo of Venezuela’s Liga Profesional de Baloncesto on May 20.

But on October 31, 2013, Walker was reacquired by the Skyforce, and he spent the 2013-14 NBADL season with the club. Walker made a huge impact, averaging 14.7 points and 5.6 rebounds in 29.5 minutes a game over 48 games for the Skyforce, starting 33 of those 48 while shooting 44.7 percent from the floor, including 35.6 percent from long-range. Walker also produced in volume, drilling 98 3-pointers in those 48 games.

After a short stint with the Alaska Aces in the Philippine Basketball Association early last year, Walker returned to Sioux Falls and the NBADL. In 17 games with the Skyforce this season, he averaged 15.1 points, starting eight of those 17 games while shooting 46.8 percent.

With the recent three-team trade deadline deal that brought playmaking veteran Goran Dragic and his brother Zoran to the HEAT, a spot on the HEAT roster opened up for Walker. Spoelstra and the HEAT quickly called him up from Sioux Falls, then wasted little time calling his number.

Walker has eagerly and aggressively answered the calls, and recently earned a second 10-day contract from the club as a reward for his performance.

Walker is still relatively young – in age and in NBA experience and “mileage.” His strongest overall NBA season came in 2009-10, when the New York Knicks acquired him in a trade with the Celtics. After appearing in a limited role in just 37 games for Boston over the previous season-and-a-half, Walker arrived in New York with former HEAT standout Eddie House and J.R. Giddens in exchange for Nate Robinson and Marcus Landry – and made an immediate impact as a hard-charging, sweet-shooting sparkplug for the Knicks.

Walker drained 50 3-pointers in those 27 games for the Knicks, and finished second in the entire NBA with a “true shooting percentage” of 64.9 for the 2009-10 season.

Walker played a prominent role off the Knicks’ bench the following season, averaging 12.9 minutes per game. He appeared in a career-high 61 games, and shot 44.1 percent from the field, including 38.6 percent from 3-point territory. Walker canned a career-high 59 3-pointers that season, and also pulled down a career-best 122 rebounds. The Knicks won 13 more games than they had the previous season, making the 2011 NBA Playoffs as the sixth seed after posting a 42-40 regular season record.

But the Knicks opted to release Walker in April of 2012. Thus began a nearly three-year basketball odyssey that traversed various corners of the globe and a few NBADL cities before reaching the sunny shores of Miami. It’s an inspiring and amazing basketball journey not unlike the recent road traveled by HEAT center Hassan Whiteside. Hard to follow. And even harder to believe.

Whiteside has been an absolute revelation for the HEAT, not only reclaiming a stalled NBA career, but emerging as a unique and dominant force during the most recent act and arc of his career. The HEAT hope that Walker can author a similarly scintillating comeback story – and help them finish a challenging season strong to reach the postseason for a seventh straight year.

After Watching Walker’s performance in his first six games in a HEAT uniform, there’s reason to believe in such a scenario. The statistical accomplishments and shooting heroics are impressive in and of themselves. But when you take a closer look at Walker and his package of size, skills and experience, things look even more promising. You also start to see why Spoelstra and his staff have been keeping close tabs on him for the past several seasons.

Walker is big, long, athletic and powerful. He can play up to three different positions, and while knee injuries have curtailed some of his explosiveness over the years, he remains an excellent and agile athlete – as evidenced by that dunk in his first game with the HEAT.

During his high school days in Ohio, Walker was regarded as an elite athlete and leaper. Dubbed “Sky Walker” by some and compared to Vince Carter by others, Walker teamed with fellow basketball prodigy – and current Milwaukee Buck – O.J. Mayo to lead North College Hill High School to rarefied air (including back-to-back state titles), along with starring appearances in just about every prep all-star affair imaginable.

In fact, Walker ranks as the only prep player to ever earn MVP honors three times at the prestigious Reebok ABCD Camp. He also played on the undefeated (5-0) USA White team at the 2005 USA Youth Development Festival.

Walker went on to sign with Kansas State, where he planned to team up with Beasley to give the Wildcats a formidable one-two punch. Walker’s freshman season was slowed by the first of a handful of knee injuries, but he bounced back to average 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds in 31 games as a sophomore in the 2007-08 season. He then decided to declare for the NBA Draft.

Selected by Washington in the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft and then immediately traded to Boston, the West Virginia native and Ohio prep star had no idea he was about to embark on a professional basketball journey that would see him bounce from the northeast U.S. to Venezuela to the Philippines and then back to the southeast U.S. He probably never imagined he would play in four different leagues in three different countries during a particularly hectic three-year stretch.

But through it all, Walker has emerged tougher, humbler and more seasoned than ever before. His brilliant smile suggests that he’s still enjoying the journey, and why not?

He is Henry Walker now. He is back in the NBA. And he is, in a word:

Fearless.

dbarmmer

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By Dylan Barmmer

There are examples of immediate impact.

There are improbable and inspiring stories.

And then there is Hassan Whiteside.

What the HEAT’s inspired and inspiring new center is doing in his first NBA action since the 2011-12 season has been all of this and more – and the amazing accomplishments just continue to unfold with each game.

In fact, in just two-and-a-half months in a HEAT uniform, the 25-year-old Whiteside has flat-out dominated a handful of games, set a few HEAT franchise records, and even etched his name into the annals of NBA history during a particularly amazing performance – which also happened to be nationally televised on a weekend.

On one hand, it’s not too hard to see how this could happen. Standing at a full seven feet with incredibly long arms and an athletic and agile 265-pound frame, Whiteside’s presence alone is guaranteed to intimidate and frustrate the opposition.

But in the curious case of Hassan Whiteside, that rare and powerful presence exists hand-in-hand, step-by-step, shot-by-shot, rebound-by-rebound and block-by-block with production.

In fact, the production is one of the main themes of this story. And it’s a story that continues to amaze at nearly each and every turn.

Consider the following plot twists and story developments:

Signed after being cut by the Memphis Grizzlies (who he never played a single minute of a single game for) just before Thanksgiving of 2014, Whiteside quietly made his HEAT debut during a 107-86 loss to the Washington Wizards on Dec. 1, 2014. Playing just two minutes of the fourth quarter, Whiteside missed a pair of free throws and grabbed a rebound in those two minutes.

Whiteside would make just two brief appearances over the HEAT’s next nine games, but in those seven short minutes, he scored six points, pulled down three rebounds and blocked a shot. A short stint with the HEAT’s NBA Development League affiliate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota followed. Then, on Dec. 19, again against Washington, Whiteside got his first extended look in HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra’s rotation, and the production was again immediate.

During 16 minutes of a tough 105-103 loss to the Wizards, Whiteside scored six points, pulled down seven rebounds, snared two steals and blocked a shot. He also collected five personal fouls, however, limiting his further availability in the game.

In the HEAT’s nationally televised 101-91 win over the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas Day, Whiteside made a brief appearance, grabbing three rebounds and blocking a shot in eight minutes of action. In the HEAT’s next game, a 103-95 loss to the Grizzlies on Dec. 27, Whiteside scored two points and grabbed seven rebounds in 16 minutes against his former team – a performance that sparked his inclusion in the HEAT rotation and began a run of 11 consecutive games with at least 10 minutes of playing time. Whiteside was once again highly productive during that stretch, grabbing at least seven rebounds in eight of those 11 games and scoring at least 10 points seven times. He also blocked three or more shots five times, and recorded 29 total blocks during that strong 11-game run.

Whiteside also recorded the first three double-doubles of his suddenly budding NBA career during that 11-game stretch. His 11-point, 10-rebound, five-block performance keyed an 88-84 win over Brooklyn on Jan. 4, and his 23-point, 16-rebound, two-block, two-steal explosion sparked a 104-90 victory over the Clippers in Los Angeles on Jan. 11. He also scored 10 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots during a 104-89 loss at Golden State on Jan. 14. That game also marked Whiteside’s first career NBA start.

Whiteside recorded all three of those double-doubles while playing just 29 minutes or less, and two of them came in a reserve role. The massive game off the bench against the Clippers was especially impressive, as his 23 points and 16 rebounds came in just 29 minutes, and both represented career highs for the young big man. Whiteside also became the first HEAT player with at least 20 points and 15 rebounds off the bench since the legendary Alonzo Mourning accomplished that feat – in April of 2001.

This stretch of strong play ended only because Whiteside sprained his right ankle early in a 94-86 loss to Oklahoma City on Jan. 20. At the time of the injury, Whiteside had scored 10 points on flawless 5-for-5 shooting, grabbed two rebounds and blocked a shot – all in just 11 minutes of action.

Whiteside would sit out the HEAT’s next two games to rest the ankle, but when he returned in a nationally televised game at Chicago on Jan. 25, he made a comeback that was not only impactful, but also historical – for both the HEAT and the entire NBA.

Matched against the Bulls’ imposing and towering veteran frontline, Whiteside was brilliant and dominant as soon as he entered that game, and by the time the final buzzer had sounded on a convincing 96-84 HEAT win, he had racked up not just another double-double – but his first career triple-double.

Whiteside’s 14 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocked shots came in under 25 minutes off the bench, and the performance was historical on several levels. The 12 blocks easily surpassed Mourning’s long-standing single-game HEAT record of nine, and he became just the eighth HEAT player to record a triple-double, but the full impact of Whiteside’s dominating performance ran even deeper.

Since blocks were first tracked as an official statistic by the NBA in the 1973-74 season, Whiteside became the first player to record a triple-double that included 10 or more blocks while playing 25 minutes or less. He also became just the third player in the NBA’s shot-clock era to record any kind of triple-double in 25 minutes or less – with Thunder star Russell Westbrook the only player to ever record a triple-double in less playing time.

Whiteside also became the first player with at least 12 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks in a single game since former Dallas Mavericks center Shawn Bradley did it on April 7, 1998. In the past 25 NBA seasons, the only other players to meet that “Triple-Dozen” standard were former HEAT great Shaquille O’Neal (in 1993-94 with the Orlando Magic), Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Mark Eaton. Whiteside, Bradley and Eaton are the only three players to ever do so while coming off the bench.

Additionally, Whiteside became the first player to block 12 or more shots in 25 minutes or less since Manute Bol blocked 13 shots in 20 minutes for Golden State on March 21, 1989. Bol and Bradley also rank as two of the three tallest players in NBA history at 7-foot-7 and 7-foot-6, respectively.

That historically dominant outing against the Bulls kicked off a current six-game streak of basketball brilliance for Whiteside, who continues to amaze, excite and inspire HEAT fans, teammates and coaches alike. Whiteside has posted a double-double in all but one of the HEAT’s past six games, finishing with 20 points and nine rebounds (and three blocks) in that one near-miss. He’s scored 16 or more points four times and grabbed at least 16 rebounds in three of those six games.

Whiteside is averaging 16.8 points, 15.3 rebounds and 3.83 blocks in 30 minutes per game during his current six-game surge. He’s hit 46-of-75 field goals (61.3 percent) during this run, and turned the ball over just 10 times in 180 minutes.

Most recently, Whiteside authored the first 20-20 game of his young NBA career. The 24-point, 20-rebound, three-steal and two-block tour de force came during a tough 102-101 loss at Minnesota on Feb. 4. Whiteside set a new career high and led all HEAT scorers with those 24 points, and did so on near-perfect 12-of-13 shooting – since 1970, that 92.3 percentage was the third highest in a 20-20 game – from the field. He set another HEAT record by opening the game a flawless 11-for-11 before his first miss, while also marking the highest shooting percentage in a road game in HEAT history, with a minimum of 10 attempts.

The way Whiteside is rolling right now is truly remarkable, for any player. But to fully appreciate what Whiteside is now doing, however, you have to take a closer look at where and how his professional basketball career began – and the many twists and turns it has taken since.

The native of Gastonia, NC attended six different high schools in two different states, concluding his prep career by leading The Patterson School in Lenoir, NC to a 34-2 record and No. 1 national ranking during the 2008-09 high school season. Even so, Whiteside was ranked as just the No. 19 center in the Class of 2009 by Scout.com, and the No. 87 overall recruit by rivalshoops.com.

Whiteside joined Patterson School teammate DeAndre Kane at Marshall University for the 2009-10 college season, and wasted no time in establishing himself as a towering force for the Thundering Herd. As a true freshman at Marshall, Whiteside racked up a 14-point, 17-rebound, nine-block game in a 60-53 win over Ohio on Nov. 28, 2009 – then notched the Thundering Herd’s first-ever triple-double with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 11 blocks in a 105-54 rout of Brescia. Whiteside would go on to record two more triple-doubles (both against Central Florida) during his standout freshman season, and proved himself as a truly dominant shot-blocking force.

Just 20 years old at the time, Whiteside led the nation with 182 blocked shots during the 2009-10 college season. That total also broke Jerome Jordan’s existing Conference USA single-season record, and set a new mark for Marshall – not just for a single season, but for an entire college career. The 182 blocked shots also established a new NCAA record for a freshman in a single season – topping the previous record of 177 blocks by Shawn Bradley at BYU in 1990-91.

In March of 2010, shortly after Marshall coach Donnie Jones left to take the reins at UCF, Whiteside decided to test the waters of the 2010 NBA Draft where the Sacramento Kings selected Whiteside in the second round, tabbing him with the draft’s 33rd overall pick.

Whiteside would appear in just two minutes of one game for the Kings during the 2010-11 season, accumulating no stats other than two personal fouls. He played part of that season for the Kings’ NBA Development League team in Reno, NV, and would also see action with the Reno Bighorns the following NBA D-League season.

Sacramento gave Whiteside more of an extended look during the 2011-12 NBA season, as he appeared in 18 games off the Kings’ bench. Whiteside averaged 1.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in just 6.1 minutes per game over those 18 games, shooting 44.4 percent from the field.

Committed to the development of talented center DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings opted to release Whiteside on Jul. 16, 2012. The two-plus years that followed are a whirlwind of global basketball activity as Whiteside went on to play for three D-League teams (Sioux Falls, Rio Grande Valley and Iowa), two Chinese NBL teams (Sichuan and Jiangsu Tongxi) and two teams in the Lebanese Basketball League (Amchit Club and Al Mouttahed Tripoli) before eventually signing with the Memphis Grizzlies in the closing months of 2014.

During Whiteside’s worldwide whirlwind journey, he achieved his most remarkable and sustained success with the Sichuan Blue Whales of China’s NBL. Whiteside decided to head overseas to grow his game after the 2012-13 D-League season, and after a short stint with Amchit Club in Lebanon, he joining the Blue Whales on May 26, 2013. Whiteside dominated the competition in 27 games with the Blue Whales, averaging 25.7 points, 16.6 rebounds, 5.11 blocks and 1.41 steals while shooting 56.4 percent from the floor. The Blue Whales rolled to an undefeated playoff run and a NBL Championship, and Whiteside was named NBL Finals MVP. He also earned NBL Defensive Player of the Year, Center of the Year and All-NBL First Team honors.

The rest of 2013 and much of 2014 was split between Lebanon (Al Mouttahed Tripoli) and China (Jiangsu Tongxi), but on Sept. 25, 2014, Whiteside landed the deal with the Grizzlies. His time in Memphis was extremely short-lived, however, as the Grizzlies waived Whiteside less than a month later, on Oct. 22.

Whiteside then rejoined the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA D-League on Oct. 30, only to be traded to the Iowa Energy two days later. Five days after joining the Energy, Whiteside was again re-signed by the Memphis Grizzlies, on Nov. 19. But the Grizzlies again waived Whiteside, this time the very next day, and he rejoined the Energy on Nov. 22.

Just two days later, Whiteside signed with another NBA team. On Nov. 24, the well-traveled big man inked a contract with the HEAT. The rest, as they say, is history. For both the HEAT and the shot-blocking and double-double-posting annals of the NBA.

It’s a journey that seems almost impossible to follow – or comprehend. And in 2014 alone, this basketball odyssey saw Whiteside suit up for seven different teams in four different leagues in three different countries.

Ever since donning a HEAT uniform, Whiteside has been a sheer force to be reckoned with – especially on the defensive end. Whiteside has routinely frustrated and at times flat-out dominated opponents with his rare shot-blocking, shot-altering and rebounding abilities, and his quick, long hands have snared at least one steal in nine different games.

Whiteside’s displays of defensive prowess have often showcased an uncanny ability to not only block and alter shots under several circumstances, but a great sense of timing and anticipation combined with elite quickness and closing ability. He blocks shots from all angles and positions, and his amazing length allows him to block several shots at a downward angle and off backboards – often leading to quick run-outs for the HEAT, rather than an out-of-bounds situation that gives the ball back to the opponent.

During his historic 12-block game in Chicago, Whiteside recorded seven swats as a help defender, with the other five coming in an on-ball defender role. All 12 of those blocks came within six feet of the basket, and five of them came against crafty, powerful and athletic veteran forward Taj Gibson. During the course of his six-year NBA career, the 6-foot-9 Gibson had never had five of his shots blocked by an opposing team prior to his rude introduction to Whiteside. An accomplished scorer, Gibson finished a close second to the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award last season.

In 23 games so far with the HEAT this season, Whiteside has averaged 9.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.48 blocks in just 19.2 minutes per game. He’s also shooting a stunning team-high 64.9 percent from the floor. Whiteside has come off the HEAT bench in all but eight of those 23 games, which makes his production even more impressive.

Just how the season ends for Whiteside and the HEAT remains to be seen, but what is certain is that the still-evolving, 25-year-old big man will excite, produce and at times completely dominate whenever he steps out on the floor. And when paired with perennial NBA All-Star Chris Bosh or fellow veteran big man Chris Andersen, the HEAT feature an imposing frontline that they have lacked in past seasons.

In Hassan Whiteside, the HEAT have truly uncovered a diamond in the rough. And that diamond seems to shine brighter and longer each and every game.

It’s a discovery that was several seasons, teams, leagues and countries in the making. It’s an alliance that was officially formed just days before Thanksgiving. And both the HEAT and Hassan Whiteside are thankful for what’s happened in the two-and-a-half months since.

dbarmmer

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By Dylan Barmmer

His career has been autographed with excellence and achievement. It has also been accented with setbacks and challenges.

And as Danny Granger begins to carve out a niche and flesh out a role during his first season with the HEAT, the versatile veteran looks more and more willing and able to bring something special and impactful to his new teammates and organization.

Granger entered the NBA as a cat-quick, long-limbed, silky-smooth small forward in 2005, joining the Indiana Pacers after a brilliant college career split between Bradley University and the University of New Mexico. In 95 games over four seasons at the two schools, the multi-talented, 6-foot-8 native of New Orleans averaged 16.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Granger averaged at least 18.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists in his final two college seasons at New Mexico, leading the Pacers to select the man nicknamed “Batman” with the 17th overall pick of the 2005 NBA Draft.

Granger served a valuable role off the Pacers’ bench in his first NBA season, appearing in 78 games (and even making 17 spot starts) during the 2005-06 season. He averaged 7.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.8 blocks and 0.7 steals in 22.6 minutes a game, and helped the Pacers carve out a 41-41 record and a postseason appearance. Granger was also named to the All-NBA Rookie Second Team following his strong debut season.

After his rookie season, Granger would soon evolve into the Pacers’ primary offensive threat, becoming more and more of a force over the next several seasons. After averaging 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds and making 57 starts in his second season, Granger averaged at least 18.7 points and 5.0 rebounds and made a minimum of 62 starts over the following five seasons.

Granger’s finest campaign with the Pacers came in 2008-09, when he earned NBA All-Star and Most Improved Player honors by averaging 25.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals in 36.2 minutes a game. Granger started 65 of the 67 games he appeared in for the Pacers that season, and set career-highs in scoring and blocks. He also shot 44.7 percent from the field, including a career-high 40.4 percent from behind the three-point arc – where he also drilled a career-best 182 three-point field goals. At the end of that brilliant season, Granger had raised his scoring average by at least three points per game every season for three consecutive seasons (7.5, 13.9, 19.6, 25.8) – becoming the first player in NBA history to post such dramatic improvement.

After playing an intense, aggressive, all-out style and logging many high-impact minutes over seven seasons with the Pacers, Granger began to have some challenges with his knees. He was limited to 62 games during the 2009-10 season, though he still managed to average 24.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.8 blocks. Granger also joined the U.S. Senior Men’s National team in the summer of 2010, helping the star-studded team win the gold medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championship.

Granger would bounce back to play extensively in each of the following two seasons, but would appear in just five games in the 2012-13 season while battling patellar tendinosis. In April of 2013, he underwent surgery on his left knee, and ended up sitting out the remainder of the 2012-13 season before returning to action last season.

Granger appeared in 29 games for the Pacers last season, coming off the bench in all but two of them, before the only team he had ever played for decided to deal him to the Philadelphia 76ers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen on the eve of the 2014 NBA trade deadline. The rebuilding 76ers decided to part ways with Granger after acquiring him, and he ended up closing out the season with the Los Angeles Clippers. In 12 regular-season games with the Clippers, Granger averaged 8.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 0.7 assists in 16.2 minutes per game off the bench. He would go on to play a solid role for the Clippers in the playoffs, appearing in 13 postseason games as a reserve.

The 31-year-old Granger signed with the HEAT this past summer, and entered his 10th season as an NBA professional vying to serve a vital role as a bench sparkplug and scorer in Erik Spoelstra’s innovative and “positionless” rotation. Slowly but surely, he has worked his way into a rotation spot and more offensive opportunities.

Since working his way back to game strength and shape following more offseason knee rehabilitation, Granger has now appeared in 14 of the HEAT’s first 35 games, including two spot starts.

Granger has averaged 7.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.3 assists and 0.3 blocks in 20.7 minutes over those 14 games, shooting 45.2 percent from the floor, including a sizzling 42.6 percent (20-of-47) from behind the three-point line.

Granger worked his way back into the HEAT rotation in a big way around the Holidays, and closed out 2014 on an absolute tear. With his recent string of strong, energetic, powerful play, he looks like a true weapon for the HEAT.

Over the final four games of 2014, Granger scored at least 9 points and pulled down 3 or more rebounds in each game, averaging 15.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.5 steals in 26.8 minutes per game. Granger hit an incredible 24-of-34 (70.6 percent) shots from the floor, including 11-of-18 (61.1 percent) from behind the three-point arc.

Granger’s year-end outburst began in a nationally televised Christmas Day game. He scored nine points and grabbed a season-high seven rebounds in 22 high-energy minutes off the bench, making several crucial plays on both ends of the court in the closing minutes of a 101-91 home win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Granger drilled 4-of-5 shots in that game, and his late-game energy and offense ignited the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd and helped secure a sweet victory.

Granger followed that with an 18-point, 3-rebound outing in a 103-95 loss to powerful Memphis two days later, and on Dec. 29, he exploded for the most extensive and complete outing of his time in a HEAT uniform.

Granger scored a season-high 21 points, pulled down 4 rebounds, dished two assists and snared one steal in a season-high 32 minutes off the HEAT bench during a narrow 102-101 loss to in-state rival Orlando. As efficient as he was explosive, Granger drilled 7-of-10 field goal attempts in that game, making 6-of-7 shots from three-point range.

Two nights later, Granger closed out 2014 with a strong showing in a New Year’s Eve game against his old team, scoring 14 points and grabbing three rebounds in 25 minutes of a 106-95 loss to the Pacers in Indianapolis. The Pacers’ home crowd cheered Granger when he first checked into the game, but by the time he hit his second of two 3-pointers en route to those 14 points, they were less supportive of their former star.

In the HEAT’s first game of 2015, Granger made less of a statistical impact – scoring three points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing three assists – but his all-around, all-out efforts over 31 minutes of passionate, professional play helped the HEAT earn a hard-fought and much-needed 88-84 win over the rival Brooklyn Nets.

Just how much Granger continues to play – or how much of a statistical impact he makes when he does play – for the HEAT this season remains to be seen. But his rare blend of size, skill, length, toughness, versatility and veteran savvy could well prove to be an invaluable asset to the team down the stretch.

Granger has always been able to score at a high rate (he has three 40-plus-point games on his NBA resume), and able to pour in those points in a variety of ways. Now, the experienced and seasoned veteran also appears to be evolving into a better three-point marksman than he has ever been. He can pose as an offensive threat for the HEAT at not just small forward, but also the shooting guard and power forward spots if needed, and is capable of defending multiple positions as well. He also possesses excellent ball-handling and passing skills, and can serve in a “point forward” role if called upon to do so.

Granger also possesses considerable postseason experience, having appeared in 35 career playoff games, including those 13 with the Clippers last summer. He’s averaged 10.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.4 blocks in 25.7 minutes a game over those 35 games, which includes 19 starts.

When the HEAT tangled with the Pacers during a thrilling six-game Eastern Conference Semifinals series in the 2012 Playoffs, Granger was a true postseason force, averaging 13.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 0.7 steals in 36.2 minutes per game over those six games. He started all 11 of the Pacers’ games during the 2012 Playoffs, averaging 17.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.4 blocks in 38.2 minutes per game over those 11 games.

Granger clearly brings a lot to the table as the HEAT continue to evolve in the second half of this season, and his considerable skill set and experience help provide the team with flexibility, security and confidence.

dbarmmer

670_ShawneDylan_141118.jpg Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

By Dylan Barmmer

His impact has been immediate.

In his first season in a HEAT uniform, veteran forward Shawne Williams has been nothing short of invaluable for the club – and for many reasons.

While high-profile veterans Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger were brought in via free agency to much fanfare, the 28-year-old Williams was also signed to compete for a forward position on the new-look HEAT in a more under-the-radar move.

Deng cemented the starting small forward role in training camp, but assorted injuries slowed both McRoberts and Granger.

Williams came in healthy, and immediately played well. Blending versatility with length, toughness and superior shooting ability, the 6-foot-10, 230-pound journeyman eventually earned the starting power forward spot opposite Deng.

But he certainly didn’t stop there.

Not content with merely securing a starting role, Williams has at times played a starring role for the HEAT – his seventh NBA team in seven NBA seasons.

As the HEAT have built a 6-5 start to the 2014-15 NBA season, Williams has started all 11 games, averaging 11.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 made three-point field goals a game in 28.8 minutes. He's hit 51.2 percent of his field goal attempts, including a sizzling 51 percent from behind the three-point line.

Williams has scored 13 or more points in six of the HEAT's first 11 games, and grabbed at least four rebounds eight times.

Williams has also drilled at least three three-pointers in seven games. His 27 total three-pointers easily leads the HEAT, and ranks seventh in the entire NBA. Williams’ shooting has also been impressive from the free-throw line, as he’s canned 12 of 16 overall attempts from the line (75 percent).

Williams has always possessed an intriguing blend of size and skill. He was a high draft selection into the NBA, with the Indiana Pacers selecting him with the 17th overall pick of the 2006 NBA Draft after he did a bit of everything in his one year of college basketball at Memphis.

Williams averaged 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks for Memphis in the 2005-06 NCAA season, starting 34 of the 36 games he played in for the Tigers. He led all Conference USA freshmen in both scoring and rebounding, and won Conference USA Tournament MVP honors after averaging 18.0 points and 6.7 rebounds in three games of the postseason tournament.

Williams’ professional career began with a strong start, as he scored 13 points for the Pacers in his NBA debut against the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 11, 2006. That point total was good enough for the second-best NBA debut by a rookie in the Pacers’ proud history.

Williams went on to average 3.9 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.5 assists and 0.2 blocks in 12.1 minutes during his rookie season. He played in 46 games that season, even making three starts for the Pacers. Williams saw his averages increase to 6.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 0.4 blocks over 14.9 minutes per game in his second season with the Pacers, which saw him play in 65 games, including three starts.

The Pacers decided to trade Williams that offseason, sending him to the Dallas Mavericks for former HEAT star Eddie Jones and two second-round draft picks. Williams played sparingly for the Mavericks in the 2008-09 NBA season, averaging 2.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in 11.3 minutes over 15 games. Shortly before the midpoint of the 2009-10 season, the Mavericks traded Williams and Kris Humphries to the then-New Jersey Nets for Eduardo Najera. The Nets waived Williams four days later.

Williams resurfaced next season with the New York Knicks, and enjoyed the best season of his NBA career in 2010-11. Playing a pivotal role off the bench, Williams helped the Knicks reach the postseason by averaging a career-best 7.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 0.7 assists and 0.6 steals in 20.7 minutes. Williams appeared in 64 games for the Knicks, even making 11 spot starts, and drilled 40.1 percent of his three-point field goals to set a new career-best.

Williams then signed a two-year contract with the Nets, and ended up splitting those two seasons between the Nets and China’s Guangzhou Liu Sul. In between, he was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers for Gerald Wallace, but never appeared in a game for the Blazers.

Williams’ NBA odyssey resumed in the 2013-14 season with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he was reunited with then-coach Mike D’Antoni, who had coached him to his best NBA season in New York. Appearing in 36 games for the Lakers, including 13 starts, Williams averaged 5.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 0.8 assists and 0.5 steals in 20.9 minutes – setting career bests in rebounds, blocks and minutes per game.

Needing backcourt help, the Lakers released Williams in January. Williams spent much of the remainder of the season with the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the NBA D-League, averaging 20.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.7 assists in 31.5 minutes over 23 games. Williams started 21 of those 23 games, and shot 45.6 percent from the field, including 41.8 percent from long-range.

This past summer, Williams landed in Miami, signing a two-year contract with the HEAT. He’s wasted no time in establishing himself in just three short months, selflessly and skillfully integrating himself into the HEAT’s culture of hard work, hard defense, hustle, heart and on-court intelligence.

Williams’ statistically strong games include a 15-point, 4-rebound, 4-assist performance in a 114-96 road win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 1 and a 16-point, five-rebound performance in a 107-102 win over the Toronto Raptors the following night. Williams also scored nine points, pulled down five rebounds and blocked three shots in a 96-89 loss at Charlotte on Nov. 5, poured in 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting (including 4-of-5 from behind the three-point line) in an 81-75 loss to the Pacers on Nov. 12 and scored 13 points while grabbing a season- and game-high 11 rebounds in a 91-84 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 16. He’s scored at least seven points in all but one game this season, and has played a minimum of 19 minutes in every game.

Starting at power forward for a proud and perennially successful franchise like the HEAT is impressive in its own right. But leading a strong team in both three-point field goal percentage and three-point field goals made is even more impressive. Doing so from the power forward spot? That’s something closer to surreal, but it’s very real for Williams and the HEAT so far this season.

HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra has lauded Williams for his shooting ability, versatility and toughness, and as the club establishes a new era with several new faces in the playing rotation, Williams has served notice that he can be relied upon to play a valuable, versatile role for his coaches and teammates.

Just what the future holds for Williams and the HEAT remains to be seen, especially as McRoberts and Granger work themselves back into NBA-level conditioning and game shape. What appears certain, however, is that Williams can be counted on to knock down big shots, grab important rebounds, play hard-nosed defense and do whatever the HEAT ask of him to help ensure team success.

Not a bad start for the new guy. Not at all.

dbarmmer

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Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann

By Dylan Barmmer

It is his turn now.

As Chris Bosh heads into his fifth season with the HEAT, the versatile, intelligent and passionate 30-year-old veteran does so with 11 full NBA seasons, nine NBA All-Star Game selections and four NBA Finals appearances under his belt.

Bosh also enters the 2014-15 NBA season as something else as his role expands beyond what it was before.

Of course, Bosh has always been extremely valuable to the HEAT. During his first four seasons with the club, Bosh did a little bit of everything. And it all added up to a lot of everything for the HEAT, who reached unprecedented heights during that four-season stretch.

Bosh averaged at least 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in each of those four seasons. He shot at least 48.7 percent or better from the field, and 79.8 percent or better from the free throw line.

All told, Bosh averaged 17.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.9 steals while shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 81.3 percent from the line in 287 regular-season games over the past four seasons. He started each one of those 287 games, logging at least 32.0 minutes per game and missing just 25 games over that four-season stretch.

Most importantly, Bosh helped the HEAT reach the NBA Finals in each of those four seasons – and was a key component of the HEAT’s back-to-back NBA Champion teams in 2012 and 2013. During that stunning four-season stretch, the HEAT claimed the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference titles each season and compiled an amazing 224-88 regular-season record – which translates to a sizzling 71.8 winning percentage.

Bosh came up big in the HEAT’s playoff runs too, playing in 78 games (including 74 starts) and averaging 14.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 1.1 assists and 0.8 steals while shooting 48.1 percent from the field (including 40.6 percent from 3-point range) and 79.0 percent from the line. His crucial rebound-and-assist in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals set up Ray Allen’s now-legendary corner three-pointer that proved pivotal in forcing a Game 7, which the HEAT won to claim the franchise’s third NBA title.

While Bosh accomplished all of this and more, he also did much of his playing, scoring, rebounding, defending and leading in the long shadows of franchise face Dwyane Wade and global icon LeBron James – who won the NBA MVP Award in two of his four seasons in a HEAT uniform.

With the ultra-athletic James and Wade frequently facilitating and executing the HEAT offense and often anchoring the team’s defense with their incredible quickness, Bosh was often required to play a more complimentary and underappreciated role within the framework of the team. Many times, this role led to limited offensive touches, which in turn often led to modest scoring statistics.

The 6-foot-11, 235-pound Bosh almost always impacted the game on both ends, however, using his rare blend of size, length, quickness, intelligence, power and savvy to do everything from finish rim-rattling dunks to drill corner three-pointers on offense and pull down gritty rebounds and rack up game-turning steals on defense.

During the past two seasons, Bosh also worked extremely hard to develop his long-range shooting touch, evolving his game to the point where he drained a career-high 74 three-pointers in 79 games last season – before canning 30 three-pointers in just 20 playoff games as the HEAT again reached the NBA Finals.

The versatile and cerebral Bosh also started at both center and power forward during his first four seasons in a HEAT uniform, never hesitating to do anything and everything HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff asked of him. Many athletes talk about things like service and sacrifice for the greater good of the team, but few elite-level NBA players demonstrate these traits like Bosh.

This season, with the departure of James to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, Bosh will get the opportunity to move to the forefront of the team’s offense. It remains to be seen just how the ever-innovative Spoelstra will utilize the always-versatile Bosh, but the veteran HEAT coach sounds excited about all the possibilities that await him and his team on the eve of a new era in HEAT basketball.

“He probably has the toughest responsibilities in terms of doing everything,” said Spoelstra after a recent practice. “Being an anchor for us defensively, having to guard multiple positions and then offensively, yes, we are running some offense through him where he has to generate offense for us. But he is arguably our best facilitator also to get other people involved, and he has to strike that balance. And he also has to space the floor for us. He does all those things. It takes a highly intelligent player and a highly versatile player to be able to manage all those responsibilities and he makes that look easy.”

In preseason play, Bosh has looked aggressive, assertive, hungry and motivated while serving as the focal point of the HEAT offense and the anchor of the defense.

Bosh led the HEAT in scoring in four of the first five preseason games he appeared in, and also finished with a team high in rebounds in four of those five games. His aggressive play also translated to trips to the free-throw line, and his sweet stroke from there resulted in Bosh scoring 24 points on 24-of-32 shooting from the line.

“He’s aggressive,” said Spoelstra. “I just like the way Dwyane and CB have been aggressive, getting to the free-throw line, getting into the paint. They’re both in attack mode, but they’re picking their spots. They’re so unselfish. It helps when your better players are unselfish, other guys can get involved. We just need to keep on working. Other guys are going to find their rhythm playing off of them and understanding how we want to play. It will take some time, but we’re committed to the process.”

For his part, Bosh sounds equally excited about his new role on the new-look HEAT. He signed a long-term contract extension to remain with the club this offseason, and his preseason production has him feeling as confident as ever out on the court.

“It’s going well,” said Bosh after a recent practice. “I can score the basketball. I know I can do that. I’ve always been able to do that. I’ve worked on my game a lot more in preparation for a lot more touches and I’m very confident. I have no problem with scoring the basketball. It’s just getting my teammates involved, making sure I keep those guys happy too. That’s more of a challenge for me. I can score; I’m not worried about that.”

Bosh knows that striking that balance between scoring and facilitating is going to take a lot of hard work on his part. He also knows that Spoelstra and his teammates are going to give him every opportunity to serve as the go-to guy, which will require him to maintain a strong, attacking attitude at all times.

“Last year was more when I get it, shoot it every time and it was more of a difficulty in figuring out when to shoot it and when to move it,” said Bosh. “This year, I have to get guys involved, so it’s a bigger responsibility to look for my shot, but put the team first. Of course I have to be aggressive. Coach is going to get me the ball where I need it, and my teammates are going to get me the ball where I need it, but I have to make sure that I’m moving the ball and finding that balance to where I’m getting other guys involved as well. They’re both difficult positions to be in, but you know I’m trying to get better and better every day at it.”

Bosh clearly relishes the challenge that awaits him and the HEAT this season. He knows that while he must come out aggressive and stay aggressive, he can’t get too worked up or deviate too much from the natural flow of the game and the framework of the overall team structure and strategy.

“I just have to make sure there is a flow to the game at first,” said Bosh. “In the first two, three, four, five minutes, I’ll take easy ones if I get them, but I can’t just be aggressive off the bat. It has to come through the offense and I have to make sure that the ball is moving side to side.”

Such a disciplined, measured and studied approach will help not only Bosh, but his teammates – some of whom will be playing extensively together for the first time as part of the HEAT. As a player who has always sacrificed personal glory for the sake of the team, Bosh understands this as well as anybody.

“So (at) the start, I’m trying to make sure we have a nice flow to the game, everybody gets in a rhythm,” said Bosh. “That way, if I’m successful in the post (and) they start doubling, guys aren’t touching the ball for the first time when we’re asking them to make a play.”

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

They're here. Again.

And he has helped lead them back here.

Again.

The HEAT are about to tipoff their fourth consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals, and franchise face and all-time scoring leader Dwyane Wade remains as valuable and vital as ever to the team's deep and productive playoff runs.

In fact, you could even argue that Wade has never been better than he is now, in his 10th postseason journey. Or at least, he has never been more efficient than he is now, at age 32.

As the stakes have risen for the HEAT during their historic run to a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Wade has steadily improved his production.

And he's done so from top to bottom, all across the board.

Wade averaged 17.5 points, 3.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 33.3 minutes per game in the HEAT's first-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats. He shot 49.1 percent from the field and 70.8 percent from the free throw line, scoring 15 or more points in each of the four games.

In the HEAT's five-game series win over the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Wade averaged 18.2 points, 4.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 35.0 minutes per game. He shot 50.7 percent from the field and 85.0 percent from the line, scoring 14 or more points in each of the five games and netting 20 or more twice – including a playoff-high 28 in the closeout game.

In the HEAT's six-game Eastern Conference Finals triumph over the Indiana Pacers, Wade averaged 19.8 points, 4.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 35.5 minutes per game. He shot 54.5 percent from the field and 85.0 percent from the line, scoring 13 or more points in each of the six games and netting 23 or more in each of the series' first three games. Wade was also at his best from behind the three-point arc in that series, connecting on 6-of-13 shots from long-range for a sizzling 46.2-percent clip.

Wade's long-revered defensive prowess was also on full display in the Eastern Conference Finals, as he snared two or more steals in each of the final four games. He also helped hold the Pacers to 93 or fewer points in each of those games, and pulled down 20 rebounds to go with his nine steals during that four-game stretch.

The HEAT have posted an exceptional 12-3 record during their 2014 NBA Playoffs run, and Wade has played a pivotal role in that success. The seasoned and savvy shooting guard has started each of those 15 games, staying on the floor for an average of 34.7 minutes – second only to reigning NBA Finals MVP LeBron James on the HEAT roster. He's averaged 18.7 points, 4.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 0.3 blocks, and shot 51.9 percent from the field – including 38.9 percent from behind the three-point arc – and 80.0 percent from the line.

Wade ranks second to only James in scoring, assists and steals this postseason, and is fourth on the HEAT in both rebounds and blocks. Wade's sparkling 51.9-percent field goal percentage is third-best behind only Chris Andersen and James, his 80.0 percent mark from the line ranks fifth, and his 38.9-percent clip from behind the three-point arc is sixth-best on a deep three-point shooting team.

Wade also ranks second to only James in both field goals and free throws attempted and made this postseason, showcasing his seemingly ever-expanding array of offensive moves and shots. From slashing layups and putbacks to lethal midrange bank shots to stepback jumpers to alley-oop dunks, Wade consistently finds ways to create and finish shots, frustrate and deflate defenses and create easy, open opportunities for his teammates. He's even honed and refined the timely three-pointer, using the long-range shot with particularly stunning success in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In short, Wade is doing a bit of everything for the HEAT this postseason. And he's doing it as effectively and efficiently as anybody else on the roster.

Just like always.

Wade opened his 10th playoff run with a bang, scoring 23 points, dishing five assists, grabbing one rebound and snaring one steal in a 99-88 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Easter Sunday. Wade drilled 10-of-16 shots – including 1-of-2 from long-range – and hit 2-of-3 free throws in 34 high-octane minutes to help the HEAT launch their drive for a third consecutive NBA Championship in dominant fashion.

Wade was even more dominant in the HEAT's closeout victory over the Brooklyn Nets in the next round, scoring 28 points – on 10-of-18 shooting from the field and a flawless 8-of-8 from the line – dishing three assists and grabbing two rebounds in 37 minutes as the HEAT posted a 96-94 victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Wade then continued to score at a high clip as the HEAT began their Eastern Conference Finals with a rematch against the rival Indiana Pacers. He scored 27, 23 and 23 points as the HEAT took a 2-1 lead over the Pacers, and handed out at least four assists in each of those three games. Wade was especially impressive in the HEAT's pivotal 87-83 road win in Game 2, scoring 23 points, dishing five assists, grabbing five rebounds and snaring one steal as the HEAT roared back from a late deficit to knot the series at 1-1. Wade nailed 10-of-16 shots from the field and 3-of-4 free throws in that game, and scored 10 of his 23 points (on flawless 5-of-5 shooting) in the game-turning fourth quarter.

As the HEAT gear up for a NBA Finals rematch with the veteran, versatile, deep San Antonio Spurs, Wade continues to author new chapters in a compelling, champion-caliber career.

Already a legend in the eyes of HEAT fans, and almost certainly a future NBA Hall of Famer, Wade has now suited up in a HEAT uniform for an incredible 147 playoff games. Wade has started each and every one of those games, averaging 23.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks in 39.0 minutes per game – and shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 77.7 percent from the line over those 147 games.

To put that 147-playoff game total in perspective, consider that it's nearly the equivalent of two full NBA regular seasons. That total is so high in large part due to Wade's ability to carry his team when the games matter most, and his HEAT teams have played at least 13 games or more in seven of his 10 postseason appearances, including 21 or more games four times.

Of course, three of those four extended postseason runs ended in NBA Championships, and for Wade and the HEAT, a fourth title – and third in three years – is now just four playoff wins away.

Wade came up big-time in the 2013 NBA Finals against the Spurs, averaging 19.6 points, 4.6 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.3 blocks in 36.6 minutes per game. Wade hit 47.6 percent of his field goals and 77.3 percent of his free throws in that sensational seven-game series, and scored 23 or more points in three of the final four games.

Wade averaged 23.5 points and drilled 41-of-83 (49.4 percent) field goals and 12-of-14 (85.7 percent) free throws over that crucial, final four-game stretch, which saw the HEAT race back from a 3-2 series deficit to hoist the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy once again. He also posted a 25-point, 10-assist game and a 23-point, 10-rebound outing during that run, with the latter helping the HEAT post a 95-88 closeout win in Game 7.

In a pivotal Game 4 HEAT victory, Wade scored 32 points, grabbed six rebounds, snared six steals and dished four assists in a game- and series-turning performance that helped the HEAT post a 109-93 road win and knot the series at 2-2. Had the HEAT lost that game, they would have faced a 3-1 series deficit and extremely long odds of defending their title. Wade simply refused to let that happen, hitting 14-of-25 field goals and single-handedly compiling more steals than the entire Spurs team.

Just what happens in the 2014 Finals remains to be seen, but HEAT fans, teammates and coaches alike all expect equally efficient, versatile and clutch performances from Wade.

After all, it's what he's always done for the HEAT. Especially when the games matter most.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

When talk turns to the HEAT among national observers, the names LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh generally dominate the conversation.

But during the HEAT's exceptional and sensational run since James and Bosh joined franchise face Wade in the summer of 2010, many other men have contributed mightily to the success.

Some call them "role players," while others prefer the term "glue guys."

Whatever you call them, these players have filled key roles in the HEAT's drive to three consecutive NBA Finals appearances. And as the HEAT have begun their quest for a third consecutive NBA Championship by going 6-0 to open the 2014 NBA Playoffs, such supporting players have been equally instrumental.

In the HEAT's first round series sweep of the young Charlotte Bobcats, it was Miami native James Jones who seized his opportunity to make an impact in a newly expanded role.

In the HEAT's Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the veteran Brooklyn Nets, Shane Battier has gotten the call to contribute more.

And just like fellow versatile veteran Jones, the 35-year-old Battier has taken full advantage of his increased opportunity.

After playing just two minutes in all of the HEAT's series sweep of Charlotte, Battier was tabbed by HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra to start at small forward against the Nets.

The decision paid immediate dividends – on both ends of the floor.

Battier helped key a 107-86 win against the savvy, experienced Nets, scoring eight points, handing out two assists and grabbing one rebound in 26 minutes of action.

Battier shot an efficient 3-of-5 from the field, including 2-of-4 from behind the three-point arc, in his first start since the HEAT's regular-season finale on April 16. He drilled his first shot attempt, a three-pointer from the right corner, to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:56 remaining in the first quarter, and he later played a key role in a 24-10 third-quarter run that put the HEAT up 70-54 and led to a comfortable win.

Battier converted a layup in the opening minutes of the second half that put the HEAT up 50-43 with 10:37 left to play in the third quarter. When he buried another three-pointer from the right corner 2:25 later, the HEAT had a 55-49 lead with 8:12 remaining in the third. From there, the HEAT would mount a 15-5 burst that seemed to break the will of the Nets.

The 6-foot-8, 220-pound Battier also helped limit dangerous Nets forward Joe Johnson to 17 points in 32 minutes of action. The sweet-shooting Johnson had averaged 21.9 points in the Nets' first-round win over the Toronto Raptors, scoring 24 points or more in four of the series' seven games. With Battier defending him for much of the game, Johnson managed just 11 shot attempts, including six from behind the three-point arc.

In Game 2 two nights later, Battier nailed his very first shot attempt – a three-pointer that put the HEAT up 5-2 with 7:43 to play in a hard-fought first quarter. He closed the game with three points, one rebound and one steal in 19 minutes, helping the HEAT earn a 94-82 victory and take a commanding 2-0 series lead. And once again, he helped hold down Johnson, who finished with only 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting.

Through the first two games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals series, Battier has averaged 5.5 points, 1.0 rebound, 1.0 assists and 0.5 steals in 22.5 minutes. He's hit 4-of-8 field goals, including 3-of-6 from long-distance. Most importantly, the HEAT have won both games, and now hold a powerful 2-0 lead as the series shifts to Brooklyn for the next two games.

Battier's stellar contributions at both ends of the floor have come as no surprise to HEAT fans, teammates and coaches, who have seen the 13-season veteran do just about everything possible – in both starting and reserve roles – during his three seasons in a HEAT uniform.

Battier joined the HEAT in the offseason prior to the 2011-12 season, and went on to play in 65 of that lockout-shortened season's 66 games, making 10 starts. Battier averaged 4.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.5 blocks in 23.1 minutes of that regular season, which saw the HEAT post a 46-20 record. In the postseason, Battier was moved into more of a starting role, and elevated his statistical output. In starting 16 of the HEAT's 23 playoff games, Battier averaged 7.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks to help the HEAT win the franchise's second NBA Championship. He averaged a whopping 33.4 minutes per game during that Championship drive, and hit 38.2 percent of his three-point shot attempts.

In his first full-length regular season with the HEAT, Battier averaged 6.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.8 blocks and 0.6 steals in 24.8 minutes per game, helping the HEAT post a NBA-best and franchise-record 66-16 mark. He saw action in 72 of those 82 games, starting 20, and shot a career-best 43.0 percent from behind the three-point arc, finishing just behind Ray Allen with 136 hits from long-range. Once the playoffs arrived, Battier moved into an exclusively reserve role, and averaged 4.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 blocks and 0.2 steals in 17.8 minutes per game off the HEAT bench. He also saved his best for last, scoring a postseason-high 18 points by drilling six three-pointers as the HEAT topped the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals. Battier nailed 6-of-8 shots from long-range in that game, including each of his first five attempts.

"Reports of my demise were premature," quipped the quick-witted and humble Duke University graduate after that big-time showing in a must-win game.

Battier continued to demonstrate his value this season, playing in 73 games and starting 56 of them. Battier averaged 4.1 points, 1.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.5 blocks in 20.1 minutes per game, shooting 34.8 percent from long-range – and draining 73 three-pointers. He scored nine or more points 10 times, and also drilled at least three three-pointers in 10 different games.

Of course, Battier's value to a team goes well beyond the standard statistical accomplishments. A hard-working, aggressive and highly intelligent player and teammate, Battier is well known for doing much of the game's "dirty work" – taking charges, setting picks, keeping opponents away from the rim, diving for loose balls, executing inbounds passes and the like. His ability to knock down long-range shots also helps the HEAT space the floor and opens driving lanes for James, Wade, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole.

Battier's willingness to do whatever it takes to help his team win – including sitting out for long stretches of games, if not entire games – is as renowned in NBA circles as his wit, intelligence, versatility and long-range shooting ability. It's this special skill set that causes former coaches and current TV analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Hubie Brown to wax poetic every time Battier's name comes up, and it's what prompts Wade to call him "one of my favorite teammates of all time."

It's also what compelled the then-Vancouver Grizzlies to select Battier with the sixth overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, making him one of seven HEAT players to have been tabbed in the Top 6 of an NBA Draft.

Now, close to 13 years later, Battier is a seasoned veteran, an accomplished three-point marksman, a crafty, cunning defender and much, much more.

Most importantly, he's not just able to do many things exceptionally well – he's willing to do whatever the HEAT ask of him to help the team secure its third consecutive NBA Championship.

The odds are certainly in their favor. After all, Battier and the HEAT are both a perfect 2-for-2 since he first donned a HEAT uniform.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

As the HEAT attempt to secure a third consecutive NBA Championship, veteran center/forward Chris Bosh has added a whole other third dimension to his seeming ever-expanding and awe-inspiring game.

He is now a lethal three-point marksman.

It's not too often that you find a 6-foot-11 post player leading his team in both three-point field goals made and three-point field goal percentage through two rounds and nine games of NBA Playoff action.

And on a veteran-laden, title-defending team loaded with proven long-range shooters – including the NBA's most prolific three-point shooter of all-time – what Bosh has done so far in the 2014 NBA Playoffs is even more remarkable.

After dispatching the Charlotte Bobcats in four games in the first round and finishing off the Brooklyn Nets in five hard-fought Eastern Conference Semifinals contests, the long, lanky, left-handed Bosh leads the entire sweet-shooting HEAT team with 17 three-point field goals made. His 17 hits from long-range have come on 35 attempts, giving Bosh a sizzling 48.6-percent mark from behind the three-point arc that also leads the club.

Those numbers are spectacular on their own. But they loom even larger when put into proper perspective within the HEAT's whole.

Ray Allen, the NBA's all-time leader in both regular-season and playoff three-point field goals, has connected on 12-of-36 shots from behind the three-point arc this postseason (33.3 percent). LeBron James, the reigning NBA Finals MVP, has drilled 15-of-41 long-range attempts (36.6 percent). Miami native and renowned three-point specialist James Jones has converted 11-of-23 long-distance looks (47.8 percent).

As a whole, the HEAT are shooting an exceptional 38.7-percent from long-range in the playoffs. And Bosh, a player once known for averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, is leading the charge – and proving to be a major factor in the HEAT's 8-1 postseason start.

But even more impressive than the quantity of Bosh's long-range daggers has been their quality. Of those 17 strikes from behind the three-point arc, it seems like nearly every one has either keyed a comeback, sustained a run, or flat-out saved or won a game.

In two of the HEAT's nine playoff games, Bosh has drilled four three-pointers – tying a career-high each time. In both those games, every one of those shots ended up making every bit of the difference.

In the second game of the HEAT's first-round series against Charlotte, Bosh scored a postseason-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting to help the HEAT notch a 101-97 win. Bosh was a near-flawless 4-of-5 from behind the three-point arc, and scored four consecutive points (on non-three-pointers) in a key stretch of the fourth quarter of the tight game.

In the fifth and final game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Brooklyn, Bosh netted 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-6 from long-distance. Bosh scored six of those 16 points during a game- and series-ending 21-14 run that secured a thrilling 96-94 comeback win for the HEAT, and each of his two three-pointers was vital to the victory.

Bosh drilled his first fourth-quarter three-pointer to pull the HEAT within 82-78 with 7:26 remaining in the game, and his second long-range hit quelled a 7-2 Nets run and brought the HEAT within 89-83 with 5:13 left to play. That corner three-pointer sent the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd in a fevered frenzy, and sparked a game-closing 16-5 run that allowed the HEAT to improve to a perfect 5-0 on their home floor this postseason.

Bosh also snared two defensive rebounds during that sensational stretch run, including a crucial board off a Shaun Livingston miss with 22 seconds left to play and the HEAT protecting a 93-91 lead.

Bosh has customarily done a little bit of everything to help the HEAT consistently win big games, elevating his game to an even more efficient level in the postseason.

A primary reason for the HEAT's sparkling 8-1 postseason record, Bosh not only leads the HEAT in three-point field goals and shooting percentage, but is averaging 14.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.0 assists and 0.8 steals in 34.3 minutes per game. Bosh leads all HEAT players in blocks – and has blocked two or more shots in four of the nine games – and ranks second in rebounding, second in minutes, third in scoring and fourth in steals. He's also shot 51.0 percent overall from the field, which ranks third on the club, and 74.0 percent from the free-throw line.

Bosh was particularly exceptional in the series against the veteran-laden Nets, averaging 14.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 0.8 steals. He blocked 10 shots and drilled eight three-pointers in that five-game series, showcasing an electric and rare blend of ability both near the rim and on the far edges of the perimeter. In the series-opening 107-86 win, Bosh helped set a dominant tone by scoring 15 points, grabbing a playoff-high 11 rebounds and dishing three assists.

But it's Bosh's success from long-range that has generated the most conversation around league circles. After all, this is the same player who averaged at least 22 points and 10 rebounds three times during a four-season stretch while serving as the perennial Eastern Conference All-Star center and franchise face of the Toronto Raptors. And the same player who made a combined 50 three-pointers during his full seven-season stint in Toronto.

While anyone on the outside might be anything from perplexed to dumbfounded to witness the 30-year-old Bosh's postseason success as a long-range sniper, HEAT fans, coaches and teammates aren't the least bit surprised at his continued evolution.

In his 11th NBA season – and fourth with the HEAT – Bosh set regular-season career bests in both three-point field goal attempts (218) and makes (74), and his 33.9-percent mark from behind the arc was better than his career average of 31.0 percent. Only Allen, James and Mario Chalmers attempted and made more three-pointers for the HEAT, with Bosh even ranking ahead of veteran marksman Shane Battier (73-for-210) in both categories.

Bosh also averaged 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals in 32.0 minutes per game. He ranked second in rebounding, second in blocks, third in scoring and third in minutes on the HEAT. As durable and reliable as ever, Bosh played in 79 games, missing only three contests all season. Only Norris Cole (82 games) played in more games for the HEAT than Bosh, who also shot 51.6 percent overall from the field – fifth-best on the club – and an exceptional 82.0 percent from the free-throw line, which ranked second to only Allen on the HEAT.

Bosh's evolution from post power player to post-perimeter dual-threat didn't just happen overnight, of course. Bosh has put in a serious amount of work in practices and games to hone his burgeoning long-range shooting touch, and that effort and enthusiasm continues to pay dividends – for both him and the HEAT.

After making those 50 three-pointers – in 168 attempts – over seven seasons with the Raptors, Bosh has drilled 111 long-range shots in 352 attempts during four seasons in a HEAT uniform. That's an increase in three-point shooting percentage from 29.8 percent to 31.5 percent since Bosh joined the HEAT, and he has attempted more than twice as many shots from behind the arc since his free-agent arrival – in three less seasons.

Still, this season has seen a dramatic increase in Bosh's long-distance attempts. The previous season, Bosh set then-career highs with 74 attempts and 21 makes. A year later, and his number of makes matches his previous high for overall attempts.

Bosh iced a few HEAT wins in December, 2013 with clutch fourth-quarter shooting from long-range, and was particularly effective from distance during the 2014 months of January (15 makes at a 38.5-percent clip) and February (13 hits at a 36.4-percent clip) – the latter of which saw the HEAT post a near-perfect 10-1 record.

That success certainly has carried over to the postseason, which has seen Bosh nail three-pointers with previously unprecedented success. He was extremely effective in the first-round series sweep of Charlotte, canning 9-of-13 for a spectacular 69.2-percent success rate.

While he attempted the long-ball with less frequency or fanfare, Bosh was also quite dangerous from behind the three-point arc during the past two postseasons – each of which culminated in an NBA Championship for the HEAT.

Bosh drilled 7-of-13 three-point attempts for a blistering 53.8-percent success rate as he helped lead the HEAT to the franchise's second title – and his first as a professional – during the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Then, last postseason, he nailed 15-of-37 (40.5 percent) shots from long-range as the HEAT captured their second consecutive championship.

In 67 playoff games in a HEAT uniform, Bosh has now shot 39-for-89 from behind the three-point arc. That equates to an exceptional 43.8-percent success rate, and is above his impressive 40.6-percent career playoff mark.

Of course, at a rangy 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Bosh has a marked advantage over any would-be defender when he rises up for a long-range shot attempt. Factor in the attacking, driving, slashing styles and abilities of James, Wade, Chalmers and Norris Cole, and Bosh certainly gets his share of open looks during the course of a game.

But Bosh still has to knock down those looks. When he does, it changes the entire complexion of the game, pressuring opposing big men to drift further away from the basket and out towards the perimeter – thus opening driving lanes for other HEAT players, not to mention potentially leaving other long-range snipers like Allen and Battier open at other spots on the floor. Many times, Bosh will drill one of his long-range daggers after the HEAT have swung the ball around the perimeter in a virtuoso display of quick-strike passing.

Simply put, Bosh was already a major factor in the HEAT's masterfully and creatively designed "positionless" offense. As he's continued to develop his sweet stroke from behind the three-point arc – and developed the much-needed confidence to accompany it – the savvy, super-skilled veteran has emerged as an even more influential and multi-dimensional element within Erik Spoelstra's playing rotation.

When it's all said and done this postseason, the HEAT and their fans are hoping it all adds up to another big-time three:

A third consecutive NBA Championship.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

Adversity is a part of sports. As is repeatedly proving your ability, durability and value.

James Jones knows this as well as anyone.

Much like fellow Miami native and HEAT veteran Udonis Haslem, the 33-year-old swingman had to endure long periods of sitting and waiting to contribute on the court during the 2013-14 regular season.

And much like Haslem, Jones kept himself ready before seizing a late-season opportunity and running – and shooting – with it to earn a key role in the HEAT's rotation at the outset of the 2014 NBA Playoffs.

After not playing in 31 consecutive games spanning more than two calendar months, the 6-foot-8, 215-pound former University of Miami star saw action in eight games in March and April. Jones played 25 minutes or more in five of those eight games, scoring at least eight points and drilling at least two three-pointers in each of those five games. More importantly, the HEAT went 4-1 in those games, winning four straight from March 28 through April 2.

All told, Jones averaged 7.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.3 steals and 0.3 blocks in 20.8 minutes per game over that eight-game stretch. He hit 20-of-42 field goal attempts, including an exceptional 17-of-34 (an even 50 percent) from behind the three-point arc.

Jones finished his 11th NBA season – and sixth with the HEAT – with averages of 4.9 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.5 assists in 11.8 minutes per game, appearing in 20 games. Jones, who can effectively play both the small forward and shooting guard positions, even made six starts for the HEAT during the regular season.

True to his driven and determined nature, Jones wasn't content to merely shine during the stretch run of the regular season.

So he came out shooting at the start of the 2014 NBA Playoffs.

When given a chance to contribute early and often by HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra in Game 1 of the team's first-round playoff series against the Charlotte Bobcats, Jones seized the opportunity. In big-time fashion.

Jones scored 12 points in 14 minutes off the bench in the HEAT playoff opener, drilling 4 of 6 shots, pulling down three rebounds, handing out one assist and providing a crowd-pleasing and team-lifting spark with his aggression and energy. All of Jones' contributions proved pivotal in a 99-88 win at AmericanAirlines Arena, as did the 1-0 series lead that helped protect home court and set a strong tone for a strong run at a third consecutive NBA Championship.

Jones' contributions in Game 2 were less prolific, but he still made a tangible and important impact, scoring three points and grabbing one rebound in 11 minutes of action. Every contribution from every player ended up counting in that game, which ended in a 101-97 victory over a scrappy and athletic Bobcats team that routinely refused to back down or fade away.

In the HEAT's 98-85 Game 3 win in Charlotte, Jones scored three points, dished three assists, snared two steals and blocked one shot in 17 active minutes. Jones' three assists led all HEAT reserves, and his two steals tied for HEAT- and game-highs.

Through the first thre games of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, Jones is averaging 6.0 points, 1.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.7 steals in 14.0 minutes per game. He's drained 6 of 14 field goal attempts – including 4 of 10 from behind the three-point arc.

This isn't the first time Jones has contributed to a deep HEAT playoff run, either.

In the 2011 NBA Playoffs, Jones averaged 6.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.5 steals in 22.7 minutes over 12 games, drilling a remarkable 45.9 percent of his three-point field goal attempts. When the HEAT won the franchise's second NBA Championship – and their first with LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the fold – to cap the 2012 NBA Playoffs, Jones saw action in 20 games, averaging 2.6 points and 1.0 rebounds in 8.7 minutes per game.

When the HEAT repeated as NBA Champions to cap last year's thrilling postseason run, Jones saw action in nine games, averaging 1.0 points and 0.3 rebounds in 3.7 minutes per game. He also hit 3 of his 4 shots from behind the three-point arc.

Jones' acumen from long range has long been his calling card in the NBA. He routinely torched teams with the long ball during his decorated days with the Hurricanes alongside Darius Rice, and he spent his first two NBA seasons with the Indiana Pacers, honing his deep ball under the tutelage of NBA Hall of Famer and current TV analyst Reggie Miller, who ranks second to only HEAT standout Ray Allen among the greatest three-point shooters in NBA history.

For his part, Jones has averaged 5.7 points in 17.2 minutes over 556 regular-season NBA games, drilling 641 three-point field goals at an exceptional 40.3-percent rate. Jones' most prolific season from long-range came in 2010-11, his third season with the HEAT. Jones played in 81 games and set a career-high with 123 hits from behind the three-point arc that season, connecting at a sizzling 42.9-percent clip. This season, Jones shot a career-best 51.9 percent from long-range, drilling 28 3-pointers in just 20 games of action.

Jones has been even more effective and efficient from behind the arc during his postseason career, which now encompasses an impressive 96 games – including 19 starts. Jones has drilled 70 three-pointers in those 96 games, connecting at a 40.5-percent clip. In 12 games over the past two postseasons, Jones has connected on 7 of his 14 attempts from behind the arc – an even more impressive number when you consider he has been in and out of the HEAT's rotation.

Jones can also rebound the ball and play tight, aggressive defense when called upon, and his overall insight, experience and knowledge of the game are routinely praised by teammates and coaches alike. Of course, his willingness to continually prepare, practice, study and stay ready – while also supporting his teammates during down times – are valuable assets to any team, and Spoelstra has often compared Jones to a dominating and intimidating "relief pitcher."

Both Spoelstra and reigning NBA Finals MVP James have praised Jones for his hot start to these playoffs, with James insisting the proud, professional Miami native – and recent University of Miami Hall of Fame inductee – will be "a key ingredient to our success in this postseason."

Just what flavor or degree that ingredient ends up emerging as remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure as the HEAT passionately pursue their third consecutive NBA Championship:

Whenever Spoelstra calls Jones' number, he will be ready to go. Ready to do whatever it takes to win.

And ready to let it fly from behind the three-point arc.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

He was born and bred in Miami.

He has worn a HEAT uniform for all 11 of his NBA seasons.

Only Dwyane Wade has appeared in more games in that uniform.

He holds the HEAT franchise record for career rebounds.

He has shone, stood out and even starred at both the power forward and center positions.

But for Udonis Haslem, this season has been more about patience than production.

And like it often does, that patience has started to pay off lately – for both Haslem and the HEAT.

After playing sparingly and sporadically for much of his 11th NBA season – and not playing a single minute in any of the HEAT's 10 February games – the beloved and determined Haslem re-emerged as a valuable and versatile cog in the HEAT's machine in March.

In 13 games in March, Haslem averaged 3.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.4 assists and 0.3 blocks in 11.8 minutes of action. He shot a sensational 62.2 percent from the field in those 13 games, and pulled down 4 or more rebounds in 7 of those games. He also scored 14 or more points twice, and blocked at least 1 shot in 3 different games. Over his final 5 appearances of the month, Haslem logged at least 15 minutes of court time in each game. And more importantly, the HEAT won the final 3 of those 5 games – and went 8-5 in the 13 March games Haslem saw action in.

Haslem has clearly been thrilled to be back in the HEAT's rotation in full force, especially when he's been given a starting role. In both of those 14-point-plus games, the hard-nosed and heady veteran scored 12 points in the first quarter alone.

Haslem's finest all-around game of both the month and the season came in a 101-96 loss at Boston on March 19. Starting and playing 27 minutes, Haslem scored 14 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, dished a season-high 3 assists and blocked a season-high 2 shots.

With reigning NBA MVP LeBron James sidelined with back spasms, Haslem started at center against the Celtics, and turned in an absolutely huge first-quarter performance that showed observers he still can affect the game in a variety of ways.

Haslem helped stake the HEAT to a 34-22 lead after that first quarter, scoring 12 points, pulling down 4 rebounds, dishing 2 assists and blocking 2 shots in 11 high-impact minutes. Haslem hit 6-of-7 shots in the quarter, and finished a sizzling 7-of-8 from the field for the game.

Haslem also played a large role in a prime-time, knock-down, drag-out, ultra-intense showdown with the rival Pacers in Indianapolis on March 26. Haslem scored 2 points, grabbed 4 rebounds and blocked 1 shot in 21 minutes off the HEAT bench, and the down-to-the-wire nail-biter ended in a narrow 84-83 win for the Pacers on their home court.

Haslem's lone basket came during the tail end of a key 15-4 run that ended the first half and put the HEAT up 45-44 heading into halftime. But it was in the second half that Haslem seemed to really impact the game – in a less statistical but maybe more meaningful manner.

While Haslem's statistical impact in that game was minimal, he played a vital role and left a decided impact on the game – particularly on the defensive end. Towering 7-foot-2, 290-pound Pacers center Roy Hibbert scored 17 points in the first half – including 13 in the first quarter. With the 6-foot-8, 235-pound Haslem willingly and valiantly bodying him in the post for much of the second half, Hibbert managed just 4 points after halftime.

Haslem's recent resurgence has been as much about that physicality and presence as it has been about any conventional statistical impact like points or rebounds. Renowned for his toughness and intensity both within the HEAT culture and around the entire NBA, Haslem possesses the kind of Old School intimidation factor that you just don't see much of these days around the league. It's certainly the kind of thing that can impact and infuse the HEAT with an "edge" in more than one way – not just during the 2013-14 season's stretch run, but well into their postseason drive.

Of course, Haslem can still score and rebound at a high level too. That was made more than obvious two nights after the Pacers grudge match, when Haslem started and scored a season- and game-high 17 points to go along with 5 rebounds during a 110-78 rout of the Pistons in Detroit.

On a night when the HEAT were without Wade, Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and Greg Oden – and the Pistons honored the 1989 NBA Champion "Bad Boys" at halftime – Haslem helped the HEAT take control of the game early, scoring 12 points and grabbing 4 rebounds in 11 minutes of a first half that saw the HEAT stake a 57-42 lead. Haslem actually scored all 12 of those points in the first quarter, drilling 6 of his 7 field goal attempts and helping the HEAT race out to a 28-23 lead after one. With the HEAT missing their starting backcourt and top reserve, Haslem was part of a first-time starting five that also included James, Chris Bosh, Toney Douglas and James Jones.

And when the game was over, the HEAT had a 32-point win, James had his 37th career triple-double (17 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds) and Haslem had his most productive and efficient offensive game of the season (he scored his 17 points in just 21 minutes, and hit 8-of-11 field goals).

Haslem has been equally impressive in April's early going, starting all 3 of the HEAT's games and scoring at least 6 points while grabbing 5 or more rebounds and playing at least 25 minutes in each of those 3 games. The HEAT are 2-1 in those 3 games (with their only loss coming in double-overtime), and Haslem has averaged 7.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 0.7 blocks while shooting a scorching 64.3 percent in 26.7 minutes per game.

In a 102-91 win over the rival New York Knicks on April 6, Haslem scored 6 points, dished 2 assists and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds in a season-high 28 minutes. That game also marked 7 straight starts for Haslem – and the HEAT improved to 5-2 during that 7-game run down the season's stretch.

After sitting out stretches of 3 games or more 5 times, and having averaged just 13.3 minutes a game over 42 overall games (including 14 starts) this season, the soon-to-be 34-year-old Haslem will have plenty of energy to expend come playoff time. And as HEAT fans know all too well, the man known affectionately as "UD" has played some of his best basketball in a HEAT uniform in the intense crucible of the NBA Playoffs – where points, rebounds, defense and overall toughness and execution are always at more of a premium.

Haslem's postseason experience is extensive – and then some. He's averaged 6.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.3 blocks and 24.1 minutes in 122 career postseason games, including 78 starts. He's also shot 48.0 percent from the field and 71.8 percent from the free-throw line over those 122 playoff games, and scored 772 points while snaring 750 rebounds.

Along with Wade, Haslem is also one of only two HEAT players to have been part of all 3 of the franchise's title teams. Haslem was a major factor in each of those 3 title runs, playing 66 games (including 52 starts) and averaging at least 4.8 points and 3.6 rebounds while shooting 45.5 percent or better from the field in each of those 22-game postseasons.

During the HEAT's third Championship drive in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Haslem shot a postseason career-best 59.3 percent from the field and averaged 5.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and a postseason career-best 0.7 steals in his 16.2 minutes of action.

Haslem was particularly effective and efficient in the HEAT's first-round sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 7.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.5 blocks and 0.3 steals in just 17.0 minutes. He shot a sizzling 61.9 percent from the field over the series' 4 games, and scored 25 total points (making 11-of-15 field goals) in just 36 minutes in Games 3 and 4.

When the HEAT secured their first NBA Championship to cap the 2006 NBA Playoffs, a then-25-year-old Haslem started 22 games at power forward alongside center Shaquille O'Neal and averaged 8.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.6 steals.

Haslem's role with the HEAT has changed since then, an inevitable evolution that always occurs in every athlete's career over time. But one thing about Haslem and the HEAT remains the same as it ever was:

Whenever HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra decides to call Haslem's number, the rugged, reliable veteran will always be ready to go. And he'll always give the only club he's ever played for everything he's got.

That's still a lot. And it's still worth an awful lot to the HEAT.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

Every now and then, an athlete comes along who not only amazes with his play, but inspires with his ability to sustain that exceptional level of play for several seasons.

Ray Allen is one such player.

In fact, he might even set the template. Or take it to a whole new level.

Now in the homestretch of his 18th overall NBA season, and his second with the HEAT, the 38-year-old Allen ranks fifth on the club in scoring, averaging 9.0 points per game in his well-defined, well-executed and much-needed role as the team's primary bench scorer and shooter. Like a basketball version of a baseball "closer," Allen continues to come up big in big-time, late-game situations. And like a true veteran and "utility player," he's also served as the HEAT's starting shooting guard several times this season.

In other words, Allen may rank as the oldest and most experienced player on the HEAT roster. But he remains one of the most vital and invaluable cogs in the well-oiled and efficient HEAT machine – a machine that has churned out a 109-30 regular-season record since Allen joined the fold prior to the 2012-13 season.

Long-time HEAT fans and NBA observers are not surprised by this, although they may still stand in awe of Allen, if for no other reason than his endurance. Over the course of his transcendent career, Allen has won games, set records and capitalized the "shooting" in shooting guard – not only in the sheer number of long-range and big-time shots made, but in the pure beauty and flawless form of his high-arching and often back-breaking jumper.

Naturally, Allen is near the top of the HEAT charts in three-pointers made and attempted this season. Only reigning NBA MVP LeBron James has attempted and made more than Allen's 74 hits in 207 attempts from long-range, and he's not too far ahead at 83 and 216, respectively.

Allen also ranks sixth on the club in rebounds, fifth in assists and sixth in steals, averaging 3.0 boards, 2.1 assists and 0.8 steals. His 90.4-percent shooting from the free throw line leads the HEAT, and is on par with his truly remarkable 89.4-percent career mark from the line.

Perhaps most impressively, Allen remains a model of durability and consistency after 18 seasons of high-energy and big-minute NBA action, playing in 53 of the HEAT's 57 games and averaging 26.4 minutes per game off the bench. That 26.4-minute-per-game average leads all HEAT reserves, and ranks fifth overall on the club.

Allen has also started nine games for the HEAT this season, averaging 12.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 0.7 steals over 32.3 minutes in those nine starts. Allen has shot an even 50 percent overall from the field, 36.8 percent from behind the three-point arc and 87.0 percent from the free-throw line in those games, providing a rock-solid fill-in for fellow veteran Dwyane Wade. And not content to be viewed solely as a long-distance or free-throw shooting specialist, Allen has also flashed his brilliant all-around skill set and sky-high basketball IQ by beating opposing defenders off the dribble and finishing with everything from twisting reverse layups to hanging short jumpers to the occasional slam dunk.

Put simply, the man who once starred in Spike Lee's "He Got Game" still has game. Lots of game.

Long renowned for his tireless work ethic, supreme conditioning, dead-eye shooting and overall intelligence, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Allen continues to produce in the twilight hours of his remarkable career. Whenever that career will come to an end remains a mystery, but what is absolutely certain is that it will culminate with Allen's enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame – and put him in possession of a made three-point field goal record that will possibly never be broken.

Allen has hit at least 74 3-pointers in each of his 18 seasons, drilling 100 or more in 15 of those seasons and at least 200 in five separate seasons. It all adds up to a mind-boggling total of 2,931 career hits from long-range. If that sounds like a lot, it's because it certainly is. Historically so.

In fact, that closing-in-on-3,000 total puts Allen nearly 1,000 makes ahead of the NBA's next most prolific long-range shooter, Sacramento Kings guard Jason Terry – whose 1,950 career three-pointers rank fourth all-time in league history. In fact, the only player to ever even come close to Allen's totals is current TNT broadcaster and former Indiana Pacers sharpshooter Reggie Miller, who canned 2,560 long-range shots over his own 18-year Hall of Fame career.

Miller used to hold the all-time NBA record for made three-pointers. Allen passed him up in February 2011 – and has drilled nearly 400 more long-range shots in the three calendar years since. It appears to be only a matter of time before Allen becomes the NBA's first-ever Mr. 3,000. And as Allen continues to show, time doesn't seem to affect him like it does other players.

The prolific three-pointer records don't end there, however. Allen has also drained eight or more three-pointers in a single game an NBA-record nine times. This season, he's hit at least three three-pointers in 10 different games, including four in three of those games.

Allen's career success rate from long-range, an even 40 percent, is also exceptional. He's shot 40 percent or better from behind the three-point arc in 8 different seasons, including a team-leading 41.9 percent in the HEAT's franchise-record-setting and NBA Championship-winning drive last season. And better yet, his prolific presence seemed to be contagious.

With Allen in the HEAT fold for the first time in 2012-13, the club set a new franchise record with 717 made three-pointers. Allen, naturally, led the way with 139 of them. Bolstered by Allen's sweet stroke from behind the three-point arc, the HEAT also led the Eastern Conference – and finished second to only Golden State in the entire NBA – with a blistering 39.6-percent success rate from long-range, and routinely put games out of reach with the long-ball en route to a franchise-record and NBA-best 66 wins.

The three-pointer continued to be a vital component of the HEAT's arsenal in the postseason, keying a drive to the franchise's second consecutive and third overall NBA Championship. Of course, none of those playoff three-pointers was bigger than Allen's game-tying, season-saving, step-back shot to force overtime in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.

It's amazing enough to play 18 seasons at the game's highest level. It's even more amazing to average 10 points or more in each of those seasons – something Allen will have accomplished if he can up his current average of 9.0 points by one point over the season's final 25 games.

He's scored 10 or more points in 23 games this season, including at least 15 points seven times. Allen's most prolific scoring game this season came in a December 23, 2013 overtime win over division rival Atlanta, with each one of his 19 points proving crucial in a 121-119 victory. Allen started in place of Wade in that game, and went on to hit 7-of-10 shots from the field and 4-of-5 free throws, also pulling down six rebounds in 34 minutes of action.

Allen was exceptional throughout the month of December, averaging 10.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals and 25.6 minutes in 14 games. Allen connected on 51 percent of his field goal attempts in those 14 games, and drained 92.3 percent of his free throws.

Allen has also flashed his patented late-game "closing" skills once again this season.

In the aforementioned Dec. 23 overtime win over the visiting Atlanta Hawks, Allen was fouled on a three-point shot attempt with the HEAT trailing 111-108 with 8 seconds remaining in regulation. Allen calmly swished all three free throws, and the game went to overtime. The HEAT went on to earn a 121-119 win, with fellow bench spark plug Chris Andersen scoring three of their final five points.

In a Dec. 30, 2013 road game in Denver, Allen scored six of his 13 points over the final 5:08 of the game, helping the HEAT earn a hard-fought 97-94 win on James' 29th birthday – and without the services of Andersen, who was held out with a sore back.

In a Feb. 5 road game in Los Angeles, Allen silenced the Staples Center crowd and helped the HEAT top the surging Clippers by scoring 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. Allen was also the lone HEAT player to go all 12 minutes of that decisive final quarter, and a primary reason the HEAT escaped with a 116-112 win. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who coached Allen for five seasons when both men were with the Boston Celtics, said after the game that Allen can "run forever."

Of course, Allen has also worked his long-range and late-game magic in several crucial, compelling postseason performances. Twice in his storied career, he's nailed a NBA Playoffs-record nine three-pointers in a single game – dropping 41 points to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a 110-100 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on June 1, 2001 and scoring a playoff career-high 51 points as his Boston Celtics dropped a 128-127 thriller to the Chicago Bulls on April 30, 2009.

Allen also stands as the only man to drain eight three-pointers in a single NBA Finals game, and his 32 points in Game 2 of the 2010 NBA Finals helped the Celtics beat the host Lakers 103-94 to knot the series at 1-1. The Lakers would go on to win that thrilling series 4-3, avenging a loss to Allen and the Celtics a few seasons earlier.

But what HEAT fans – and Allen himself – will remember and cherish most was Allen's game- and season-saving three-pointer in the waning moments of regulation during Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.

With the HEAT trailing the San Antonio Spurs 95-92 and just seconds away from their season coming to an end in front of their loyal fans, Allen took a perfect pass from Chris Bosh, floated back to a spot just behind the three-point arc in the right corner, and rose up to nail a season-saving, game-tying and momentum-shifting shot that he would later call "the shot that I'm going to remember for a long time."

The shot knotted the game at 95-95 with 5.2 seconds left on the clock, and sent the white-clad AmericanAirlines Arena crowd into delirium. It also seemed to stun the Spurs, who would go on to lose the game 103-100 in overtime. The HEAT would go on to win Game 7 and claim back-to-back World Champion status, clawing back from a 3-2 NBA Finals hole to emerge on top of the basketball world.

But that shot, in the closing moments of Game 6, stands as the defining moment of a brilliant NBA Finals series. Not only was it massive in magnitude, but Allen's deft footwork and uncanny sense of time and space amidst the chaos of those closing seconds ensured that it will always be remembered and related in league lore.

"You can't put it into words," said Bosh afterwards. "He's the best three-point shooter of all time. And the fact that he was open is just unbelievable. He kept our season alive."

Allen would finish his most recent postseason run with his second NBA Championship ring and sole possession of the all-time NBA Playoffs three-pointer mark. He passed Reggie Miller up for that distinction in the HEAT's first-round win over his old Bucks team, and will enter the 2014 NBA Playoffs with 352 career postseason three-pointers – none bigger than that last one.

Until the next one, that is. Because when it comes to Allen, there's always more in store. There's always another game to be played. There's always another big shot waiting in the wings. Or atop the arc.

Allen turns 39 on July 20, and he would love nothing more than to celebrate his second NBA Championship in a HEAT uniform shortly before that birthday.

Whether he reaches that goal or not remains to be seen. But one thing is beyond a shadow of a doubt:

He'll give it his very best shot.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

Chris Bosh has been and done and seen and played a lot during his 11-year NBA career.

There's the 8 All-Star Game appearances. The 5 consecutive seasons averaging at least 22.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. The 3 seasons averaging "20 and 10" a game. And the 3 NBA Finals appearances in his first 3 seasons with the HEAT – with each of the last 2 culminating in NBA Championships.

The HEAT's decorated 29-year-old center also stands 6-foot-11, with a long wingspan and an often passionate, demonstrative approach to the game of basketball, which he clearly loves. He's averaged over 30 minutes per game in each of his 11 NBA seasons, has been a starter in all but 12 games during his rookie season, and rarely misses a game – despite banging with big, bruising bodies in the low post for many of those 30-plus minutes.

Yet on a team loaded with stars and decorated veterans, and headlined by reigning NBA MVP LeBron James, Bosh can at times be overlooked. Even in the biggest moments of the biggest games on the biggest stages.

While Ray Allen's game-saving, step-back 3-pointer late in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals rightfully received the lion's share of attention while recapping that historic game in that historic series, if not for Bosh's heady offensive rebound and instant, accurate pass to Allen, the shot never even goes off, yet alone goes down. Bosh secured that board, then whipped the ball perfectly out to Allen, whose now-legendary shot knotted the score at 95-95 with just 5.2 seconds left on the regulation game clock. The HEAT went on to claim a 103-100 win in Game 6 and force a Game 7, which they won 95-88 to capture their second consecutive NBA Championship.

Bosh finished that thrilling Game 6 with 10 points, a HEAT-high 11 rebounds, 2 assists and a game-high 2 blocks – a strong stat line that was lost in the brilliant flash of Allen's game- and season-saving long ball and James' 32-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound NBA Finals triple-double.

In the 2013 NBA Finals as a whole, Bosh averaged 11.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.6 blocks. He scored 12 or more points in 5 of the 7 games, and pulled down 10 or more rebounds against the towering Spurs in 4 games. Not coincidentally, the HEAT won 3 of those 4 games, including that now-legendary Game 6 that kept their now-legendary season alive.

Bosh didn't get a whole lot of outside acclaim for his role in the thrilling Finals win, but with the do-everything-and-do-it-all-at-another-level James on the floor, it's awfully easy to overlook anybody and everybody else in a HEAT uniform. The ability of other established stars like Bosh, Allen and Dwyane Wade to sacrifice egos, shot attempts, highlights and headlines for the greater glory of the team has been instrumental in a remarkable run of success that has seen the HEAT capture back-to-back NBA Championships and begin the 2013-14 season with a 27-11 record. Bosh has gladly sacrificed some superstar status since he joined the HEAT fold, and has equally demonstrated an ability to come up bigger than his 6-foot-11 frame when his number is called.

On the rare occasion when James does miss a game, HEAT fans, players, coaches and anyone else watching are often vividly reminded of just how talented, versatile and brilliant a basketball player Bosh is.

Take, for example, a riveting 108-107 HEAT victory over the red-hot Trail Blazers in Portland in the final days of the 2013 portion of this season's schedule. Maybe no game in his HEAT tenure truly encapsulated Bosh's extensive skill set, unique versatility and undeniable value quite like that roaring comeback win on Dec. 28, 2013.

With James out with a strained right groin and reserve sparkplug Chris Andersen sidelined with a sore back – and Wade and Allen both playing after sitting out the previous game – Bosh absolutely took over, scoring a season- and game-high 37 points, grabbing a HEAT-high 10 rebounds and drilling 15-of-26 field goals – including a game-winning 3-pointer with just 0.5 seconds remaining on the game clock, and the HEAT down 107-105 at the time.

Bosh was 3-for-3 from long-range in the game, with all of his 3-point hits coming in the fourth quarter. Bosh's first long-range dagger knotted the game at 96-96, the second put the HEAT up 101-98 with 2:03 left to play, and the last and biggest one gave the HEAT their 23rd win in their first 30 games – while handing the Trail Blazers just their sixth loss in 30 games, and only their third in 15 games on their homecourt.

Bosh also did an admirable job defending talented Trail Blazers center LaMarcus Aldridge, limiting the versatile big man to 22 points (on 9-of-20 shooting) and 7 rebounds.

Afterward, HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra had high praise for Bosh, who seems to be getting better and better as the 2013-14 season progresses.

"He was terrific tonight, a true two-way player," said Spoelstra. "He took the challenge for the majority of his minutes on one of the premier players in this league, and then had to shoulder a big-time offensive load. That takes incredible stamina but also the skill set that he put on display tonight on both ends of the court."

Bosh has been displaying more and more of that stamina and skill as his fourth season in a HEAT uniform unfolds, with his performances in December games particularly impressive.

The HEAT went 11-4 in a tough December slate that included 8 games on the road and 5 games without the services of Wade, and Bosh scored 20 or more points in 6 of those 11 HEAT victories. Bosh also hauled down at least 8 rebounds in 8 of those 11 wins, and logged 5 overall games in December with at least 2 blocks.

Bosh's overall December numbers were stellar: 18.0 points per game, 7.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 1.1 assists, 1.1 steals and a 54.4-percent shooting mark from the field. Perhaps most importantly for the HEAT, he played in all 15 December games, averaging 31.3 minutes per game.

Of course, Bosh's ultimate value to the HEAT goes well beyond mere statistics, as HEAT fans, coaches and teammates know by now.

The long, lanky, smart, savvy veteran is capable of playing either the center or power forward position, and his left-handed shooting stroke is at times so effective, efficient, lethal and beautiful, he resembles something more like a shooting guard in Spoelstra's exciting, innovative and "positionless" offense.

Bosh has always been an incredibly effective shooter, as his career 49.7-percent mark from the field attests. But during his time in a HEAT uniform, Bosh has been remarkably efficient, especially over the past few seasons. He shot a career-high 53.5 percent from the field over 74 regular-season games in 2012-13, and through 37 games played this season, he's connecting at a 52.2-percent clip.

Bosh just keeps getting better as a shooter as his NBA career evolves, and last season, he easily eclipsed his previous career-highs for 3-pointers attempted (74) and made (21) in a single season. He's already set a new personal best for made 3-pointers with 23 long-distance hits this season, and is well on pace to eclipse his own record for 3-point attempts, with 66 so far. Bosh's 23-for-66 shooting from behind the 3-point arc equates to a 34.8-percent clip. That's impressive for an NBA guard, and something closer to incredible for a big man.

The win at Portland – which Wade termed "a signature win" afterward – wasn't the first time Bosh's budding long-range acumen resulted in a thrilling late-game victory for the HEAT this season. In fact, it was the second time in December that Bosh bailed out the HEAT with his 3-point sharpshooting.

During a 99-98 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Dec. 1, Bosh drilled 3 straight 3-pointers during a blistering 79-second stretch of the fourth quarter, sparking a 38-point fourth quarter that erased a Bobcats lead that had stood for over 23 minutes. All told, Bosh scored 13 consecutive points for the HEAT, and finished with 22 points and 9 rebounds. His 22 points came on an incredibly efficient 8-of-13 shooting from the field, including 3-of-4 from long-distance.

Overall this season, Bosh has averaged 15.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 0.8 steals and 1.1 assists over 30.8 minutes per game to help key the HEAT to a 27-11 start. He is tied with James for the HEAT lead in rebounding per games, is just a shade behind Andersen for the lead in blocks per game, and is third in both points and minutes per game behind James and Wade. His 52.2-percent shooting mark from the field is fifth-best on the sweet-shooting HEAT, and he ranks seventh on the club with 23 3-point field goals made.

Whether he's pulling down a key rebound, throwing down a monster dunk, swishing a clutch fourth-quarter three-pointer, or stifling the other team's big man on the defensive end, Chris Bosh can be counted on to do and be a little bit of everything for the HEAT.

That's the kind of value you can't ever really quantify. And in Bosh, that's what the HEAT have.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

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Last year, he provided a mid-season jolt that helped carry the HEAT to a record-setting regular season and a second consecutive NBA Championship.

This season, versatile veteran big man Chris Andersen has been with the HEAT from training camp to opening night and beyond. And the results have been equally impressive.

A few weeks into the second full month of the 2013-14 NBA season, the HEAT have a 16-5 record that includes a 10-game winning streak, and Andersen was a big reason for that sizzling success. Just as he was last season, when the HEAT ripped off an NBA-best and franchise-record 27-game winning streak that helped power them to a 66-16 record that also led the league and set a new franchise standard.

The 35-year-old forward/center is averaging 6.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 0.5 assists and 0.4 steals – all in just 17.5 minutes per game off the HEAT bench. Andersen has appeared in 20 of the HEAT's 21 games, and currently leads all HEAT reserves in blocks and rebounding – and is first and fourth, respectively, on the entire HEAT team in those two categories. His scoring average ranks fourth among HEAT reserves, and his 64.1-percent field goal shooting leads all HEAT players.

The rangy, electric, eclectic, 6-foot-10, 228-pound Andersen was also doing all of this despite playing in his 12th NBA season. His high-energy, stat-stuffing performances continue to build off an electric first season with the HEAT that saw him average 4.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, 0.4 assists and 0.4 steals and shoot a career-high 57.7 percent from the field in 14.9 minutes per game over 42 regular-season games. Even more impressively, the HEAT won 39 of those 42 games, which equates to an eye-popping winning percentage of 92.9 percent.

Andersen has scored 10 or more points in 6 of his 20 appearances off the HEAT bench this season, pulled down at least 5 rebounds in 9 different games, and blocked at least one shot 13 different times. Not coincidentally, the HEAT won all but one of those games, with the lone loss coming on a last-second 3-pointer from Boston's Gerald Green in a 111-110 defeat on Nov. 9.

The HEAT would go on to win their next 10 games following that defeat, and Andersen would play a major role in that run. Andersen averaged 6.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 0.5 assists in 17.8 minutes as the HEAT ripped off 10 consecutive victories from Nov. 12 through Dec. 1. Andersen hit 61.5 percent of his shots from the field and 72.2 percent of his free-throw attempts during that run, and turned in a few exceptional overall efforts off the HEAT bench.

Andersen scored 10 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked 2 shots in a season-high 24 minutes of a 97-81 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Nov. 16, then turned in a 10-point, 5-rebound, 2-block gem in 18 minutes of a 120-92 victory at Orlando 4 nights later.

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On Nov. 25, Andersen scored a season-high 11 points, pulled down 7 rebounds and blocked 1 shot in 19 minutes of a 107-92 win over the Phoenix Suns. Then 4 nights later, he racked up 5 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 assist in a 90-83 win over the Toronto Raptors that pushed the HEAT's winning streak to 9 games.

Even in the game that snapped the HEAT's 10-game winning streak, Andersen came up big off the bench, especially in the fourth quarter. The HEAT fell 107-97 to a determined Detroit Pistons team on Dec. 3, but Andersen poured in 8 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 16 strong minutes of action. Andersen was on the floor as the HEAT mounted a furious 18-6 run to pull within 91-86 with 6:45 left to play in the game, and he seemed to be everywhere during that surge – scoring, rebounding, defending and even tipping in a missed Michael Beasley free throw for a big basket.

That game also marked Andersen's 60th regular-season game in a HEAT uniform. The HEAT posted a dominating 53-7 record during that 60-game stretch, which translates to an incredible 88.3-percent success rate.

Andersen's many contributions, veteran savvy and seemingly endless energy come as no surprise now to HEAT fans, coaches and teammates, who watched the colorful big man follow up that splendid regular-season with a truly historic playoff performance.

Andersen averaged 6.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 0.5 steals in 15.2 minutes per game over 20 postseason appearances, and his high-octane energy, fearless post play and near-flawless shooting served as key components in the HEAT's thrilling defense of their NBA Championship.

In fact, Andersen's shooting – an incredible 80.7 percent from the field – set a new NBA Playoffs record for field goal percentage, besting James Donaldson's 75-percent mark over just 10 games of action for the Dallas Mavericks in 1986. It also put him in a rarefied air among HEAT legends, as former perennial NBA All-Star and current HEAT Vice President of Player Programs Alonzo Mourning shot 70.5 percent from the field in 15 games of the 2005 Playoffs, and hit on 70.3 percent of his field goal attempts in 21 postseason games in the 2006 NBA Playoffs, when the HEAT claimed the franchise's first-ever NBA Championship.

All told, the HEAT went 15-5 in the 2013 NBA Playoffs with Andersen on the floor, and when you combine that 15-5 postseason mark with the 55-17 regular-season record the HEAT now boast when Andersen sees some court time, you're left looking at an overall record of 70-12 in Andersen's first 82 appearances in a HEAT uniform. Nobody would claim that Andersen is the prime reason for that superior 85.4-percent success rate – but no astute observer would claim that he doesn't factor signficantly into all that winning either.

On a team populated heavily by perimeter players and accomplished outside shooters, Andersen's hard-driving, board-crashing, rim-protecting and all-out assaulting style of play provides a dimension and flavor that is immensely valuable and, at times, seemingly contagious.

Andersen's incredible energy, rangy versatility, veteran smarts and experience and overall selfless style of play are also the kinds of qualities that cannot be measured merely by numbers, and it's apparent to all who have watched the HEAT closely over the past few seasons that Andersen is a special kind of player – one who is capable of being both a "glue guy" and a "hustle player" all at once. HEAT star and reigning NBA MVP LeBron James frequently sings the praises of Andersen in post-game interviews, often citing his "energy" and "basketball IQ" as prime reasons for another HEAT victory.

Those same qualities have endeared Andersen to HEAT fans since he first joined the team as a free agent nearly a calendar year ago, and his entrances, exits and all-out efforts in games frequently draw lusty applause from the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd.

Put simply, Chris Andersen knows how to play the game of basketball. And even better, he knows how to win. And is willing to do whatever it takes to secure a victory.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

Good things can come to those who wait.

Need further proof? Just look at HEAT forward Rashard Lewis.

A savvy, lengthy, versatile veteran with a knack for draining the 3-point shot, the 34-year-old Lewis came to the HEAT last season with all kinds of accolades accumulated over 14 NBA seasons.

He had made two NBA All-Star teams. He had averaged 16 or more points for 8 consecutive seasons. He had surpassed the 15,000-point plateau. He had scored 50 points in a single game. He had teamed with All-Star center Dwight Howard to lead the Orlando Magic to a 2009 NBA Finals appearance. He had made more 3-point field goals than all but a few fistfuls of players in league history.

But if he was to join the star-studded, sharp-shooting, veteran-laden HEAT, the then-free agent Lewis had to accept a significantly smaller role. Nothing was assured, not even a regular spot in the playing rotation.

Lewis was fine with that assignment. He wanted to do something he had yet to accomplish in his decorated career – win a NBA Championship. So he signed on for a two-year stint with the reigning NBA Champions. And when called upon, Lewis delivered. In many areas.

And in the end, Lewis was right there with his HEAT teammates last June, grinning his trademark grin from ear to ear, and hoisting the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy proudly above his head.

This season has seen the same sort of quiet and dedicated professionalism from the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Lewis. Except with former HEAT bench sparkplug Mike Miller now in Memphis, and Future Hall of Famers Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade battling some early season setbacks, Lewis has seen his role – and playing time – expand dramatically during the first month of the 2013-14 season.

The results have been equally impressive. Lewis does a little bit of everything. He does it all very well. And the HEAT just keep on winning.

Lewis proved especially valuable during the recent absence of fellow veteran and two-time teammates Allen, who missed 3 games while battling the flu.

Playing without their top bench scorer and facilitator – and arguably one of the best and smartest all-around players in NBA history – the HEAT went a flawless 3-0. Lewis' own blend of savvy, smarts and skill was a big reason why.

Lewis logged 24 minutes during the HEAT's 118-95 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 12, scoring 7 points, grabbing 3 rebounds, snaring 2 steals and dishing 1 assist in a well-rounded performance. Lewis was a flawless 3-for-3 from the field in that game, draining his lone 3-point attempt as the HEAT overcame the absence of Allen to post yet another win.

With Allen out again three nights later, Lewis turned in his most prolific outing of the young season, scoring 11 points, grabbing 3 rebounds, handing out 2 assists and snaring 1 steal in 29 minutes of a thrilling 110-104 triumph over the up-tempo Dallas Mavericks. The 29 minutes and 11 points set high marks for Lewis through his first 8 appearances of the 2013-14 season, and he once again put on a clinic in efficient and effective shooting, drilling 4-of-6 field goals, including 3-of-5 from behind the 3-point arc.

The next night, Lewis once again played an extended and vital role in a HEAT victory, logging a season-high 33 minutes in a 97-81 road win over the improved Charlotte Bobcats. Lewis' 33 minutes easily led all HEAT reserves, and he scored 9 points and pulled down a season-, HEAT- and game-high 9 rebounds in his extended court time. The 9 rebounds not only led all players in the game, but also represented Lewis' highest rebounding total in a HEAT uniform. Lewis also hit 1 of the team's 6 3-pointers in the HEAT's third consecutive win, which also marked their 13th straight victory over Southeast Division rival Charlotte.

Lewis also stepped in and stepped up in fine fashion in just the second game of the season, when the HEAT decided to give Wade a night off in Philadelphia to rest his sore knees on Oct. 30. The HEAT lost that game 114-110, but Lewis was an all-around force off the bench, scoring 11 points, dishing a season-high 5 assists, grabbing 1 rebound and snaring 1 steal in 20 high-energy minutes. Lewis hit 4-of-8 field goal attempts – including 1-of-4 3-pointers – and swished 2-of-3 free-throw attempts in that game, and his 5 assists were second only to James' game-high 13 among all HEAT players.

With Wade again sitting out as a precautionary measure this week, but Allen back in the playing rotation, Lewis once again led all reserves with 26 minutes of action in the HEAT's 104-88 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 19. With a refreshed Allen pouring in 17 points, Lewis chipped in 2 points, a game- and season-high 5 steals, 3 assists and 2 rebounds in another strong all-around effort. The HEAT improved to 8-3 with their fourth consecutive win, also their eighth over division rival Atlanta.

The next night, with Wade once again resting, Lewis again led all HEAT bench players with 25 minutes of playing time, scoring 2 points, dishing 3 assists, grabbing 2 rebounds and snaring 2 steals in a 120-92 win at Orlando. Lewis also helped assist in a strong HEAT defensive effort that limited the energetic Magic to just 40.8-percent shooting on their own floor. With their season-high fifth consecutive victory, the HEAT improved to 8-1 in their previous 9 games, with the lone loss coming on a last-second, desperation 3-pointer at the hands of Boston's Jeff Green.

Through the first 12 games of the season, the HEAT boast a 9-3 record and a 5-game winning streak, and Lewis is averaging 5.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals in 19.1 minutes per game. Lewis has hit 45.5 percent of his field goal attempts, including 41.7 percent (10-of-24) from long-range. The 1.2-steals-per-game average ranks third on the HEAT, behind only starters Wade and Mario Chalmers.

Lewis' key contributions in multiple areas came as no surprise to HEAT coaches, teammates and fans, who watched the Texas native fit seamlessly into the HEAT culture and fill in admirably on the floor whenever called upon last season.

During the HEAT's run to a second consecutive NBA Championship, Lewis averaged 5.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.3 blocks in 14.4 minutes per game over 55 games in their record-setting regular season. He hit 41.4 percent of his field goal attempts, including 38.9 from 3-point range.

Lewis even started 9 games for the HEAT, averaging 7.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 blocks and 0.4 steals in those 9 starts. As the HEAT sat several players with nagging injuries during the final month of their remarkable 66-16 season, Lewis reminded everyone of his immense talents and prolific scoring touch by averaging 11.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks in 28.1 minutes per game over 9 April games.

Lewis poured in 14 or more points in 6 of those 9 games, including a season-high 19 in 2 of the final 4 games, and hit 3 3-pointers in 4 different games. Most importantly, the HEAT went 8-1 down the stretch run, including a flawless 8-0 to close out the season and finish with the NBA's best record. That distinction provided the HEAT with homecourt advantage throughout the 2013 NBA Playoffs – an edge that would prove pivotal in their thrilling 7-game series wins over the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals and San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.

Lewis saw limited action in the postseason, but produced when called upon, averaging 1.5 points, 0.6 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.2 blocks and 0.2 steals in just 4.3 minutes per game over 11 playoff games. He scored 4 points, grabbed 1 rebound and handed out 1 assist in 5 minutes of action in Game 2 of the 2013 NBA Finals, a 103-84 HEAT win over the San Antonio Spurs.

It was a marked departure from Lewis' role on that 2009 Orlando Magic team, when he averaged 19.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.0 steals in 41.1 minutes per game over 24 games to lead the Magic to a Finals showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers. But where that experience ended with a loss to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, this run culminated in an unforgettable, hard-won NBA Championship. Lewis' megawatt smile from the HEAT's Championship Podium stood out more than any individual stat line ever could.

Good things definitely came to Lewis during his 14th NBA season, and he showed that he is more than capable of patiently waiting to contribute when and where he is needed. On a deep and determined team that features the NBA MVP Award winner in 4 of the past 5 seasons in LeBron James, Lewis' selfless approach is needed as much as a superior skill set.

This season, his 16th in the NBA, Lewis has not had to wait nearly as long to log major minutes, and he has once again answered the bell in professional fashion. In so doing, he has helped the HEAT overcome an early challenge that included not only the illness absence of Allen, but nagging knee issues with Wade and back spasms that slowed fellow veteran forward Udonis Haslem and, to a lesser degree, James. Finally free from his own knee ailments after several setbacks over the past few seasons, Lewis looks quicker and more explosive this season, and has been able to log more than 20 minutes of court time in 7 of his first 10 appearances, including each of the past 5 games. The HEAT are also a flawless 5-0 during that 5-game stretch.

Lewis has been in the NBA for so long, he played alongside 18-year veteran Allen for a team that no longer exists. Both players made NBA All-Star teams while racking up points and 3-point hits in bunches for the Seattle SuperSonics, who drafted Lewis straight out of Alief Elsik High School with the 32nd overall pick of the 1998 NBA Draft. Lewis spent the first 9 seasons of his compelling career in Seattle, averaging 14.8 points or more in each of his final 7 seasons, including at least 20.1 points in each of the last 3. The 38-year-old Allen played alongside Lewis in Seattle during those final 5 seasons, and averaged at least 23.0 points or more himself. Both players left Seattle for new teams following the 2006-07 season, and the SuperSonics left Seattle to become the Oklahoma City Thunder a year later.

Lewis has hit 1,751 3-pointers and counting during his career, one of the closest active players to Allen's all-time NBA record of 2,871 and counting. That impressive total is also good enough for eighth all-time in NBA annals – and just 10 long-range hits away from passing former Sacramento sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic (1,760) for the No. 7 spot on that elite list. Among active players, only Allen, Detroit's Chauncey Billups and the Brooklyn Nets duo of Paul Pierce and Jason Terry have converted more 3-point field goal attempts than Lewis, who currently ranks fifth on the sharpshooting HEAT in 3-point percentage (41.7 percent) and sixth in 3-pointers made (10).

And when the HEAT topped in-state rival Orlando Wednesday night, Lewis achieved yet another major milestone in his well-decorated NBA career: 1,000 regular-season games played.

Lewis also has extensive postseason experience, having seen action in 75 playoff games, including 63 starts.

Lewis' career averages of 15.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.5 blocks over those 1,000 regular-season games, and 14.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks in the 75 postseason games, demonstrate not just elite-level production in many areas of the game, but remarkable consistency and steadiness.

Just how big a role Lewis continues to play for the HEAT this season will ultimately be decided by head coach Erik Spoelstra and the usual variety of variables that factor into the up-tempo grind that defines each and every NBA season. But no matter what the net result is, Spoelstra, HEAT players and fans alike can all rest assured knowing that Lewis will continue to do whatever the team needs from him.

And do it all at an extremely high level.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

One is in his sixth NBA season, including his fourth as the full-time starting point guard for the HEAT.

The other just kicked off his third professional season, and has served as the second-team point guard for back-to-back NBA Championship HEAT teams.

The former is an expert at the art of the steal, a consistently lethal long-range shooter and a player long renowned for his performance in the clutch.

The latter is a tenacious man-to-man defender, an up-tempo and aggressive all-around player and an increasingly accomplished shooter in his own right.

Taken apart, both Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole possess plenty of talents that give opponents fits.

And when combined, the HEAT's point guard duo packs a 1-2 punch that often proves to be downright devastating.

The tandem was absolutely vital to the sensational success of last season's record-setting HEAT team. Each man played a pivotal role as the HEAT posted an NBA-best and franchise-record 66-16 regular-season record that included a remarkable 27-game winning streak, then capped a pulse-quickening playoff run with a victory over the veteran-laden San Antonio Spurs in an unforgettable 2013 NBA Finals that went a full 7 games.

A few weeks into the third season of the Chalmers-Cole pairing, things are looking even better for the HEAT's point guard pair. Each player appears sleeker and quicker than a year ago, and both men are performing and producing at a high level.

Through the first 8 games of the 2013-14 season, Chalmers and Cole rank sixth and seventh, respectively, among HEAT players in scoring, with each man averaging above his career scoring average. Both players are also averaging just a fraction under 3 rebounds and at least 3 assists per game, with Chalmers' 5.3-assist-per-game average ranking behind only reigning NBA MVP LeBron James on the HEAT. Both Chalmers and Cole were also shooting at a 42-percent or better clip from behind the 3-point arc, with Chalmers drilling a team-high 15 of his first 26 attempts for a blistering 57.7-percent average – fourth best in the entire NBA. Chalmers also leads the HEAT in steals – and ranks sixth in the entire NBA – averaging a robust 2.25 steals per game.

Chalmers' sweet shooting from long-distance is nothing new, of course. The confident 27-year-old veteran has drilled 100 or more 3-point field goals in all three of his seasons as the HEAT's starting point guard, including each of the past two seasons. Last season, Chalmers buried a career-high 123 3-pointers, connecting at a 40.9-percent clip that was also a career best – and ranked fourth on the sharp-shooting HEAT, who set a franchise record with 717 hits from long-range. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Chalmers also averaged 8.6 points, 3.5 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals – all in just 26.9 minutes per game. The steals and assists averages ranked third and the scoring average was good for fifth-best on the HEAT.

Chalmers continued his strong all-around play in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, averaging 9.4 points, 3.1 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 0.9 steals while shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from behind the 3-point arc as the HEAT completed a challenging, thrilling and successful NBA Title defense during a thrilling 23-game run.

Chalmers once again came up big when the HEAT needed him most, scoring 19 points in a 103-84 HEAT win over the Spurs in Game 2 of the 2013 NBA Finals and draining a 30-foot, buzzer-beating, bank 3-pointer that put the HEAT up 72-71 going into the fourth quarter of a tight Game 7. Chalmers would finish that game with 14 points, 2 assists and 2 steals, and the HEAT would post a thrilling 95-88 win that capped a comeback from a 3-2 series deficit and a second consecutive NBA Championship. He was also instrumental in a legendary 103-100 overtime win in Game 6, pouring in 20 points, grabbing 4 rebounds and dishing 2 assists while logging a playoff-career-high 43 minutes on the court. Chalmers knocked down 7-of-11 shots in that game, including a near-perfect 4-of-5 from long-range.

With the HEAT facing do-or-die scenarios against a deep, experienced and hungry Spurs squad in the last 2 Finals games, Chalmers opted to "do"...and then did even more, racking up 34 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in back-to-back big-time performances. HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra trusted Chalmers with 83 out of a possible 101 minutes of court time over the final 2 games of the HEAT's storybook season, and he responded by outscoring his point guard counterpoint and perennial All-Star Tony Parker 34 to 29. Chalmers' aggressive defense helped hold the normally prolific Parker to those 29 points on just 9-of-35 shooting from the field (a mere 25.7 percent), and he drained an efficient 13-of-26 shots himself, including 5-of-12 from behind the 3-point arc.

The HEAT have now won NBA Titles in two of the three seasons where Chalmers served as the starter at point guard. Along with teammate Shane Battier and a handful of other men in basketball history, the former Kansas star is also a proud member a super-select club of players who have won championships at both the NCAA and NBA levels.

While Chalmers was providing his customary clutch shooting and often disruptive defensive play, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Cole continued to evolve into a versatile, all-around point guard that any NBA team would be proud to feature as its starter, yet alone backup.

Cole, who turned 25 just before the start of his third NBA season, improved his production and performance in just about every category across the board, raising his averages in assists (2.1), rebounds (1.6), steals (0.7) and minutes per game (19.9), and improving his overall field goal shooting from 39.3 percent to 42.1 percent and his 3-point field goal shooting from 27.6 percent to 35.7 percent. Cole also averaged 5.6 points per game, good enough for seventh on the entire HEAT roster and second to Battier among reserves, and performed incredibly well down the season's stretch, averaging 10.3 points, 3.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 46.8 percent from the field – including a blistering 47.6 percent from long range – in nine games in April.

The former Cleveland State star and Horizon League Player of the Year even started four games in his second NBA season, averaging 13.0 points, 5.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting 43.5 percent from the field. In a thrilling 96-95 HEAT win at Cleveland on April 15, Cole just missed a triple-double, scoring a season-high 16 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, dishing 9 assists and making a game-saving block-and-steal on Cavaliers star point guard Kyrie Irving in the closing seconds.

In the playoffs, Cole took his game to a whole other level, especially on offense. Relegated to a minor role that saw him average 1.8 points, 0.6 assists, 0.5 rebounds and 0.4 steals in just 8.9 minutes a game during his first professional postseason, Cole boosted his averages to 6.1 points, 2.0 assists, 1.9 rebounds and 0.7 steals in just a shade under 20 minutes per game as the HEAT survived a grueling playoff gauntlet to secure a second consecutive Championship. He connected on 48 percent of his shot attempts during his second playoff run, including a sizzling 53.1 percent (17-of-32) from 3-point range.

Cole appeared in all but 2 of the HEAT's 23 postseason games, and was especially impactful in the HEAT's Eastern Conference Semifinals series win over the gritty Chicago Bulls, scoring 7 or more points in 4 of the series' 5 games, including a playoff-career-high 18 points in back-to-back HEAT wins in Games 2 and 3. Cole hit an astounding 20-of-29 shots from the field in that series, including 9-of-11 from long-range, and averaged 11.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists.

This season, as the HEAT work to join an uber-elite collection of teams who have won three consecutive NBA Championships, the team's point guard duo has been arguably even more dynamic.

Chalmers opened the season in scorer mode, racking up 12 or more points in each of the HEAT's first 3 games, then moved into more of a distributor role, dishing out at least 7 assists in back-to-back HEAT wins. Through those first 5 games, Chalmers' lightning-quick hands were as active as ever, as he snared at least 2 steals in each game – including 5 in the season opener – and was averaging a team-high 3.3 steals, second in the entire NBA to Ricky Rubio's 4.0-steal average. Chalmers' 3-point shooting was equally impressive, as he drained 11-of-20 long-range shots, or an eye-popping 55 percent.

Chalmers enjoyed his finest all-around game of the young season in the HEAT's eighth game, scoring 15 points, handing out 7 assists, grabbing 4 rebounds and snaring 2 steals in a 118-95 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 12. Chalmers was absolutely brilliant in the first quarter of that game, racking up 10 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals to lead the HEAT to a 32-23 edge after the opening quarter.

Cole also opened this season with a strong scoring flourish, netting 9 or more points off the bench in 3 of the HEAT's first 4 games, and hitting a remarkable 16-of-26 shots – including 4-of-9 from behind the 3-point arc – during that 4-game flourish. Cole scored 11 points, pulled down 7 rebounds, dished 3 assists and snared 1 steal in 21 electric minutes of the HEAT's season-opening 107-95 win over the Chicago Bulls, continuing right where he left off against the Bulls last postseason. Cole followed that brilliant debut with a second consecutive game with at least 10 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists, and logged a 9-point, 2-assist, 2-steal outing in a 103-93 HEAT win at Washington two games later.

Perhaps the finest example of Chalmers and Cole teaming up to frustrate an opponent on defense came in a 102-97 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 7. The dynamic duo combined to limit Clippers point guard Chris Paul to just 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting in that game – more than 10 points below Paul's per-game scoring average – and pressured the perennial All-Star into 5 turnovers.

With Chalmers and Cole rotating running the point, the HEAT have opened the season averaging 106.8 points through their first 8 games, racking up at least 100 points in each of those games. That 106.8 points-per-game average ranks behind only the Clippers' 109.9 points-per-game pace in the 30-team NBA, and is tops in the Eastern Conference, where points always seem to come at more of a premium. The HEAT are also leading the entire NBA in field goal percentage (52.5 percent), 3-point field goal percentage (44.5 percent) and assists per game (28.1).

No matter where the driven HEAT go this season, one thing is for sure:

They can count on each of the men in charge of steering the offense to guide them to success. Especially when the road starts to get a bit bumpy.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

Homecomings can be a beautiful thing.

Michael Beasley, the HEAT organization and HEAT fans alike all hope to be celebrating a successful homecoming for the talented young veteran this NBA season.

If that homecoming party comes on the heels of a joyous Championship celebration alongside the NBA’s reighning back-to-back Champs? Even better.

There is no question Beasley has the skills to help the HEAT celebrate a third consecutive NBA Championship at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. The HEAT and their fan base know this better than anybody else.

Beasley made his first foray into the professional basketball ranks when the HEAT selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, and the 6-foot-9.5-inch, 235-pound forward spent his first two NBA seasons in a HEAT uniform. Beasley was just 19 years old when he first joined the HEAT, and had played only one year of college basketball, starring at Kansas State and leading the nation in rebounding under the tutelage of Frank Martin, who previously coached fellow HEAT forward Udonis Haslem at Miami Senior High School.

Beasley’s blend of size, strength, length, quickness, versatility and scoring ability – combined with his per-game averages of 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for the Wildcats – proved too enticing for the HEAT to pass up, and they made him the second pick of that 2008 Draft, behind only current Chicago Bulls star and then-University of Memphis standout Derrick Rose, who is also the only player not named LeBron James to win a NBA MVP Award over the past five seasons.

Beasley played a vital role and put up strong numbers for the HEAT from the get-go, averaging 13.9 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 47.2 percent from the field in 81 games, including 19 starts, during the 2008-09 NBA season. The field goal percentage remains a career high for Beasley, who averaged those 13.9 points in just 24.8 minutes per game. The HEAT finished 43-39 in Beasley’s rookie season, which was also the first season for Erik Spoelstra as the HEAT’s head coach. Beasley’s play certainly caught people’s attention around the league, and he was named to the All-Rookie First Team.

In his second season with the HEAT, Beasley increased his scoring, rebounding and playing-time averages to 14.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 29.8 minutes per game, with his rebounding average ranking as a career high. He played in 78 games for the HEAT during that 2009-10 season, starting all 78 of them, and the club finished with a 47-35 record.

Following his second season with the club, the HEAT traded Beasley to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a pair of second-round draft picks (2011 and 2014), and the move enabled the HEAT to free up enough salary cap space to sign then-free agents LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Mike Miller that same summer.

While James and Bosh teamed with Dwyane Wade to lead the HEAT to three consecutive NBA Finals appearances, those same three seasons saw Beasley play key roles for the Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns, with his most productive professional season coming in his first year in Minnesota. Beasley averaged a career-high 19.2 points and 5.6 rebounds in a career-high 32.3 minutes a game for the Timberwolves during the 2010-11 NBA season, and exploded for 42 points and 9 rebounds in a 98-89 win over the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 10, 2010.

When Beasley became available on the open market this offseason, the HEAT decided to give the versatile, aggressive big man another look, figuring his proven knack for providing instant offense – including his ability to play both forward positions and handle and shoot the ball with both hands – would help not only make up for the loss of veteran sharpshooter Miller, but provide added depth in the frontcourt rotation as the club prepares to pursue a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

Beasley did not disappoint in his first two preseason appearances for the HEAT, racking up 22 points and pulling down 7 rebounds in 28 high-energy minutes off the bench. The HEAT won both games, and Beasley connected on 8-of-16 field goals, including 7-of-12 from inside the 3-point arc.

As talented as he is, and as productive as he has been, there is still so much room for improvement with Beasley, who possesses an intriguing blend of youth and professional experience.

Beasley doesn’t even turn 25 until Jan. 9, 2014, yet he already has five seasons of NBA action and game experience under his belt. He’s also played for three different organizations – one on the East Coast, one in the Southwest, and one in the Midwest.

Over those five seasons – playing for three different teams in three very different systems – Beasley boasts averages of 14.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.5 blocks, in just 26.4 minutes per game. He’s connected on 44.7 percent of his field goals – including 34.5 percent from behind the three-point arc – and 75.7 percent of his free-throw attempts. He’s drilled 30 or more 3-pointers in four of his five NBA seasons, including a career-high 60 during his prolific 2010-2011 season.

Beasley even has valuable playoff experience, having averaged 11.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.6 blocks in 12 postseason games – including 5 starts – during his first stint with the HEAT.

Put simply, Beasley has always produced on the court. Especially when it comes to scoring the ball. Then again, that’s what Beasley has always done in his basketball career.

Beasley grew up starring and scoring for championship-caliber AAU teams alongside current Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant in the Washington, D.C. area, and was named the MVP of the 2007 McDonald’s High School All-American Game (one year after Durant won such honors in that showcase game).

In his one season of college basketball, as a true freshman, Beasley not only led the country in rebounding, but his 26.2 points-per-game average was third best in the nation. He also led the nation in 40-point games (three), double-doubles (28), 30-point, 10-rebound games (13) and 20-point, 10-rebound games (22), and he ranks today as only the 27th player in NCAA Division I history to rack up 26 or more double-doubles in a single season.

No less an authority than Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers is on record as saying, “I think one day he may lead the league in scoring.” The HEAT won’t look to Beasley to lead the league – or even the team – in scoring this season. But they will expect what he has always proven capable of providing each and every time he takes the floor:

Instant offense. Aggressive energy. Tenacious rebounding. And excellent athleticism.

Michael Beasley is back home again with the HEAT. And he’s ready to make the most of his second stint with the club.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

It seems like Chris Andersen has been a key component in the HEAT's culture of hard work and winning basketball for a long time.

In reality, however, the sinewy, savvy 6-foot-10, 228-pound forward/center has only been with the HEAT since he signed his first 10-day contract with the club on Jan. 20 of this year.

But in those four-and-a-half months, the 34-year-old Andersen has helped the HEAT accomplish and win so much, so often, it's almost mind-bending to consider. So that sense of long-term, long-time familiarity makes sense, once you look at all Andersen's meant to this record-setting, NBA Finals-bound HEAT team.

In 42 regular-season games in a HEAT uniform, Andersen averaged 4.9 points, 4.1 rebounds 1.0 blocks, 0.4 steals and 0.4 assists in just 14.9 minutes per game off the bench. Playing in his 11th NBA season and for the first time in nearly a full calendar year, Andersen shot a career-best 57.7 percent from the field and a respectable 67.7 percent from the free-throw line. And most impressively and importantly of all, the HEAT compiled a stunning 39-3 record with Andersen in the playing rotation. The HEAT also ripped off a remarkable 27-game win streak en route to an NBA-best and franchise-record 66 wins.

The postseason has seen similar results – with one notable difference:

Andersen has taken his personal production, especially his offensive game, to a whole new level. And the wily veteran big man is now on the verge of winning his first NBA Championship.

And making NBA postseason history along the way.

In 15 games in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Andersen has averaged 7.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 0.3 steals and 0.2 assists in 15.5 minutes per game. He's shot an eye-popping 82.6 percent from the field and an excellent 76.9 percent from the line. Andersen has taken 46 shots from the field, connecting on 38 of them, and hit 30-of-39 free-throw attempts. In short, he's been near-perfect on offense – and is actually on pace to set a NBA Playoffs record for field goal percentage in a single postseason.

That mark currently belongs to James Donaldson, who shot 75.0 percent in 10 games for the Dallas Mavericks in the 1986 NBA Playoffs. Former HEAT star and current HEAT Vice President of Player Programs Alonzo Mourning ranks third all-time on that list, having shot 70.5 percent from the field in 15 games of the 2005 Playoffs. Mourning also shot 70.3 percent in 21 postseason games when the HEAT claimed their first-ever NBA Championship to cap the 2006 Playoffs.

Andersen also ranks fourth on the HEAT in rebounding and second to only Chris Bosh in shot-blocking in these 2013 Playoffs – despite seeing less time on the floor than eight other teammates.

Andersen has scored 10 or more points four times, grabbed 5 or more rebounds six times and blocked at least 2 shots in seven games during the HEAT's exciting and intriguing playoff run. And he didn't waste any time in establishing himself during the franchise's third straight drive to the NBA Finals.

Andersen was an absolute force and the proverbial X-factor in the HEAT's first-round sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 8.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 0.5 steals and 0.5 assists in 14.8 minutes per game. He shot a blistering 81.3 percent from the field, connecting on 13-of-16 field goal attempts, and he scored 10 or more points and grabbed at least 6 rebounds in each of the first three games of the four-game series. The Bucks simply had no answer for Andersen, and current TNT studio analyst and one-time HEAT star Shaquille O'Neal began to creatively express his admiration of the energetic big man's passionate, productive play.

Andersen saw his production dip a bit in the HEAT's second-round series win over the more defensive-oriented Chicago Bulls, but he still managed to average 6.0 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 12.8 minutes per game. Andersen emerged as more of a shot-blocking force in that series, swatting 2 or more shots in 4 of the 5 games against the Bulls, and although his offensive impact was lessened, he once again rarely missed when he did shoot. Andersen connected on 75.0 percent of his field goal attempts (9-of-12) and 85.7 percent (12-of-14) from the free-throw line in the series, and his 9-point, 4-rebound, 2-block performance was pivotal in the HEAT's 88-65 road win in Game 4. Playing in front of a rowdy United Center crowd, Andersen and the HEAT held the proud Bulls to franchise all-time playoffs-low totals in points (65) and field-goal percentage (25.7 percent).

Then came the Eastern Conference Finals, by far the HEAT's toughest test yet. With his team up against its tallest, strongest, toughest and most accomplished postseason opponent yet, Andersen was at his very best. In fact, he was almost perfect on offense.

Through the first five games of the thrilling, back-and-forth, seven-game series, Andersen actually was perfect. He hit 18-of-18 field goal attempts, drawing frequent and near-obsessional praise for his offensive acumen from legendary play-by-play announcer Marv Albert. Andersen scored at least 7 points in each of the first three games, and was pivotal in the HEAT claiming an early 2-1 lead in a series that would end up stretching to a maximum seven games. When the HEAT opened the series with a hair-raising, nail-biting, buzzer-beating 103-102 win, Andersen was absolutely electric, scoring a playoffs-high 16 points, pulling down 5 rebounds, blocking a game-high 3 shots and snaring 1 steal in 18 live-wire minutes off the HEAT bench.

Andersen finished a truly remarkable 19-for-21 in six games played against Roy Hibbert, David West and the rugged, rim-protecting, defensive-minded Pacers. Andersen also averaged 7.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 0.5 steals in that thrilling series, and racked up 7 points, 5 rebounds and 1 steal in 17 minutes of the deciding and decisive 99-76 Game 7 victory at a raucous AmericanAirlines Arena.

But the most notable measurement of Andersen's impact on that series may have come in the one game he did not play in.

Suspended by the NBA for Game 6 in Indianapolis following a heated and hard-hitting exchange with Pacers reserve big man Tyler Hansbrough in Game 5, Andersen was confined to the team hotel that evening, and forced to endure an ugly 91-77 HEAT loss from afar. Hampered and slowed without the energy, defense, scoring and rebounding prowess of Andersen against the hard-charging, body-banging Pacers, the HEAT registered playoff-lows in points scored (77) and field-goal percentage (36.1 percent), and lost the battle on the boards by a decisive 53-33 margin.

All told, the HEAT are 12-3 with Andersen in the lineup during their third consecutive run to the NBA Finals. And 0-1 without him. Add that Andersen-infused playoff record to the 39-3 regular-season record, and the HEAT are 51-6 with Andersen in uniform and on the floor. That's an incredible 89.5 winning percentage over 57 games. And if you factor out games against teams not named the Indiana Pacers, those numbers improve to 51-3 and 94.4 percent.

Of course, those fantastic figures are the result of much more than merely Andersen's presence and play. But to a man, the HEAT have often extolled the wire-to-wire effort, high basketball IQ, engaging personality and selfless sacrifice of Andersen – with back-to-back NBA MVP LeBron James in particular citing Andersen's passionate play following several key victories.

And after the HEAT iced and eliminated the Pacers to set up a showdown with the Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs on Monday, June 3, Andersen was the first HEAT player to receive the Eastern Conference Championship Trophy from Mourning and HEAT Managing General Partner Micky Arison. Andersen proudly held the trophy aloft above his freshly shorn and spiked mohawk. And those who remained in the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd roared lustily in approval.

Of course, the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd always goes wild for Andersen, who fast became a fan favorite thanks to his colorful, gritty, aggressive and all-out style of play.

Andersen's motor seems to only have one gear. And it's always set to maximum overdrive.

And as much as Andersen clearly savored holding that silver Eastern Conference Championship Trophy aloft, he left no doubt that he's got his eyes, mind and heart locked in on an even shinier token of success – the gold Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.

“It's amazing to hold that [Eastern Conference Championship Trophy],” Andersen said after that Game 7 win over the Pacers. “But I really want to hold up the other [Finals] trophy. I know there is another test at hand.”

A very big test now awaits in the form of the savvy, smart, seasoned San Antonio Spurs. But Chris Andersen is a very big man. With a very big appetite for success. And a very big drive to add a brand new accomplishment to an already decorated and diverse career in professional basketball:

NBA Champion.

Game 1 of the 2013 NBA Finals comes Thursday, June 6. And you can bet Andersen will come ready to play. And win.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

Few people expected this from Norris Cole.

When the HEAT capped their franchise record-setting and NBA-leading 2012-13 regular season by winning 37 of their final 39 games, including 27 straight at one point, Cole's professionalism, passion and play backing up Mario Chalmers at the point turned heads and opened eyes among HEAT fans while earning accolades from his coaches.

And with Chalmers slowed by an ankle injury during the season's final month, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Cole did produce a few strong stat lines in spot starter duty. The highlight came in a 96-95 HEAT win at Cleveland on April 15, when the former Cleveland State star and Dayton, Ohio native nearly notched a triple-double with season-highs of 16 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists to lead his injury-depleted team to their 65th win. In 4 total starts on the season, Cole averaged a solid 13.0 points, 5.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals.

Still, it was his seemingly endless energy, determined defense and infectious passion that served as the 24-year-old Cole's calling cards in his second NBA season, not his offensive acumen.

Given a full training camp to work with for the first time, and often sharing a backcourt with the epitome of a professional and pure scorer in reserve shooting guard Ray Allen, Cole improved his statistics in nearly every offensive category. But Cole's 5.6 points a game, 42.1-percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point range over 80 games suggested more of a player still rounding out his offensive form than it did a dead-eyed and deadly offensive assassin.

Even in that signature game at Cleveland, Cole's biggest play came on defense, when he shadowed, suffocated and then stuffed lightning-quick guard Kyrie Irving on the Cavaliers' final possession. The brilliant block-and-steal play sealed that narrow 96-95 win and humbled a fellow second-year standout who earned NBA Rookie of the Year honors by averaging 18.5 points and 5.4 assists per game in the 2011-12 season.

But as their brilliant regular season gave way to the 2013 NBA Playoffs, and the HEAT kicked off their NBA Championship title defense run in the postseason, Cole has shot out of the gate guns blazing, averaging 8.8 points while shooting a sizzling 60.4 percent from the field and a remarkable 68.8 percent from behind the 3-point line (drilling 11 of 16 attempts from long-range) over the HEAT's first 9 playoff games. Cole is the fifth-leading scorer for the HEAT so far in the playoffs, and his postseason point production has come coupled with averages of 2.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.8 steals – while averaging 22.1 minutes off the HEAT bench.

In short, Cole's all-around play is a big reason for the HEAT's 8-1 record in 9 postseason games. And his scoring has been especially impactful.

Cole's offensive improvement and ultra-efficiency was especially notable and valuable in the HEAT's Eastern Conference Semifinals series win over the gritty, grinding Chicago Bulls. Cole scored 7 or more points in 4 of the 5 games in that series, including a playoff-career-high 18 points in back-to-back HEAT wins in Games 2 and 3. Cole hit 20 of 29 shots from the field in that series, including a near-perfect 9 of 11 from long-range (he was a flawless 8-for-8 through the first 3 games), and his offensive output helped neutralize the production of Bulls point guard Nate Robinson, who exploded for a game-high 27 points in the Bulls' 93-86 Game 1 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena and scored at least 17 points in 3 of the series' 5 games.

The big showings in Games 2 and 3 were also pivotal in shaping the series' outcome, as the Bulls surprisingly grabbed control of the narrative with that Game 1 win, and Dwyane Wade was battling right knee soreness that hampered his overall explosiveness and usual offensive output. Cole led the HEAT with 9 3-point hits in the series, outpacing primary long-range snipers Shane Battier (8) and Ray Allen (4). The fact that he managed to do that on just 11 attempts from behind the arc is even more noteworthy.

Of course, Cole also played his customary lock-down defense for much of the series, and helped hold the previously hot Robinson scoreless on 0-for-12 shooting in an 88-65 win in Game 4. But when the dust cleared on the HEAT's 5-game series win, it was Cole's fearless attacking and dead-eye shooting that stood out – and got NBA observers everywhere talking about the tough-minded guard's evolving overall game. It's hard to be much more efficient than the 69 percent from the field and eye-popping 81.8 percent from long-range that Cole shot in that series, particularly against a physical, defense-minded opponent. And especially while coming off the bench.

In other words, in a "second season" that traditionally translates to more defense and less offense, the HEAT's second-year spark plug of a point guard has defied convention, morphing from defensive-minded stopper to explosive and sweet-shooting scorer seemingly overnight.

Of course, the reality is that nothing happens overnight. Especially when it comes to the demanding, grinding, heavy-lifting life of a professional athlete.

No, the truth is Norris Cole has worked hard to improve all areas of his game in his second NBA season. Very, very, very hard. And the results are starting to make the HEAT even harder and harder to beat.

The HEAT are now 45-3 over their last 48 games, including a sparkling 8-1 in the 2013 NBA Playoffs. That mind-boggling record is the result of contributions, sacrifice and dedication from every player on the hard-working HEAT's roster – from repeat NBA MVP LeBron James all the way down to reserve sharpshooter Mike Miller.

But it's also no coincidence that Cole has been at his best during this sizzling stretch, especially on the offensive end. And especially from long-range. Cole averaged 5.2 points and hit 50.0 percent of his 3-point field goal attempts in 18 games in March, and the HEAT went 17-1 – setting not only a club record for wins in a single month, but establishing a new NBA benchmark as well. In their lone loss in March, a 101-97 defeat to the Bulls in Chicago that snapped that historic 27-game win streak, Cole was held scoreless on 2 field goal attempts and played just 11 minutes off the bench.

In 9 games in April, Cole averaged 10.3 points and shot 47.6 percent from long-range, and the HEAT went 8-1, closing out their unforgettable season with an 8-game winning streak. Cole scored 11 points or more in 5 of those 9 games, and at least 8 points in all but 1 of them – a 2-point outing in a 105-93 win over those same Bulls.

Cole more than atoned for his meager offensive output against the Bulls in the regular season with his explosive showing in the HEAT's recently completed playoff series, and his 11.5-point average on that absurd 69 percent overall shooting and 81.8 percent from long-distance revealed a rapidly improving and always hard-working young professional to a much wider audience. ABC analyst and former NBA coach Jeff VanGundy mentioned that HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra has repeatedly praised the toughness, work ethic and consistent demeanor of Cole, who he called "Udonis Haslem in a guard's body." Other broadcasters spoke of Cole's near-obsessive dedication to improving, including his penchant for solo shootarounds at AmericanAirlinesArena's Bayfront practice court during HEAT off days and nights, and TNT's outspoken panel of former NBA greats routinely praised Cole for his aggressiveness, efficiency and stellar two-way play.

Not bad for a second-year player who ranks as the youngest member of a veteran-laden roster. Cole doesn't even turn 25 until Oct. 13, yet his outstanding playoff performances are helping the HEAT move closer and closer toward their goal of securing a second straight NBA Championship in June. If the HEAT accomplish that goal, then Cole will have played extensively in 2 NBA seasons – and have 2 Championship rings to show for it.

Now that's what you call a hot start. Much like the way Cole has come blazing out of the gates here in the 2013 NBA Playoffs. And caught observers, analysts and defenders alike a good bit off guard along the way.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

When talk turns to the HEAT, it is often LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh – or the talented trio of NBA All-Stars as a collective unit – who serve as the conversation starters and focal points of discussion.

But if the HEAT had a heartbeat – if you had to pick one player who truly, deeply and naturally personifies not just the fabric and culture of the HEAT organization and its hard-working, gritty core ethos, but also the city of Miami itself – another man's name would rise fast to the forefront:

Udonis Haslem.

The HEAT's rugged and reliable rebounding record-holder was born in Miami, bred in Miami and made in Miami. And for the entire duration of his quietly excellent, 10-year NBA career, Haslem has sweat, bled, fought, scraped, scored, rebounded, won in and worn out just one uniform bearing one city's name:

Miami.

This season, the 6-foot-8, 235-pound Haslem reminded HEAT fans and everyone throughout the NBA universe just how durable, dependable and long-lasting his presence in the HEAT lineup has been over the past decade, averaging 3.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks and shooting 51.4% from the field in 18.9 minutes per game over 75 games. The veteran forward also led all HEAT players in charges taken, and ranked third on the team in rebounding despite clocking in at eighth in playing time. There aren’t official statistics kept for menacing glares and overall intensity, but if there were, Haslem would have been near or at the top of the HEAT’s chart in those categories too.

More importantly, Haslem quietly and selflessly shuttled between starting and reserve roles, taking the floor for the opening tip in 59 games and coming off the HEAT bench in 16 others. Haslem's overall excellence, intelligence, toughness and dogged determination were once again vital to a stellar season for the HEAT – this one a record-setting campaign that saw them win a NBA-best and club-record 66 games, including a remarkable 27 straight, and secure the No. 1 overall seed in the postseason for the first time in HEAT history.

And one regular-season game in particular etched Haslem's name not only in the public consciousness, but into the HEAT record books as well.

In a 113-106 win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 21, 2012, Haslem scored 2 points, snared 2 steals and pulled down 8 rebounds in 18 hard-charging minutes off the HEAT bench. Haslem's second rebound in that game was the 4,808th of his career, moving him past venerated former NBA All-Star and current HEAT executive Alonzo Mourning and into sole possession of the top spot on the HEAT's all-time rebounding list.

Not bad for a player who wasn't even drafted by an NBA team following stellar careers at Miami High and the University of Florida, where he paired with current HEAT teammate Mike Miller to help the Gators reach the Final Four of the 2000 NCAA Tournament.

In fact, the accomplishment made Haslem the first undrafted player to lead an NBA franchise in total rebounds. And among the ranks of undrafted players in NBA history, only Ben Wallace and Brad Miller have hauled in more rebounds than Haslem's 5,157.

But while Haslem is best-known for his board work, hard work and dirty work, his scoring ability has long been an asset to the HEAT as well.

Haslem has averaged 8.9 points per game to go along with his 7.7 rebounds in his 669-game NBA career, averaging at least 10.6 points per game in four of his 10 seasons with the HEAT. He’s also hit 49.5% of his field goal attempts, including 50% or better in 5 seasons, and 76.5% from the free throw line. In further proof of just how much Haslem has meant to the HEAT over the past decade, the 669 games played is also a franchise record, just ahead of Wade's 665 games in a HEAT uniform.

Haslem has always possessed intimidating strength and ferocious dunking ability, but over the years, he has worked hard to hone his jump shot, developing an often-lethal mid-range jumper, particularly from the baseline.

And while his 3.9 points-per-game average this season ranks as the lowest of his career (as does his 18.9 minutes-per-game average), Haslem has certainly shown he can still be counted on to put the ball in the basket – especially in situations when the HEAT need to replace the more naturally prolific and pure scoring abilities of James, Wade and Chris Bosh.

Haslem scored 10 or more points in 6 games during the regular season, doing so in 24 minutes or less of playing time on each occasion. His 51.4% field-goal percentage also ranked as his best over the past four seasons, and the third-best mark of his entire career.

But it has been the postseason where Haslem has really reminded HEAT fans of his ability to produce points when needed.

In the recently completed 4-game sweep of the Bucks in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Haslem started at power forward and averaged 7.5 points in just 17.0 minutes, scoring 25 points in 36 minutes of action in Games 3 and 4.

Haslem, who also averaged 4.8 rebounds, 0.5 blocks and 0.3 steals in that series, shot a sizzling 61.9% from the floor against the Bucks, including 73.3% (11 of 15) in those final 2 games. That 61.9% mark is third behind only fellow forward Chris Andersen (81.3%) and the incomparable James (62.7%), and the scoring and rebounding averages are sixth and fifth, respectively.

In Game 3, with the HEAT heading into a hostile and charged environment in Milwaukee after winning the first 2 games at AmericanAirlines Arena, Haslem scored 12 points, grabbed 3 rebounds and snared 1 steal in 16 productive minutes. He hit 5 of 6 shots from the field and 2 of 2 free throws, helping the HEAT post a convincing 104-91 win and take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.

Haslem was even more impressive and influential in Game 4, a gritty 88-77 HEAT win that ended the Bucks' season in Milwaukee and put the HEAT through to the Eastern Conference Semifinals with time to prepare for their next opponent. With Wade held out of action to rest his bruised right knee, Haslem upped his offensive attack in support of James and Bosh, taking 9 shots and connecting on 6 – along with 1 of 2 free-throw attempts – to finish with a playoff-high 13 points in just 19 minutes of action. Haslem scored 9 of those 13 points in the pivotal third quarter, netting 9 of 11 for the HEAT during a late stretch before James closed out the quarter by scoring the HEAT's final 9 points. James (11 points) and Haslem combined to score 20 of the HEAT's 22 points in the third, and they took a 67-62 lead into the fourth quarter, where they soon broke the game open with a 19-5 run that grew their lead to 88-72 with 2:41 left to play.

Haslem finished third in scoring for the HEAT behind James (game-high 30 points) and the red-hot Ray Allen (16 points off bench) in that closeout game, adding 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in his 19 live-wire minutes. It all added up to a gutty victory on a night when Wade sat out and Bosh took only 7 shots and scored 10 points.

Of course, Haslem is no stranger to clutch playoff performances.

He served as a vital cog in the HEAT's NBA Championship runs of 2006 and 2012, averaging 8.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.6 steals and shooting 49.3% from the field in 22 games (all starts) in the franchise's first title-winning postseason and 4.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.6 assists and 0.3 blocks in 22 games (including 11 starts) as the HEAT secured their second NBA title last summer.

Overall, Haslem has appeared in 104 postseason games, making 63 starts. In those 104 playoff games, he’s averaged 6.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.3 blocks in 25.5 minutes per game, shooting 46.9% from the field and 72.6% from the line.

If any one playoff game personified everything that the proud, passionate, professional Haslem has always meant to and done for the HEAT, it was probably Game 4 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Indiana Pacers. Playing in front of a loud Indianapolis crowd with the HEAT trailing 2-1 in the series and missing an injured Bosh, Haslem stepped up big-time, stepping into that patented mid-range jumper and draining it 4 times over the game's final 6 minutes. Haslem hit 4 of the HEAT's final 5 field goals in a gutsy 101-93 road win that knotted the series at 2-2, finishing with 14 impactful points and 4 rebounds in 25 minutes. With the HEAT's postseason run in a precarious position against the hungry Pacers and their home crowd, Haslem nailed 5 of 6 shots from the field and all 4 attempts from the line. And he hit all of those clutch jumpers down the stretch with a massive bandage taped above his right eye, after a stray elbow from Pacers forward Lou Amundson had opened a large and bloody gash that required stitches after the game.

Haslem will turn 33 on June 9, and he hopes to be celebrating NBA Championship number 3 with the only team he has ever fought, bled, scored, rebounded, sweated and sacrificed for soon after.

No matter where and how this incredible, electric, historic season ends for the HEAT, one thing is for sure – the heartbeat of the HEAT still wears number 40 across his chiseled chest, and the name "Haslem" across his broad back.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

Ray Allen has seen and done and won a lot during the course of his brilliant 17-year NBA career.

Like a 2000 Olympic Gold medal. A 2008 NBA Championship. Four franchises (on both coasts and in the heart of the midwest). Ten NBA All-Star Game selections.

And an NBA-record 2,857 3-point field goals (the closest active player to that mark, New York Knicks guard Jason Kidd, has 1,988 long-distance hits).

But this season has been a bit different. And in some ways, it's even been entirely new for the 37-year-old veteran who's put the "shooting" in shooting guard like few others ever have.

For starters, Allen did not start a game in the 2012-13 season.

After not only starting, but starring, for the Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics and Boston Celtics in his first 16 seasons, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Allen has successfully and smoothly transitioned into a reserve role during his first season with the HEAT.

Serving as the spark plug and primary scorer off the HEAT bench, Allen has handled his new job with the same blend of professional class and cold-blooded, game-icing accuracy that always defined his days as a starter.

As the HEAT transition into playoff mode after wrapping up a franchise record-setting and historic regular season, Allen closes yet another stellar season having finished fourth on the HEAT in scoring (10.9 points per game), fifth in steals (0.9 steals per game), fifth in assists (1.7 assists per game), sixth in rebounding (2.8 rebounds per game) and seventh in field-goal percentage (44.9%).

The veteran sharpshooter also led all HEAT players in free-throw percentage (88.6%) and 3-point field goals made (139), and was second only to Shane Battier in 3-point field goal shooting percentage (41.9%) – an already awesome accomplishment that is even more impressive when one considers he did so coming off the bench.

The 41.9% mark was also good enough for 15th in the entire NBA, while the 139 3-pointers made ranked 29th in the league.

Allen did all this despite ranking fifth on the HEAT in playing time, with his 25.8-minute-per-game average the lowest since he logged 30.9 minutes a game as a 21-year-old rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1996-1997 season. To put Allen's experience and durability in perspective, HEAT point guard Mario Chalmers was just 10 years old at the start of Allen's first NBA season, while his backup Norris Cole was only 8. HEAT stars Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James were just 14, 12 and 11, respectively.

Most importantly, Allen's veteran presence helped the HEAT fine-tune and refine their exciting new era of brilliant basketball. And like Allen himself, his new team experienced a season of more than a few firsts.

Allen played a vital role in the HEAT setting a new franchise standard for wins and securing an NBA-best 66-16 record – an accomplishment that is not only a franchise first, but guarantees them homecourt advantage throughout the postseason. Allen also was a big reason the HEAT set a new franchise record for homecourt wins (37), with his scoring (11.7 points per game), rebounding (2.9 rebounds per game), shooting (48.3%) and 3-point shooting (48.1%) averages at AmericanAirlines Arena all exceeding his overall season averages.

And with the NBA's all-time 3-point field goal marksman leading the charge, the HEAT also established a new franchise mark for 3-pointers made (717) and 3-point field goal percentage (39.6%) in a single season. With 4 players canning 100 or more 3-pointers in the same season for the first time in franchise history, the HEAT drilled 10 or more long-range field goals 31 times – winning each of those 31 games.

Of course, Allen's tireless work ethic – in opponent preparation, shooting drills, conditioning work and in-game effort – and age-defying fitness level also helped elevate the already intense and focused culture of the club established many seasons ago by former HEAT coach and current president Pat Riley. Despite ranking as the second-oldest player on a veteran-laded team, Allen missed just 3 games, and logged 30 minutes or more off the bench in 12 games.

Then there was The Streak. As the HEAT methodically and at-times miraculously strung win after win after win together to build a 27-game winning streak that ranks second to only the Los Angeles Lakers' 33-game streak in 1971-72, Allen came up big time after time after time. His offensive output was also as prolific and consistent as it was all season, as he scored 10 or more points in 17 of those 27 games – including 8 straight games from Feb. 12 through Mar. 1 – and cracked the 20-point barrier twice.

Put simply: Ray Allen delivered for the HEAT this season. And then some.

And he did so operating outside of his comfort zone. In a new role. On a new team. Surrounded by new teammates.

And he did so from Game 1.

Allen opened the season scorching the nets off the bench, scoring 15 or more points in 4 of the HEAT's first 6 games, as the HEAT raced out to fast 5-1 start. Allen drained 16 of 27 shots from behind the arc during that opening 6-game stretch, including 2 of 3 in his first game in a HEAT uniform, a 120-107 win over the Celtics that saw him score 19 points, grab 2 rebounds and dish 2 assists against the franchise he helped lead to its 17th NBA Championship in 2008.

That 5-1 beginning would prove to be just the start of a truly spectacular season for the HEAT, who now prepare to face the Bucks in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs, bringing everything full circle for Allen, who will turn 38 on July 20 – or just a handful of weeks after the HEAT hope to be celebrating their second consecutive NBA Championship.

While Allen's methodical, professional, intense and intensive personality, professionalism and overall approach to all facets of the game make it impossible to measure his impact on his team and teammates in mere numbers, there were certainly a handful of highlight performances that HEAT fans won't soon forget – and that enabled and empowered both the franchise record-setting win streak and victory total.

--Just 2 games after his successful debut, Allen scored a season-high 23 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and snared 2 steals in a 119-116 home win over the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 3, 2012. Allen nailed 8 of 12 shots from the field, including a season-high 6 3-pointers in 10 attempts, to help the HEAT bounce back from a 104-84 loss to the Knicks in New York the night before and avoid a 1-2 start to the season. Allen's final 4 points came on a rare 4-point play with 6.7 seconds left to play in the game, after LeBron James found him for a left corner 3-pointer that he drilled while being fouled.

--Allen scored 17 points and grabbed 5 rebounds in a 110-108 home win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 24, hitting 6 of 11 field goals, including 3 of 5 from long-distance. Allen once again converted a go-ahead 3-pointer on a drive-and-kick from James, this one coming with just 18.2 seconds left to play. That dagger was part of a game-ending 9-0 run by the HEAT in a game they led for just 2:29 – and trailed 108-101 with 1:58 remaining. It was also the final 3 of 15 points Allen scored in the fourth quarter – the most he had poured in during a fourth quarter since March 8, 2009. The thrilling win gave the HEAT a 10-3 record, and helped them move to a perfect 6-0 at AmericanAirlines Arena.

--In another thrilling home win, this one a 105-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 29, Allen scored 20 points, going 7 of 15 from the floor and a flawless 5 of 5 from the free-throw line. Allen once again nailed a late-game 3-pointer from James, this one coming from the left wing and putting the HEAT up 100-98 with 22.6 seconds left to play. Allen scored 11 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, including 5 during a game-closing 12-2 run that saw the HEAT race back from down 98-93 with 2:14 remaining. The long-distance dagger made Allen 3-for-3 on game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of a game – and ensured the HEAT stayed a perfect 7-0 at AmericanAirlines Arena.

--Allen scored 12 points, grabbed 2 rebounds and dished 2 assists in a 98-94 win at Philadelphia on March 13, 2013. Allen scored his 12 points on just 5 field goal attempts, hitting 3 of them, including 2 from long-range, to go with 4 free throws. In a tight, back-and-forth game in a hostile environment, Allen scored 6 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer in front of the 76ers' bench that put the HEAT up 89-86 with 3:11 remaining. The win stretched the HEAT's streak to 20 games, making them just the fourth team in NBA history to win 20 consecutive games in a single season.

--Allen scored 20 points in just 25 minutes of a 108-91 win over the Raptors in Toronto on March 17, drilling 7 of 10 shots from the field, including 4 of 6 from behind the 3-point arc. Allen scored 16 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, with all 16 coming during a blistering 28-4 run that broke a 77-77 tie and ensured a HEAT rout. Allen drilled 5 of 6 field goals during that game-changing burst, including 4 of 5 3-pointers, and pumped out his 16 points in just 5:43 of game time. The win put the HEAT at 51-14 and extended their winning streak to 22 games, tying the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for the second-longest winning streak in NBA history.

--Shortly after the HEAT's historic streak had ended, Allen played a key role in maybe the season's most surprising win, scoring 14 points, dishing a HEAT-high 5 assists and grabbing 3 rebounds in an 88-86 victory at San Antonio on March 31. Allen hit 6 of 12 shots, including 2 of 5 3-pointers, but his biggest contribution didn't involve shooting – although it once again helped secure a comeback win in the game's waning moments. With the Spurs leading 86-85 following what looked like a game-winning shot by Tim Duncan, Duncan missed a short runner with 11 seconds left on the clock. Allen alertly grabbed the rebound, raced downcourt and kicked the ball out to Bosh, who drilled an open 3-pointer of his own from the top of the key with 1.9 seconds left. Perhaps inspired by Allen, the 6-foot-11 Bosh hit a career-high 3 3-pointers in the game, and the short-handed HEAT beat the Spurs on their own floor without the services of James or Wade, who both rested nagging injuries. The rousing road win put the HEAT at 58-15, 3 full games ahead of the Spurs in the race for the NBA's top record – and homecourt advantage throughout the 2013 Playoffs. The win also ensured that the HEAT finished March with a 17-1 record – and set an NBA record for wins in a single month.

--With James, Wade and Bosh all resting minor injuries, Allen scored a game-high 23 points, pulled down 6 rebounds, dished 4 assists and snared a game-high 3 steals in a 103-98 win at Washington on April 10. Allen had another huge fourth quarter, pumping in 11 points, handing out 3 assists and getting his hands on 2 rebounds and 2 steals to key a 34-point outburst that enabled the HEAT to race from down 72-71 to up 93-86 in just 5:40. The win gave the HEAT a franchise-record 62nd victory, and snapped a 9-game home winning streak for the surging young Wizards.

--With James, Wade and Bosh all returning to the lineup for the first time in two weeks, Allen complimented the HEAT's star trio with 17 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block to help key a 109-101 home win over the Celtics on April 12. Allen drilled 5 of 6 shots from the field, including 3 of 4 3-pointers, and sank 4 of 5 free throws to help lead a blistering bench that outscored Boston's reserves 52-14. The victory stretched the HEAT's new winning streak to 5 games, improved their NBA-best record to 63-16 and tied a franchise record for home wins (35).

All told, Allen scored 10 or more points 48 times this season – including in 17 of the 27 games during the historic winning streak – and the HEAT went 41-7 in those games.

Allen also hit the 20-point threshold 7 times – including 2 games during the winning streak – and the HEAT went 6-1 in those games.

Allen also finished the season strong, averaging 12.6 points per game in April and scoring 10 or more points in 7 of the 8 games he played in. With Wade, James and Bosh sitting out a handful of games to nurse nagging injuries, he also upped his assist-per-game average to 2.6 per game over those 8 games.

But it may be the postseason that proves most beneficial and fruitful in the already successful partnership between Allen and the HEAT.

Allen is certainly no stranger to postseason success. In 128 career playoff games spanning 9 postseason appearances, Allen has averaged 18.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.1 steals in 38.8 minutes per game. He's shot 44.7% from the field, including 40.2% from long-distance (with 313 made 3-pointers) and 88.2% from the free throw line. Once again the model of consistency, those averages closely mirror his regular-season averages over 1,224 games.

Allen averaged 15.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 steals over 26 grueling postseason games in the 2008 Playoffs, when he won his lone NBA Championship -- and helped the Celtics secure the most recent of their NBA-best 17 titles. He scored 20 or more points in 6 of those 26 games, including 25- and 26-point outings in the Celtics' 4-2 NBA Finals win over the L.A. Lakers. The 26 points came in the closeout Game 6 victory, a 131-92 rout that saw him drill 8 of his 12 field goal attempts, including 7 of 9 from behind the 3-point arc. Allen averaged 20.3 points and hit 50.7% of his shots from the field in the Finals, including an incredible 52.4% (22 of 42) from long-range. He also grabbed 5 or more rebounds 3 times, and snared 3 steals in 2 of the 6 games.

As he prepares for his first foray into postseason play as a member of the HEAT, fans of the team and the NBA alike eagerly anticipate witnessing whatever Allen will author as the next chapter of his compelling career.

A title defense is rarely anything like easy or predictable. But if anything in NBA history has been close to automatic, it's been Allen effortlessly and athletically rising for a crucial, crippling 3-pointer...and landing with another milestone marker in his hip pocket.

After all, Allen has seen and done and won a lot during a career that seems destined for the Hall of Fame annals. And he's showing no signs of slowing down just yet.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

Call him Mr. March Madness.

Or Super Mario.

Or The HEAT's unsung X-Factor.

Whatever you call Mario Chalmers, make sure to show the man some serious respect.

Because over the course of his basketball career, the fifth-year HEAT point guard has proven time and time again that he is, above all else, a winner. With a serious skill set that includes a lightning-quick pair of hands and seemingly anywhere-inside-the-arena shooting range.

And a remarkable flair for coming up big in crucial, game-defining moments.

With March Madness now burning up the sports airwaves, you're likely to see and hear unforgettable evidence of Chalmers' clutch character. And probably more than once or twice.

In 2008, Chalmers was a junior at the University of Kansas when he authored what is now known as "Mario's Miracle" to help lead the Jayhawks to their fifth NCAA Championship.

Chalmers' dramatic 3-ponter with 2.1 seconds left in regulation knotted the Championship Game against the Memphis Tigers at 63-63 and forced overtime. Kansas went on to win the game 75-68, and Chalmers was named Most Outstanding Player after scoring 18 points, grabbing 3 rebounds, dishing 3 assists and snaring a game-high 4 steals.

Chalmers did what HEAT fans have now become accustomed to watching him do in that game. He drained a big-time, long-range shot. And he repeatedly disrupted the opposing team's offensive flow on the defensive end.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Chalmers decided to declare for the 2008 NBA Draft after that virtuoso performance, which capped a season that saw him average 12.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, a team-high 2.5 steals and a team-high 4.3 assists. His 97 steals tied the school single-season record he had set the season before, and he also led the Jayhawks with a sensational 46.8% mark from behind the 3-point arc.

The HEAT selected Chalmers in the second round, with the 34th overall pick of the draft, and he immediately became a key component for coach Erik Spoelstra, then in his first season at the HEAT's helm.

Chalmers started all 82 regular season games at point guard as a rookie in 2008-09, averaging 10.0 points, 4.9 assists, 2.8 rebounds and a remarkable 1.95 steals. Proving his uncanny acumen for taking the ball away from opponents translated from college to the professional game, Chalmers' steals average led all rookies, and was the fourth-best among all NBA players. In fact, in just his fourth NBA game, Chalmers set a new HEAT record by racking up a remarkable 9 steals in a 106-83 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 5, 2008.

Chalmers has continued to play a pivotal role for Spoelstra and the HEAT, averaging 8.4 points, 3.6 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 359 regular-season games in a HEAT uniform. He has also drilled 483 3-pointers at a 37.1% clip, including a HEAT-high 101 at a career-best 38.8% last season (he also shot a career-high 44.8% from the field overall) and a career-high 110 so far this season.

Chalmers has also shown toughness and an ability to play through or bounce back quickly from injury, and has started every game he's appeared in at point guard over the past two seasons, becoming a staple of the HEAT's starting lineup alongside All-Stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. While he's not a traditional point guard by any means, he's not operating in anything like a traditional lineup these days. And his ability to both penetrate and stretch the floor on offense and disrupt flow and spark fastbreaks on defense are absolutely vital to the HEAT finding uncommon success via an unconventional approach.

A truly versatile and deceptively athletic player, Chalmers also seems to exude a calm coolness that mirrors his home state of Alaska. The unflappable and ever-confident Chalmers even provided a cool off-court assist that many HEAT fans may not know about, giving his original number 6 to James when the reigning NBA and NBA Finals MVP announced he would be joining the HEAT on July 8, 2010. Chalmers returned to the 15 he wore while carving his name into the eternal annals of March Madness, and it has seemed to suit him very well.

This March, Chalmers has played a vital role in the HEAT's own version of March Madness.

As the HEAT have stretched their historic 27-games-and-counting winning streak through all but the first day of February and deep into the final days of March, Chalmers has frequently played at a high level, especially of late. In 15 games in March, all HEAT wins, Chalmers has averaged 10.3 points, 3.3 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals -- while shooting 46.0% from the field, including 43.7% from long-range.

He's had a few positively huge games in March, and each was of extreme importance in the HEAT extending their franchise record-setting run of unbeaten games.

Chalmers poured in 26 points and grabbed 7 rebounds -- both HEAT-highs -- and added 2 assists and 2 steals in a 105-91 win over the rival Indiana Pacers on March 10. The Sunday evening game was nationally televised, and Chalmers' offensive explosion helped blow up the physical Pacers' blueprint of overloading defensively on James and Wade. Chalmers canned 7 of 9 shots from the field, including 5 of 6 3-pointers, and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the free-throw line as the HEAT extended their streak to 18 straight wins.

Eight days later, Chalmers scored 21 points to go with 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 1 block in a thrilling, come-from-behind 105-103 victory over the Celtics in Boston. Chalmers hit 6 of 10 field goals, including 4 of 5 from long-distance, and swished 5 of 6 free throws as the HEAT erased a 17-point first-half deficit and mounted a late comeback to stretch their streak to 23 consecutive wins -- and surpass the 2007-08 Houston Rockets' winning streak, which had previously ranked as the NBA's second-longest ever, behind the 1971-72 L.A. Lakers' 33-game unbeaten run.

The next game out, Chalmers scored 17 points and added 2 assists as the HEAT pulled off an even more improbable comeback on the road, roaring back from down by as many as 27 points in the second half to post a 98-95 victory over the Cavaliers in Cleveland and push the win streak to 24 straight games. Chalmers was once again incredibly efficient, nailing 5 of 8 field goals, including 3 of 6 3-pointers, and 4 of 5 free throws.

The following game, Chalmers scored 11 points, grabbed a game-high 4 steals, dished 3 assists and canned 3 of 6 3-pointers as the HEAT topped the Detroit Pistons 103-89 to extend the win streak to 25 games. Chalmers scored all 11 points in the first half, helping keep the HEAT in the thick of things before they really ramped up the defensive intensity during a dominant second half.

Two games later, Chalmers helped James carry the scoring load while Wade rested a sore right knee, scoring 17 points, handing out 5 assists, snaring a game-high 3 steals and blocking 1 shot as the HEAT beat the Magic 108-94 in Orlando to run the streak to 27 games. Chalmers drained 4 of 5 3-pointers, including a perfect 3 of 3 in the first half -- which saw him score 13 points, dish 3 assists, grab 2 rebounds and 1 steal and block 1 shot as the HEAT built a 55-46 halftime lead on the road. He also finished a perfect 5 of 5 from the line in the game.

Chalmers also had a brilliant, blistering and HEAT history-making game pre-streak. In a thrilling 128-99 win at Sacramento on Jan. 12, he scored a career-high 34 points and tied Brian Shaw's long-standing HEAT record by draining 10 3-pointers. Chalmers finished 12-of-16 from the field in his breakout scoring game, including 10-of-13 from long-range, in just 30 minutes of play.

In fact, a closer look at Chalmers' offensive output reveals a telling tale for the HEAT as a whole. Put simply, when Chalmers scores in double figures, the HEAT are practically guaranteed a victory.

Chalmers has scored 10 or more points 21 times this season, and the HEAT are 20-1 in those 21 games -- including 6-0 in such games in March and 11-0 during their remarkable winning streak.

The HEAT also do quite well when Chalmers gets those exceptionally quick hands on a lot of loose balls. Chalmers has grabbed 3 or more steals 19 times this season, and the HEAT are 18-1 in those 19 games -- including 3-0 in such games in March and 6-0 during the streak.

Of course, the HEAT haven't lost much at all this season, compiling an NBA-best 56-14 record and steadily building and maintaining that amazing streak for more than 50 calendar days now. Although James and Wade have received most of the praise and headlines for this historic HEAT season, Chalmers has also been an integral part of all that winning -- and not just in March.

Chalmers has started and played in all 70 of those games, averaging 8.5 points, 3.4 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals, and has hit a career-high 110 3-pointers -- at a career-best 41.7% clip. He ranks fifth on the HEAT in scoring, third in assists and third in steals -- and third in both 3-pointers made and 3-point field goal percentage, just a few ticks off the blistering paces of veteran sharp-shooters Shane Battier and Ray Allen (the NBA's all-time leader in 3-pointers made, as well as HEAT's current leader with 122). And Chalmers has done all this while sharing a good amount of playing time with emerging second-year point guard Norris Cole, causing his minutes-per-game average to dip from last season's 28.5 to 26.6.

Chalmers is also one of just a handful of NBA players (only 7 as of March 22) to have snared 100 steals and drained 100 3-pointers so far this season.

Chalmers seems to be playing his best basketball as the HEAT gear up for what they hope is another deep, lucrative postseason run. And if history is any indication, HEAT fans can expect Chalmers to once again elevate his game when the second season kicks in.

In 56 playoff games for the HEAT, Chalmers has averaged 9.4 points, 3.2 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals -- while hitting 78 3-pointers at a 35.9% rate. He's upped his scoring and rebounding averages under the white hot lights of the NBA playoffs, and averaged 11.3 points, 3.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals while nailing 33 3-pointers as the HEAT captured the franchise's second NBA Championship in the 2012 postseason.

Chalmers exploded for 25 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in Game 3 of the HEAT's Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Pacers, then helped the HEAT send the Pacers packing by pairing 11 rebounds with his 8 points and 3 assists in Game 5 and pumping in 15 points, including 3 3-pointers, in the closeout Game 6 win.

Chalmers then had a huge 22-point, 6-assist, 4-rebound and 2-assist outing in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, helping the HEAT down the Boston Celtics in a 115-111 thriller. Chalmers scored 9 points or more in all 7 games of the grueling series, dished out at least 6 assists in 3 of the games and snared 8 total steal.

But it was in the 2012 NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder where Chalmers came up biggest -- once again proving his love for the Big Moments. He poured in 25 points and added 3 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals in a 104-98 Game 4 win, scoring 12 points in the pivotal fourth quarter. And in the closeout Game 5, Chalmers had 10 points, 7 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals as the HEAT claimed the NBA Championship with a 121-106 victory.

Chalmers has accomplished all this before his 27th birthday, which he likely won't have much time to celebrate on May 19 (the HEAT hope to be deep in the midst of another playoff run by then). And the truth is, Chalmers' pedigree as a winning basketball player runs even deeper than his college and professional careers.

As a prep star in Anchorage, Alaska, Chalmers led Bartlett High School to consecutive state championships in 2002 and 2003 -- and a runner-up finish in 2004. He was also named 4A Alaska State Player of the Year three years in a row, joining former Duke University star Trajan Langdon as the only player to ever earn the honor three times.

When you add up all the winning, clutch shooting and ballhawking defensive accomplishments of Chalmers over his basketball career, something becomes very clear:

Mario Chalmers is a winner. And a vital ingredient in the HEAT's winning formula.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

Dwyane Wade wasn't always at his best last season.

A sore and at-times swollen left knee challenged him often, especially in the postseason. But the face of the franchise still played a vital and irreplaceable role as the HEAT claimed their second NBA title, averaging 22.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks while shooting 46.2% from the field over 23 playoff games.

So last July, arthroscopic knee surgery was performed. Wade even bypassed the 2012 Summer Olympics to get his body and mind properly prepared for the rigors of his 10th NBA season.

And when the 2012-2013 NBA season started and began to flow into its groove, Wade didn't always appear to be finding or staying in his. HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra even opted to hold Wade out of three games in November, a month that saw him average 17.1 points, 4.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks while shooting 46.6% from the floor over 10 games.

At the time, there were whispers and even some public proclamations about Wade's alleged loss of athleticism and overall decline as a star player.

Now? Not so much.

Dwyane Wade is back. And always on the attack. On both ends of the court. In all phases of the game.

Same as he ever was.

Ever since he entered the NBA as a fresh-faced rookie out of Marquette in the 2003-04 season, "attack" has been the word Wade seems to use most to describe his own attitude and style of play.

Now, a decade into a career that has seen him win two NBA titles and an NBA Finals MVP -- as well as 9 All-Star selections, 2 All-NBA First Team selections and an NBA scoring title in 2008-09 -- the 31-year-old Wade is attacking as hard and relentlessly as he always has.

And smarter and more efficiently than ever before.

As the HEAT have compiled a remarkable 47-14 record that includes a franchise-record and NBA-season-best 18-game-and-counting winning streak, Wade has shot a career-best 52.3% from the field -- well above his already impressive 48.8% career average. His 21.8 points per game rank second on the HEAT behind reigning MVP LeBron James' 26.8 and ninth in the entire NBA...and just off the 22.1 regular-season average he posted while helping James and Chris Bosh lead the HEAT to the NBA title last season.

Wade's 4.9 assist-per-game average ranks second on the HEAT behind James' 7.1, and is his highest since he averaged 6.5 assists a game in 2009-10. He's even posted 15 games with at least 7 assists so far this season.

Wade's work on the boards has been equally impressive. His 5.0 rebound-per-game average puts him fourth on the HEAT and is just off his career average of 5.1 -- and above the 4.8 average he posted last season. Wade has grabbed at least 6 rebounds in 20 games, including a season-high 12 in a 99-94 win over Charlotte on Feb. 4.

But Wade's game has always been about excelling in all areas -- on both ends of the court. Spoelstra has praised Wade's relentless and disruptive defensive work several times this season, and it's easy to see why.

Long recognized as one of the most accomplished, instinctive, prolific and clutch shot blockers at his position, the 6-foot-4 Wade is averaging 0.82 blocks per game, third behind the 6-foot-11 Bosh's 1.26 and the 6-foot-8 James' 0.85 averages. There are some longtime NBA observers who believe that Wade is the best shot-blocking guard in the history of the NBA, and when you consider he is the only guard in NBA history to average 1 block per game throughout his career, it's easy to see why.

Even as he fought through all that knee pain last season -- and played a career-low 33.2 minutes per game -- Wade averaged 1.3 blocks per game. That was more than four times the typical NBA shooting guard's average, and on a per-minute basis, Wade actually swatted away more shot attempts than not only Bosh, but fellow big men Kevin Garnett (6-foot-11), Pau Gasol (7-foot) and LaMarcus Aldridge (6-foot-11).

As per usual, this season has seen Wade grab a handful of game-shifting and game-saving swats...and steals.

Wade's knack for taking the ball away from the opponent remains firmly intact. His 1.79 steals per game this season lead the HEAT and rank seventh in the NBA, and are right around his career average of 1.8. Wade has snared 3 or more steals 13 times this season -- including a season-high 6 in a 105-91 win over the Indiana Pacers on March 10 -- and has recorded at least 1 steal in each of the past 22 games, helping guide the HEAT to a 20-2 record during that remarkable run. That streak has also put Wade within striking distance of Sherman Douglas' franchise record of 27 straight games with a steal.

Lately, Wade has seemed particularly spectacular. And at times, nearly unstoppable.

Wade poured in a season-high 39 points in a 141-129 double-overtime win over the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 26. He also racked up 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in 45 monumental minutes of action -- draining 19 of 28 shots from the floor in a rousing win that kept the HEAT's winning streak alive at 12 games.

The next game out, Wade scored a HEAT-high 22 points, handed out 8 assists and grabbed 4 rebounds and 2 steals as the HEAT knocked off a physical Memphis Grizzlies team 98-91 on March 1. Wade shot 9 of 16 from the floor and came up big in several key moments as the HEAT snapped the Grizzlies' own 8-game winning streak.

Two days later, in a nationally televised battle with the nemesis Knicks, Wade pumped in 20 points, lobbed 8 assists and grabbed 8 rebounds under the hot lights of Madison Square Garden. The near-triple-double helped the HEAT post a 99-93 win and avenge two earlier losses to the Knicks. Wade shot 8 of 16 from the field and grabbed 1 steal to stretch his steals streak to 18 games...and the HEAT's winning streak reached 14 games.

Wade then scored 32 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and dished a season-high 10 assists in a 97-81 victory at Minnesota on March 4. He sank 15 of 23 shots from the floor in ruthlessly dissecting the Timberwolves defense...and 14 of his 15 field goals were layups.

Two nights later, Wade scored 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting in a thrilling 97-96 comeback win over Orlando. That put him at a remarkable 62% clip over his previous seven games -- a stretch that saw him net at least 20 points in each game -- including 30 or more 3 times. Wade also grabbed a game-high 4 steals and 6 rebounds, and his big game was instrumental in the HEAT rallying to extend their win streak to 16 games -- a mark that surpassed the previous franchise record of 15 consecutive wins.

Wade's averages during that 7-game run looked like this:

27.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.9 blocks.

And on March 11, the NBA announced that Wade had been named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played from March 4-10. It was the 16th such honor earned by Wade in his stellar career, tying a franchise record. As the release announced, Wade shot 50% or better from the field in all 4 games that week, and has now hit at least 50% of his field goal attempts in 10 straight games -- 1 game shy of tying his career-best streak. He also scored at least 20 points in each of the week's 4 games, and is in the midst of nine consecutive games with 20 points or more.

Wade's averages over those 4 games looked like this:

25.3 points, 5.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 steals -- while shooting 60.6% from the field and 88.2% from the line.

Those are numbers that normally affix themselves to James' name these days. And statistics that have proven absolutely vital in the HEAT establishing yet another franchise record during this electrifying 2012-13 season.

But even his stat-stuffing statistics don't tell the full story of Wade's value to this HEAT team.

Asked to defer some of his marquee billing and surrender shot attempts since James and Bosh joined the HEAT prior to the 2010-11 season, Wade has graciously accepted a somewhat reduced role on offense...and learned to optimize efficiency without compromising aggression. He doesn't furiously launch his body into the fray as much as he used to in past seasons, and doesn't make quite as many appearances at the free-throw line as a result -- though his 346 attempts from the line rank second to only James' 414 on the HEAT and ninth among all NBA players.

Wade still racks up his fair share of slam dunks, and many of them remain highlight-worthy. But there is oh so much more to Wade's offensive game these days, and his ever-burgeoning and polished skill set means maximum and at times eye-popping efficiency -- for both Wade personally and the HEAT as a team.

From his lethal Euro Step to his dazzling array of flip and scoop shots to his baseline-blitzing layups and reverse layups to his sweet midrange jumper, Wade can savvily and coldly dissect an opposing defense in a wide variety of ways. And he seems to always do it with an extra touch of creative flair, routinely making almost everything look cool and easy. At times, it's like watching an inspired artist go to work on a blank canvas. With a seemingly infinite palette of colors to paint with.

And then there are Wade's many talents as a leader. His Chicago-born and -bred toughness speaks for itself, and seems to often set the tone for the HEAT as a unit. His willingness to praise his teammates, especially James, who he dubbed "off the planet" good recently, mirrors his eagerness to share the ball on the court -- where his pinpoint-perfect lobs to James have resulted in dozens of dunks that seem to defy the lays of gravity and have often rattled not just the rim, but also the will and focus of opposing teams.

Wade has developed an amazing synchronicity and chemistry with James in their three seasons together, with seemingly each game providing at least one or two amazing moments of basketball poetry between the superstar teammates -- especially on the fast break, which is frequently triggered by a Wade steal. It's almost as if each man knows exactly what the other is going to do, well before he does it.

And the way Wade is playing in his 10th NBA season, HEAT fans can rest assured knowing that whatever he does on a given evening...it will be something special to behold.

Same as it's ever been.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

His impact has been immediate.

And his energy, electric.

When the HEAT signed 10-year veteran forward-center Chris Andersen to a 10-day contract on Jan. 20, they knew they were getting a player who has always proven capable of providing copious amounts of both – the impact imprinting itself all across the court and the stat sheet, and the energy coursing out of seemingly every pore of his rangy 6-foot, 10-inch frame.

But with Andersen having played only sparingly over the past few seasons (just 32 games for the Nuggets in last year's lockout-shortened season, and not at all this season prior to signing with the HEAT), and the colorful big man having turned 34 last summer, what was uncertain was just how much Andersen could provide to a brand new organization with a deeply ingrained culture and core group. And just how long it would take him to make a truly meaningful contribution.

The answers? A lot. And not long at all.

Andersen made his HEAT debut in a 110-88 home win over the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 25, five days after signing that initial 10-day contract – and 10 months to the day since his last appearance in an NBA game – and made his presence felt right away, scoring 2 points and snaring 2 rebounds in just 4 minutes off the bench.

HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra held Andersen out of a 100-98 double-overtime loss at Boston two days later, and on Jan. 30, he was signed by the team to a second 10-day contract. Andersen responded by racking up 3 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block and 1 steal in 10 electric minutes of a 105-85 win at Brooklyn that evening. Two nights later, he scored a season-high 9 points (on perfect 4-for-4 shooting from the floor, and 1-for-1 from the free-throw line), grabbed 3 rebounds and added 1 assist, 1 block and 1 steal in 12 minutes of a 102-89 loss at Indiana.

That would be the only game Andersen would appear in that the HEAT would not emerge victorious, as they sprinted into the All-Star break on a season-best 7-game winning streak that started with a 100-85 win over Toronto two nights later. Andersen had 1 point and 4 rebounds in 11 more active minutes of that game, and the next evening, he stuffed the stat sheet with 4 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 16 live-wire minutes of a 99-94 win over Charlotte.

Four days later, the HEAT knew they had seen enough, and extended Andersen's contract for the remainder of the season. That evening, Spoelstra granted Andersen a season-high 18 minutes on the floor, and he responded with an 8-point, 4-rebound, 2-assist, 2-steal masterpiece in a 111-89 victory over the L.A. Clippers, who entered that game with a sparkling 35-16 record. Andersen also played a key role in limiting Clippers All-Star power forward Blake Griffin to just 13 points and 5 rebounds, well below his season averages of 18.5 and 8.7.

In his first 10 games in a HEAT uniform, Anderson has averaged a rock-solid 3.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.6 blocks and 0.6 steals – in just 10.8 minutes per game. Despite being 11th on the club in minutes per game, he currently ranks fifth in rebounding average and sixth in blocks and steals per game. Andersen has also pulled down at least 4 rebounds in 6 of those 10 games – despite averaging just 12.3 minutes over those 6 games.

And Andersen has managed to do all this while admittedly still working his way back into NBA-level conditioning – remember, he hadn't appeared in an NBA game since March 25, 2012 – and finding his ideal fit in the HEAT culture, both on and off the floor.

Most importantly, the HEAT are 9-1 in those 10 games. Infused with a jolt of glass-scraping adrenaline from Andersen off the bench, the HEAT have also won the rebounding battle in 6 of those 10 games, including each of the last four heading into the All-Star break.

Prior to donning a Heat uniform, Andersen had played in 482 NBA games, averaging 5.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in a shade under 18 minutes per game for Denver and New Orleans. So his numbers are pretty much right on par with his career averages, which were compiled while playing for teams boasting far less overall talent than the defending NBA Champion HEAT.

But much like more-established HEAT standouts Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers, much of Andersen's value seems to come in ways that are not easily measured by statistical analysis alone.

Andersen plays like a leaping, sprinting, blocking, rebounding, diving, defending demon. In fact, his all-out effort and intensity is so dazzling at times, he seems to be in two places at once. HEAT star and reigning NBA MVP LeBron James has publicly praised the "energy" Andersen has brought to the HEAT lineup on a few occasions already, and his frenetic frontcourt tenacity and rebounding acumen call to mind the style of NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who was a vital and often underrated cog in the Michael Jordan-led championship Chicago Bulls teams.

Then there are games like Andersen's last one before the All-Star break -– a rousing 110-100 HEAT win in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder had racked up a 23-3 record prior to that evening.

A quick glance afterward at the box score reveals that Andersen scored 1 point and grabbed 4 rebounds – while racking up 4 fouls – in just 7 minutes off the bench. But to watch the game was to see Andersen's all-out hustle and assault on the boards help give the HEAT a decided edge in attitude, especially on the inside. And his aggressive and agitating defense on Thunder star Kevin Durant not only played a key role in the HEAT securing a commanding 63-46 halftime lead, but incited the capacity Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd into a lusty expression of disapproval.

It remains to be seen what the rest of the regular season – and the ensuing postseason run – holds for the HEAT as a whole and Andersen in particular. There are still many moving pieces in the HEAT's frontcourt rotation, and on nights when matchups dictate the need for outside shooting over inside aggression, Andersen will likely find his minutes reduced.

But no matter what happens, it seems likely that the HEAT have found at least the beginnings of a winning formula with Andersen, who wasted no time in resuming his already impressive NBA career with an instant flourish.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

At this point, it's hard to even find a point to start – or finish – when it comes to discussing the all-around brilliance of LeBron James.

In fact, James' brilliance has become so consistent, it's almost as if it's commonplace to HEAT fans.

Turn on the game on TV, or slide into your seat at AmericanAirlines Arena, and you're bound to see the reigning NBA MVP, in the prime of his career at age 27 (he turns 28 just five days after Christmas), dominate the game and the opponent in just about every and all ways imaginable.

At this point, it's as predictable and expected as a stunning South Florida sunset. It's just going to happen. And it's going to be a beautiful thing to behold.

But as the HEAT approach a prime-time Christmas Day matchup (and 2012 NBA Finals rematch) with the equally white-hot Oklahoma City Thunder, why not take a few moments to truly savor the basketball genius that is LeBron James.

If James was Santa Claus – and at 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, he'd have a hard time fitting down chimneys – here are just some of the many glistening gifts he has brought HEAT fans so far this season, hot on the heels of claiming the franchise's second NBA World Championship and first-ever NBA MVP Trophy:

--As of Monday, Dec. 24, James is the only player in the NBA to currently lead his team in scoring (25.4 points per game), rebounding (8.5 rebounds per game) and assists (6.8 assists per game).

--James' scoring average ranks fifth in the entire NBA and second in the Eastern Conference. His rebounding average ranks 17th in the NBA and eigth in the East. His assists average ranks 10th in the NBA and fifth in the East.

--James is also the only non-guard in the NBA to rank in the top 10 in assists. In fact, the uber-versatile James is the only player in the top 35 who isn't listed as a backcourt player.

--James has racked up 13 double-doubles, good for 10th in the entire NBA and fourth in the East.

--James is one of just 13 players to compile a triple-double (26 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in a 105-101 loss at Washington on Dec. 4), and has narrowly missed out on several others.

--In a 103-92 win over Minnesota on Dec. 18, James scored 22 points, dished 11 assists, grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked 4 shots. James became the first player to compile such a stuffed stat line in an NBA game since Hall of Famer Chris Mullin had 25 points, 13 assists, 13 rebounds and 4 blocks for Golden State on January 4, 1995. Oh, and James has compiled that same stat line or better four other times during that near- 18-year span. While not one other NBA player has managed to do so one time.

--James has opened the season by scoring 20 points or more in each of the HEAT's 24 games. That is the longest such streak to start a season since Hall of Famer Karl Malone did so for Utah in 1989-90. (James' 20-point scoring streak actually stretches back to 29 consecutive regular-season games, and 45 straight overall games).

--James has also gone each of the past 6 games without being whistled for a single personal foul. Despite his aggressive, intense, physical, hard-charging style of play, James has now played over 250 straight minutes without being called for a personal foul.

--In the midst of his 20-point scoring streak, James has scored 30 or more points six times, including 3 games in December.

--James has dished 7 or more assists 12 times. The HEAT are 9-3 in those 12 games. In the four games where James has handed out 11 or more assists, the HEAT are 3-1.

--James has grabbed 10 or more rebounds in 10 games. The HEAT are 7-3 in those 10 games.

--James is shooting 54.2% from the field, just behind Chris Bosh's 54.8% among HEAT regulars – and above his personal career-best 53.1% set last season.

--Playing on a team stocked with 3-point marksmen, including the NBA's best ever in Ray Allen, James ranks third on the HEAT in 3-pointers made (34) and fourth in 3-point percentage (44.2%).

--James also ranks third on the HEAT in both steals (1.25 steals per game) and blocks (0.83 blocks per game).

--James graced the cover of Sports Illustrated earlier this month, having been honored as the illustrious publication's Sportsman of the Year.

--James was also named the NBA's Eastern Conference Player of the Month for November.

--And, most importantly, James has led the HEAT to an 18-6 record, the best winning percentage in the East (.750). The HEAT are a sizzling 13-2 at home, best in the East and second to only Oklahoma City (14-2) in the entire NBA.

So sit back. And savor all the blistering brilliance of LeBron James – the gift who keeps on giving (and scoring, passing, rebounding, dunking, blocking shots, etc...) to HEAT fans. And don't forget to wish him a happy 28th birthday on December 30.

Happy Holidays, HEAT fans. Enjoy.