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dbarmmer

760_WhitesideInferno_150206.jpg

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

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

By Dylan Barmmer

It looked bad. Possibly very, very bad.

And later, after the dust had settled on the Denver Nuggets' 117-104 win over the HEAT, Dwyane Wade said his right ankle sprain suffered in the fourth quarter felt about as bad as it looked.

"It never hurt that bad before," Wade told the media. "I've sprained my ankle plenty of times but I've never sprained it like that before."

This was back on Jan. 13, when the HEAT were closing out a tough road trip and sported an 8-4 record. This was when Wade was already dealing with a sore left foot that had caused him to miss three games and play at less-than-his-usual-blinding speed in at least three others.

So Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra and Wade decided to do something that has never, ever come naturally to the nine-year veteran guard.

Slow down. And sit out.

Wade eased into a sharply-dressed spectator's role for the HEAT's next six games, and even took the time to celebrate his 30th birthday in style during that two-week stretch. While not taking the floor was painful for the aggressive, athletic, ultra-competitive Wade, watching his teammates rack up a 5-1 record felt great.

And when Wade was ready to return, it was immediately clear to everyone who was watching:

Things were about to start hurting a lot more for HEAT opponents.

Wade made his triumphant return to the court at AmericanAirlines Arena, exactly two weeks after his ankle injury in Denver, and inflicted all sorts of pain on the visiting New York Knicks. The 28 points in 32 minutes were brilliant enough on their own, as were the wide variety of ways in which they came -- including a few monster dunks, twisting jumpers and a perfect 6 for 6 from the free-throw line. But so were the 4 assists, 2 blocks and, especially, the game- and season-high 5 steals. They all played a huge role in a 99-89 win over the HEAT's longtime nemesis. And they all helped create an especially electric atmosphere at the Arena.

With so much talent flowing up and down the HEAT roster this season, it's easy to forget just how valuable, explosive and rare a player the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Wade is. Then, you watch him pick off a pass and race down the floor for an effortless dunk. Or crossover a helpless defender before dishing a perfect no-look pass to a teammate. Or close suddenly on a much larger opponent, and rise up to violently reject his shot attempt. And you remember.

Dwyane Wade is special. Very, very special.

Of course, a look at Wade's statistics always bears out his immense value too. While his 22.2-point average in 19 games this season is his lowest since his rookie season, he's averaged 24.5 in the 10 games since his return from that ugly ankle injury. And with fellow All-Star LeBron James carrying the scoring load with a 27.9-point average, Wade is doing a lot of other things besides scoring.

Like dishing out 5.0 assists a game, second only to James' 6.9 average. Or leading the HEAT with 1.8 steals and a career-high 1.4 blocks per game -- the latter being especially remarkable when you consider he's a full 8 inches shy of 7 feet.

The versatile Wade has been especially across-the-board brilliant since his return from that ankle injury, getting his 24.5 points on 52.3% shooting from the field and a blistering 87.5% from the line while also averaging 4.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks a game. The HEAT are 8-2 in that 10-game stretch, and in one of those losses, Wade scored a game-high 33 points (on 15 of 24 shooting) and blocked 3 shots.

Wade's return has greatly impacted both the HEAT's team offense and defense too. HEAT opponents have scored more than 95 points just twice in those games (both HEAT losses), while the HEAT have scored 95 or more in all but one of them -- including 106 or more in four games. Wade's penetrating, slashing, probing offensive game opens up the floor for other HEAT shooters, and his relentless energy on defense disrupts opponents' offensive flow, often resulting in turnovers and easy transition points for the HEAT.

Last night, Wade brutally dissected the Southeast Division rival Hawks in Atlanta, scoring all 21 of his points by halftime as the HEAT built a comfortable 63-41 lead. If he hadn't sat after playing just 24 minutes -- literally half a game -- Wade very likely could have finished with his first 40-point game this season.

This year's deep, versatile roster assures that Wade won't have to score 30 or 40 every night for the HEAT to win, as was the case when he averaged a NBA-high 30.2 points in 2008-09. In fact, he doesn't even have to think about hitting the 3-point shot -- he's attempted only 9 all season, and has yet to sink one.

The overall stat-stuffing brilliance and sheer athletic majesty of Wade's game are big reasons why he will play in his eighth All-Star Game in nine seasons as a professional a few weekends from now.

Wade hit the game-winning basket in the 2006 All-Star Game, and his eight appearances and seven starts are both franchise highs.

"Thinking about eight years out of nine being looked at as an All-Star, it's an honor," Wade told the media recently. "You never want to look at it and take it for granted."

HEAT fans would say the same thing about Wade.

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

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

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

Preparation pays off.

And in the NBA, you never know when your number might be called.

Veteran reserve sharpshooter James Jones reminded HEAT fans of the value of staying ready recently, scoring 18 vital points by draining 6 clutch 3-pointers off the bench in a 98-75 win over Detroit on April 8.

Fellow veteran swingman Shane Battier has done the same all season, providing a little bit of everything off the bench and stepping in to start 8 games at various spots on the schedule during this grueling, compressed season.

And so has Ronny Turiaf. He just hasn't been with the HEAT quite as long. Not even close, actually.

Jones has had four years to learn the HEAT system, and adjust to his various roles within it. Battier joined the HEAT during the offseason, and has appeared in all 56 games this season.

In stark contrast, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound Turiaf has only been with the HEAT since March 21. And before jumping right into the fire down in the low post, the rugged power forward/center had barely played all season.

Turiaf was sent from Washington to Denver at the NBA trading deadline on March 15. The Nuggets immediately bought out Turiaf's contract, he cleared waivers, and the HEAT eagerly signed the 7-year veteran.

Turiaf played in just the first 4 games for the Wizards, missing the next 2-plus months with a broken hand. In those 4 games, Turiaf averaged 1.5 points and 3.0 rebounds in just 11.8 minutes, shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from the floor.

But when Turiaf signed with the HEAT, he was ready to mix it up again down low, and coach Erik Spoelstra wasted no time inserting him in the mix. Turiaf played 11:28 off the bench in an 88-73 win at Detroit, scoring 4 points and grabbing 4 rebounds. Turiaf also added an assist and a steal in his high-energy debut, and hit both of his shot attempts from the field.

The 29-year-old Turiaf has continued to play a valuable role for the HEAT, even starting the past 5 games at center. In 11 games in a HEAT uniform, he's averaged 3.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 15.7 minutes. He's shot 53.6% from the field, and drained 6 of his first 7 shots. And every time he's on the floor, it's nearly impossible not to notice his powerful blend of energy, athleticism, aggressiveness and leaping ability.

Turiaf scored 8 points, pulled down 9 rebounds and blocked 2 shots in 21:57 of the same game Jones dominated recently, and in his first start for the HEAT, he scored 6 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and swatted 2 shots in a 99-93 win over Philadelphia.

Turiaf's sky-high shooting percentage leads the HEAT, who are shooting 47.3% overall as a team. The 1.1 blocks per game is second-best on the club, just behind Dwyane Wade and Joel Anthony's 1.3 average. And the 4.1 rebounds per game are good for fifth-best, just above Anthony's 4.0 average. In fact, Turiaf has pulled down 5 rebounds or more in 5 of his 11 games with the HEAT.

The fast success shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to anyone who's followed Turiaf over the course of his career.

In 7 seasons with 5 different teams, Turiaf has proved durable, productive and valuable, averaging 5.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.4 blocks while shooting 53.0% from the field in 17.5 minutes per game. His most productive season came in 2008-09, when he averaged 6.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.1 blocks in 21.3 minutes for Golden State. All those numbers except scoring average were career highs, and Turiaf also appeared in a career-high 79 games for the Warriors that season, starting a career-high 26.

That standout season came one year after he helped the Los Angeles Lakers reach the 2008 NBA Finals, where they eventually fell to the Boston Celtics in 6 games. The Lakers went 57-25 that season, and Turiaf averaged a career-high 6.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.4 blocks in 18.4 minutes. He played in 78 of those 82 games, starting 21 of them. During the Lakers' 19-game playoff run, Turiaf averaged 2.0 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.0 blocks while shooting 58.8% from the field in 9.8 minutes per game.

Turiaf has had a rock-solid career in the NBA's trenches, certainly not the most common course for a player who learned the game on the tiny Caribbean island of Martinique before playing his high school ball in Paris. After his eye-opening time at Paris' National Institute of Physical Education, Turiaf decided to trek out to the American West, accepting a scholarship to play for upstart Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.

Turiaf was a standout for four years for the Zags, earning All-West Coast Conference accolades during his final three seasons and WCC Player Of The Year honors after leading the conference in scoring as a senior. Turiaf averaged 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds during his four-year college career, including 15.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game as a senior.

After his decorated career at Gonzaga, Turiaf was selected in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft, with the 37th overall pick, by the Lakers. He was a valuable and versatile member of the Lakers roster for three seasons, and a favorite of the notoriously demanding Kobe Bryant during his stay in L.A.

Now, he's a key component in the HEAT's march toward the postseason.

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

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

He stands a towering, sinewy 6-foot-10.

He can step in and contribute at either forward position.

He has the knowledge, toughness and vision that can only be gained from 14 years of NBA experience.

He ranks eighth in NBA history -- and fifth among active players -- in made 3-point field goals (with 1,690 and counting).

He has averaged over 16 points and 5 rebounds (16.1 and 5.6, to be exact) while playing for three teams in 934 NBA regular-season games.

He has been an NBA All-Star twice, and played in the NBA Finals once (knocking LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers out of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals as the star scorer for the Orlando Magic).

And now, Rashard Lewis is ready for the next chapter of his highly decorated and compelling career -- as a member of the 2012 World Champion Miami HEAT.

The HEAT didn't need to tweak too much following a blistering run to the franchise's second World Championship. After all, LeBron James won Regular Season and NBA Finals MVP honors while franchise face Dwyane Wade and versatile, valuable big man Chris Bosh helped stoke a red-hot run that culminated in a five-game triumph over the talented young Oklahoma City Thunder.

Of course, life in today's NBA requires constant roster evolution, management and flexibility. So a few key pieces were added, with NBA all-time 3-point marksman Ray Allen and fellow silky smooth sharpshooter Lewis leading the way.

Each veteran brings an array of proven skills, experience and insight to the already deep HEAT roster. But only Lewis possesses the rarest of rare blends of size and shooting ability. Not only is Lewis 6-foot-10, but he possesses a massive wingspan, and he's a career 45.4% shooter from the field, including 38.8% from long distance.

It's not too many near-7-footers who can step back and knock down clutch 3-pointers. It's even fewer who can do so with enough accuracy, consistency and variety to rank among the Top 10 long-distance snipers in NBA history.

But that's exactly what the 33-year-old Lewis has done during a remarkable career that saw him enter the NBA as a second-round draft pick of the Seattle SuperSonics (who later became the Thunder) straight out of Houston's Alief Elsik High School in 1998. Lewis went on to play nine seasons as a teammate of Allen's in Seattle, averaging over 20 points a game in each of the final three, including a career-high 22.4 in 2006-07.

The following season, his first as a member of the Magic following a lucrative signing as a free agent, Lewis canned a career-best 226 3-pointers. A year later, Lewis led the NBA with 220 3-point field goal makes, and helped budding center (and new Los Angeles Laker) Dwight Howard lead Orlando to the 2009 NBA Finals, where they fell to the Lakers in five games. It was during that postseason run that Lewis helped the Magic knock off James' Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Lewis went on to star for the Magic for parts of two more years before being traded to the Washington Wizards during the 2010-11 season. Lewis was limited by knee soreness during the lockout-shortened season that saw the HEAT roar to the title, playing in 28 games for Washington in 2012, including 15 starts. Lewis still managed to average 7.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.0 assists in just 26.0 minutes per game. He ended up playing in 60 overall games as a Wizard, starting 42 of them.

Now a proud member of the HEAT following his offseason signing, Lewis has patiently worked his way into the mix during the start of 2012-13 preseason play. Erik Spoelstra and his staff have gradually expanded Lewis' reserve role, and he turned in his finest performance yet in a 104-102 win over San Antonio on Oct. 20. Lewis scored a HEAT-high 15 points and added 4 steals and 3 rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench in the comeback win. He drained 6-of-9 field goal attempts, including 3-of-6 from three-point range, and scored 11 of his 15 points during a game-turning 27-point fourth quarter by the HEAT.

In five games off the bench, Lewis has averaged 7.4 points, shooting 13-of-27 from the field, including 6-of-16 from long range. He's also averaged 2.2 rebounds in 19.6 minutes as he begins to find his rhythm and role while adjusting to a new team in a new city. Including two games in Beijing, China during a hectic preseason. Talk about long range...

Lewis' range, ranginess, versatility, experience and team-first attitude certainly make for an attractive package, and Spoelstra and HEAT fans alike are excited to see what the veteran big man with the sweet stroke and unique skill set will bring to the HEAT as they gear up for what promises to be an electrifying title defense. As a new member of a tight-knit, successful and veteran team, Lewis' ideal role and rhythm will take a little time to crystalize, much as we witnessed with point guard Norris Cole during his fascinating rookie season last year.

One thing is for sure -- it will be hard to miss Lewis when he takes the floor for the HEAT.

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

Point. Counter-Point.

blog-0920212001327702054.jpgBy Dylan Barmmer

The Big Three.

Enough has been said, written, shouted and Tweeted about LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh over the past year to make even ESPN feel overwhelmed.

But what about the Miami HEAT's newest set of Super Heroes? You know, the Terrific Twosome?

The HEAT are off to a strong 13-5 start that includes a dazzling 8-1 mark without Wade, who has battled an array of foot and leg ailments that have forced him to cool his heels and heal.

And while James and Bosh have balled big in the absence of Flash, the point guard tandem of Mario Chalmers and rookie Norris Cole has flashed its own brand of brilliance early and often.

Through 18 games, starter Chalmers and his eager understudy have combined to average 20.7 points, 7.0 assists and 2.6 steals per game, while draining a collective 42 3-point field goals – or nearly 2.5 per game.

When the HEAT fell just short of its second NBA title last season, it closed with the since-departed Mike Bibby starting and Chalmers stepping in in relief. In 92 collective regular-season games between them, Bibby and Chalmers combined to average 13.7 points, 5.0 assists and 1.6 steals per game. And beyond the so-so numbers, the pairing just never seemed to fully jell, and the overall pace and athleticism appeared nothing like it is today.

Today, things are indeed looking on point at the point. And that's not just because of the combined efforts of Chalmers and Cole, but also because of the two players' very different skill sets and styles.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Chalmers is more of a classical, jump-shooting point guard, and with 243 NBA games now under his belt, the 25-year-old seems to be blossoming into more of a solid starter at a very difficult position. A good passer who can also drain a variety of jump shots, Chalmers is currently averaging a career-high 11.9 points and shooting a sizzling 51.7% from the floor, including 44.9% from long-range. Chalmers' 35 3-pointers lead the HEAT by a long shot, and many of them have come at critical points in games.

The HEAT's revamped offense still empowers James to play primarily as a point-forward (he leads the HEAT, and all NBA forwards, with 7.1 assists a game), and puts the ball in Wade's skilled hands an awful lot too. But Chalmers' 4.3 assist-per-game average is third on the team behind James and Wade, and ranks as the fourth-year guard's highest average since his 4.9 as a rookie in 2008-09. He's handed out 5 assists or more in 7 games this season, including 8 (with 0 turnovers) in a 113-92 win over Philadelphia on Jan. 21. Chalmers' quick hands have also nabbed 3 or more steals 4 times this season, and his 1.5 per-game average is third on the team behind James and Wade.

When Chalmers goes to the bench for a breather, the HEAT tend to leave opponents gasping even more. That's because the fiery Cole, a 23-year-old rookie from Cleveland State, prefers to play at a fast and furious pace. And while Cole is averaging a respectable 2.7 assists in 21:06 minutes off the bench, it's his ability to race to open spaces and find his own shot that most stands out.

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Cole is more of a scoring, slashing, "combo" point guard than Chalmers, and the former Horizon League Player Of The Year wasted no time showing HEAT fans how fast he can fill it up. In just his second NBA game, Cole exploded for 20 points in 29 minutes, helping lead the HEAT to a 115-107 win over Boston in its home opener. Cole drained 8-of-16 field goals and 4-of-6 from the line, and 14 of his 20 came in the fourth quarter.

Cole has reached double figures in scoring 6 more times since then, and his 8.8 point-per-game average is fifth on the team, behind Chalmers. The HEAT are 5-2 when Cole scores in double figures, and 7-0 in games where he hands out 4 or more assists. Because of his incredible speed with the ball, many of Cole's assists come on drops and dishes in the paint, where his teammates can take high-percentage shots.

The HEAT nabbed Cole with the 28th pick of the 2011 draft, and in so doing secured a player with not only scoring acumen, but four years of college basketball under his belt. That's becoming increasingly rare in today's NBA, as evidenced by a quick glance at the HEAT roster. James went straight from high school to the pros, Bosh played one year at Georgia Tech, Wade played two years at Marquette and Chalmers starred for three seasons at Kansas – winning the National Championship on a clutch 3-pointer his final season. Cole also has strong football bloodlines (he starred in high school, and his cousin, Trent Cole, is a premier NFL pass rusher), and watching him play basketball at times recalls another great gridiron-inspired guard, Allen Iverson.

So in the case of Chalmers and Cole, 2 really is better than 1 for the HEAT so far this season – and not as far off from The Big 3 as the casual observer may believe.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

As debuts go, it was just about perfect.

Mike Miller had waited and waited and waited, under doctors' and coaches' orders to sit out the HEAT's first 12 games while he healed up from offseason sports hernia surgery.

Then, in a Jan. 17 home game against the dangerous San Antonio Spurs, Miller jumped back in the saddle. And unleashed his six-shooter. Or more like three-shooter.

The rangy 6-foot-8 swingman drilled his first shot, a beautiful 3-point dagger that emphatically announced his return. Then, he hit another. And another. And...

When the smoke had cleared, Miller had blasted his way to a perfect 6 of 6 from the field -- with all 6 coming from long-range -- to score 18 points in just 15 minutes off the bench. The performance tied a HEAT record for 3-pointers made without a miss in one game, and with the drop of each bomb, you could feel and hear added electricity in the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd.

Miller's sweet-shooting heroics got a bit lost in a game that saw LeBron James key a 39-12 third quarter en route to a 120-98 comeback win. But while James (33 points) and Chris Bosh (30) got the headlines the next day, it was Miller's clutch shooting that won and wowed the crowd.

Of course, with Miller, it's never about just the shooting. A self-proclaimed "gym rat", the former University of Florida star was all over the court in his debut, pulling down 4 rebounds, diving for loose balls and doing whatever it takes to make a difference for his team.

HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra had said he was planning on playing Miller "five or six" minutes, but the 13-year veteran made a go of it for 15. And with that kind of shooting, production and overall hustle, who could blame Spoelstra for letting Miller run wild?

“Every once in a while you get going when you’re a shooter,” Miller said after his red-hot debut. “I just happened to do that.”

Given everything Miller had endured since signing with the HEAT prior to the 2010-2011 season, it's no wonder he fought his way back so fast this season. Fighting off an array of injuries last season, including damage to both thumbs, Miller averaged just 5.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in only 41 games. Then came offseason hand, shoulder and hernia surgeries.

The HEAT gave Miller plenty of time to heal up and prepare in practice at the right pace. And then the 31-year-old sharpshooter made his explosive debut.

In 9 games since, Miller has yet to put together such a statistically spectacular performance. But he's become a vital part of the HEAT rotation, averaging 7.1 points and 3.0 rebounds in 18.1 minutes off the bench. He's shooting a sizzling 60.4 percent from the field, including a remarkable 54.6 percent (12 of 22) from behind the arc.

Even more impressive, the HEAT are 8-2 with Miller in the lineup. Both losses have come to the relentless Milwaukee Bucks, and Miller scored a grand total of just 3 points (on 1-of-4 shooting) in those two defeats.

Seeing a connection yet?

Miller made his debut when Dwyane Wade was still sidelined with foot injuries, and since D-Wade's return, he has seen his minutes reduced a bit. But he's still averaged 6.8 points and 2.3 rebounds over those 4 games. He's also drained 12 of 17 shots from the field, including a sizzling 6-of-8 showing for 14 points in just 17 minutes in a 109-95 win over New Orleans Monday night.

With Miller still finding his footing and a tightly compressed season unfolding in curious ways, the HEAT know their hard-charging, sweet-shooting veteran can only get better the more he plays.

After all, the man who was the fifth overall pick of the 2000 NBA Draft by Orlando -- and promptly won the NBA Rookie Of The Year Award -- is a career 46.3-percent shooter (40.5% from long-range) and has averaged at least 15.0 points a game four times, for two different teams.

Now, he's a valuable part of the HEAT rotation. And increasingly determined to bring HEAT fans to their feet with his brilliant brand of play.

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 brings an instant infusion of speed, toughness and aggression every time he hits the floor.

His football background translates into a physical, intriguing and exciting style of play.

His youth and enthusiasm seem to often inspire his veteran HEAT teammates.

And 24-year-old reserve point guard Norris Cole not only understands his role in his second year in the HEAT system -- he relishes it.

"I bring a lot of energy," said Cole when asked to define his role. "I’m the young guy out there. I’m the speed demon out there so I bring a lot of energy."

The energy, speed and youth the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Cole injects into the game when he takes the floor can't be quantified statistically, but many of his other contributions can.

After playing in 17 of the HEAT's first 19 games, Cole currently ranks fourth on the HEAT with 2.3 assists per game and fifth on the club with 0.7 steals per game.

Cole also ranks eighth on the HEAT in scoring, with 5.1 points per game, and seventh in 3-point field goals made, with 6.

But maybe most importantly for the second-year (and HEAT's second-youngest) player, Cole ranks seventh on the HEAT with 19.9 minutes per game over the 17 games he's appeared in this season. That's already half a minute more than the 19.4 minutes he averaged over 65 games as a rookie last season.

HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra seems to be entrusting Cole with more and more playing time and responsibilities in his second season. Cole has logged 20 minutes or more eight times this season, and 23 minutes or more in three of his past four games.

It's easy to see why. Cole has been especially efficient and productive over his past five games, a stretch that has also seen the HEAT go 4-1. He's averaged 7.2 points, 2.0 assists, 1.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals over 22.4 minutes, hitting 16 of 33 shots (48.5%), including 3 of 6 3-pointers.

Cole has scored 8 or more points in three of those five games, including a season-high 12 in a 102-89 win over Brooklyn on Dec. 1 and 10 in a 101-92 win over Atlanta on Dec. 10. Cole also grabbed 2 rebounds and a season-high 3 steals in the win over Brooklyn, and he drilled all four of his field goal attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers, in the Atlanta game. His second 3-pointer came with 4:44 left to play and gave the HEAT their largest lead of the game at 95-82.

There's also the less-easily quantifiable or measurable contributions brought by the smart, tenacious, physical Cole, who was ready to head to Walsh University on a football scholarship before Gary Waters and Cleveland State persuaded him to dedicate his talents and passion to the hardwood. His cousin, Trent Cole, is a decorated NFL veteran defensive end, and Cole himself flexed his muscle on the gridiron as the star quarterback at Dayton, Ohio's Dunbar High when he wasn't starring on the court or in the classroom (Cole was a member of the National Honor Society and served as his class' salutatorian).

Cole became known for his tireless work ethic and willingness to sacrifice statistics for team success at Cleveland State, moving from shooting guard to point guard during his final two college seasons. That same drive and intelligence impressed Spoelstra and the HEAT staff during his first (albeit abbreviated) training camp and preseason, which saw Cole average 9.5 points and 4.5 assists and earn a serious, valuable role with a HEAT team that would go on to win the NBA title.

Cole said he put in a lot of time and hard work during his first full NBA offseason this past summer, and his familiarity with the HEAT system, coaches and teammates increased exponentially as a result.

"A lot of things are different," said Cole. "I’ve had a full training camp, which is more repetition with the coaching staff, more practices. So I’m a little more comfortable out there on the court. My first 11 games last year were actually pretty good for being a rookie. But, I think I’m more comfortable out there. I’m more poised as a point guard."

When asked to pinpoint just what area of his game has improved the most, Cole's answer was as quick as his first step.

"My decision making as a playmaker," said Cole. "I know what I’m looking for out there now. There’s no guessing. I know what the other team is doing. I know what we’re supposed to be doing. I think that’s the biggest key, being comfortable with that."

Cole may not have always known what he was doing or looking for during his rookie season, but as he said, he certainly made a quick impression after joining the HEAT as a late first-round pick from Cleveland State, where he became the first man in Horizon League history to earn both Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors -- and was a finalist for the Wooden Award.

In just his second NBA game, Cole exploded for 20 points in 29 minutes against the gritty, veteran Boston Celtics (including 14 in pivotal fourth quarter), helping key a 115-107 win in the HEAT's home opener. That total remains a career high (he matched it in a 105-90 win at Indiana on Feb. 14, 2012), but Cole did manage to score 10 points or more in 20 more games, and finished his rookie season averaging 6.8 points per game. Cole also dished 4 assists or more 14 times, including a career-high 9 (to go along with 16 points) in a 129-90 win over Charlotte in just his fifth NBA game. Cole finished the season averaging an even 2.0 assists per game.

Like any rookie, Cole's scoring, along with his overall play, tended to fluctuate from game to game, opponent to opponent. That hasn't been as much of an issue this season, which has seen veteran Ray Allen take over much of the second-unit scoring load, but Cole still sees room for improvement.

"Being consistent," said Cole when asked where he needs to improve his game the most. "Not just playing one or two or three good games. Putting consecutive games together where you’re playing solid. Where you’re playing productive."

Cole has certainly been playing solid and productive lately. And HEAT fans hope to see more of the same from this exciting, aggressive, athletic and energetic young player.

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.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

Most Valuable Player?

Likely.

Most Versatile Player?

Undeniably.

The HEAT are 42 games into a tightly compressed 66-game season. Their record is 31-11. They're second in the NBA -- and first in the Eastern Conference -- in scoring (102.5 points per game), first in field goal percentage (48.3%), second in 3-point field goal percentage (39.4%) and fourth in steals (8.9 steals per game).

And atop nearly every major team statistical breakdown stands one man:

LeBron James.

James leads the deep, talented HEAT in scoring (27.7 points per game), rebounding (8.4 rebounds per game), assists (6.6 assists per game), steals (1.9 steals per game) and field goal percentage (54.7%). He's third in blocks (0.8 blocks per game) and 3-pointers made (36), and fourth in 3-point field goal percentage (41.4%).

James' scoring average is third in the NBA, behind only Kobe Bryant (29.0 ppg) and Kevin Durant (27.9). His field goal percentage is seventh-best, and would represent a career high if the season ended today. James is also 14th in the entire NBA in assists, and is one of just two non-point guards in that group.

Or is James a point guard? No, of course not. He's a small forward. Wait. He's a power forward. No, that's not right. He's playing center now. And he's defending the other team's shooting guard...

If that's not value, then what is? If that's not versatility, then nothing is.

Then there's the athletic ability.

HEAT fans have become so accustomed to the 6-foot-8, 250-pound James' breathtaking blend of size, speed, power, balance, finesse and skill, that watching him do the seemingly magical might even be somewhat mundane by now.

James' dunks can be so vicious, his passes so pinpoint, his shot so silky, that even the casual NBA fan can't watch him play and be reminded of Magic Johnson. Or Michael Jordan. Or both.

And after spending this past extended offseason working closely with NBA Hall Of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon on refining his post moves, James has at times this season resembled a vintage Karl Malone down on the low block.

Of course, this overwhelming package of talent, passion and work ethic is the reason why James has been starring on ESPN since his high school days at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio. It's the reason he's already won 2 NBA MVP awards at the still tender age of 27. And it's the reason why he's well in line to claim his third MVP trophy as the HEAT head into the final third of this shortened season.

But James wants more. He craves his first-ever NBA Championship, so he continues to do and be more.

Need him to score 30 points? Well, James has done that 18 times now, including 4 times since the All-Star Break (after nearly rallying the Eastern Conference for a comeback victory in the All-Star Game).

Need him to pull down 10 or more rebounds? James has done that 14 times, including 5 times in the past 8 games.

Want to see him play the facilitator, and set up his teammates for scores? James leads the HEAT in assists, averaging nearly 7 a game, and has dished out 8 or more dimes 13 times.

Of course, we could break down James' statistical superiority for hours and paragraphs at a time, but it still can't fully quantify the value he brings to the HEAT. Even if he doesn't get credit for a steal, his lightning-quick hands might alter or disrupt a pass or a shot. He might not come down with a rebound, but his excellent footwork and raw physicality could have allowed a teammate to get in better position for the board. And his ability to not only play, but defend, all five positions at a high level is of immeasurable value to HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff.

Simply put, there is nobody like LeBron James in the NBA right now. And it's not too much of a stretch to say there has never been a player quite like him.

For all of those reasons and more, it's hard to argue that James is not only the HEAT's MVP -- but the leading candidate for NBA MVP honors as well.

Until that announcement is made, James will continue to focus on doing what he does best.

A whole lot of everything.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

He's not in the starting lineup.

He's been DNP-CD for 12 of the HEATs' 48 games.

When he has played, he's logged 15 minutes or more just 10 times.

But there's no denying James Jones' value to the HEAT.

Despite playing in only 36 games this season -- and averaging just 10.2 minutes in those games -- the nine-year veteran has managed to average 3.1 points a game. A superior sharpshooter from long range, Jones ranks fifth on the HEAT in 3-pointers made (27), and second in 3-point field goal percentage (a sizzling 42.2%).

The 6-foot-8, 215-pound swingman is also third in free-throw shooting percentage, having drained 17 of 21, or 81.0%, from the line.

Jones got a chance to start at shooting guard when Dwyane Wade was out with a foot injury early in the season, and scored 14 points -- all in the first half -- in a 118-83 win over the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 4. Jones hit 4 of 8 3-pointers in that game, and drilled 12 of his first 22 shots from long-range this season. HEAT fans who watched him take the 3-point shootout title at the 2011 All-Star Weekend weren't surprised, and University of Miami fans who remember Jones starring for the Hurricanes were even more familiar with that sweet stroke.

But Jones, who is a career 40.3-percent shooter from behind the arc, began to see his minutes give way to fellow veteran Mike Miller, who missed the start of the season while recovering from hernia surgery.

Even so, the heady and steady veteran has remained ready for any time his number might be called. And with Miller missing the past eight games with a sprained left ankle, Jones has once again gotten his shot to take his shots.

"I have a different role on this team," Jones said recently. "My role is to make sure that things run seamlessly if someone's out for a game, or out for a stint. Just to be ready at all times."

Jones hasn't disappointed, hitting 7 of 16 shots from the field since Miller's absence, including 6 of 13 from 3-point range. While filling in capably at both the shooting guard and small forward positions. All after having seen action in just 12 minutes over the previous 7 games. With all of those 12 minutes having come in one game.

Jones was especially brilliant in the HEAT's thrilling 106-102 loss at NBA-leading Chicago on March 15. He drilled a tough 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to pull the HEAT within 3 points, and then nailed another 3-ball with 6.8 seconds remaining, drawing the HEAT to within 104-102. He finished the game with 6 points, 2 assists and 1 rebound in just 14 minutes, and nearly led the HEAT back to a win.

Jones' role on the HEAT at times seems akin to a baseball closer. And if that's the case, then the Miami native would have to rank among the NBA's saves leaders.

It's not easy to just jump into the action cold in any game, at any level, in any league. But to do so in the game of basketball, at its highest level on earth, can be especially daunting.

It doesn't seem to phase the steely Jones, however. He's done nothing but deliver when called upon, especially when Erik Spoelstra dials his number for a long ball.

"I'm the guy that, at a moment's notice, when I haven't played for five games, I'm expected to go in there and make a shot," said Jones. "That's a role that I embrace, and it's something that's necessary for this team to be able to function the way that we're built."

It's that kind of tenacity, focus, perseverance and will that has allowed Jones to play a key role for four NBA teams since being drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 2003. A bench player and spot starter for most of his career, Jones has still managed to average 5 or more points four times, and exceed 40% shooting from behind the arc on three occasions.

The 31-year-old Jones has spent the past four seasons with his hometown HEAT, and has become a vital and valuable member of the club. His best statistical season in Miami came last year, when he averaged 5.9 points and 2.0 rebounds in 19 minutes a game. He even saw action in a career-high 81 games, missing just one game all season and making 8 starts. His 42.9% shooting from long range was the second highest of his career, and third-best on the HEAT.

Jones continued to stand out in the postseason last year, averaging 6.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 22.7 minutes per game. He shot 47.1% from the floor, including a sizzling 45.9% from long distance.

This season, Jones' statistical output -- and time on the floor -- has lessened a bit. But Jones' value to the HEAT remains as strong and clear as ever. Especially to him.

"I know that the last couple of years here, my role has evolved to the point where now, I think I can do whatever this team needs me to do," said Jones. "Whenever they need me to do it.

"I want to be remembered as a champion here in my hometown."

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

“This is very overwhelming to me as an individual award, but this is not the award I want, ultimately. I want that championship. That’s all that matters to me. --LeBron James, upon being named NBA MVP on May 12, 2012

He is closer now. And he appears hungrier than ever before.

LeBron James claimed his third NBA MVP trophy in the past four years by averaging 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.8 blocks in his second season in a HEAT uniform. He shot a career-best 53.1 percent from the floor and led the HEAT to a 46-20 mark and a second consecutive Southeast Division title during a grueling, lockout-compressed campaign. In receiving 85 of 121 first-place votes, James became only the eighth player in NBA history to win MVP honors at least three times, joining Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlin, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Moses Malone and the player he has often drawn comparisons to, Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

But as great as James was during the regular season, he's been even greater during the 2012 NBA Playoffs. And as the challenges and pressure have mounted with each subsequent round, James has elevated his game to new levels each time.

From a purely statistical level, the progression looks like this, with both James' scoring and rebounding averages rising in stride with the stakes:

--Averages of 27.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.2 steals in 5 games against the New York Knicks. James scored 30 or more points twice in that series and did not register a 10-rebound game. He handed out 5 or more assists 3 times.

--Averages of 30.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.7 steals and 0.7 blocks in 6 games against the Indiana Pacers. James scored 30 or more points three times (including 40 points in Game 4) and grabbed 10 or more rebounds three times. James grabbed 15 or more boards twice in that series, including a playoff-high 18 in that same Game 4. James also handed out at least 5 assists in 5 of the 6 games.

--Averages of 33.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.3 blocks in 7 games against the Boston Celtics. James scored 30 or more points in 6 of the 7 games (including playoff-high 45 in Game 6) and grabbed 10 rebounds or more five times. In the one game James failed to reach the 30-point mark, he scored 29. He also grabbed 12 boards or more four times, including in each of the last three games. And perhaps most impressively, James racked up at least 30 points and 10 rebounds together in the same game five times.

So if you're scoring at home, that's 11 games of 30 or more points in 18 total playoff games. Eight games with at least 10 rebounds. Eleven games with at least 5 assists. And postseason averages of 30.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.8 blocks. In other words, even James' average is about as far above average as you can get.

Of course, elite athletic competition is about more than just statistics. James' eye-popping numbers throughout the HEAT's postseason run don't completely illustrate just how dominant, active, versatile and valuable he has been, particularly on defense. And James' awesome averages in this last series -- he became the first player since Shaquille O'Neal in the 2000 NBA Finals to have six 30-point games in a playoff series -- are even more impressive when you consider they came against a veteran, battle-tested Celtics team in the Eastern Conference Finals, with a trip to the NBA Finals hanging in the balance.

When the Celtics won the middle three games to take a commanding 3-2 lead and push the HEAT to the brink of elimination, James donned a serious game face and stormed out the gates to lead his team to back-to-back wins by averaging 38.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

James' overpowering 45-point, 15-rebound, 5-assist performance in Game 6 was only the second time such a stat line had been recorded in NBA playoff history. The other player to reach such staggering heights? Wilt Chamberlain.

James doesn't possess the same towering presence as the 7-foot-1 Chamberlin did, but his game can be every bit as huge. And in that pivotal Game 6 road win on June 7, it was absolutely gigantic.

Playing in front of a rowdy Boston crowd and facing playoff elimination, James made 12 of his first 13 shots en route to an incredible 19-of-26 shooting performance in that game. He scored 14 first-quarter points and added 16 more in the second quarter, setting a HEAT playoff scoring record for a first half. James and the HEAT would wear down the Celtics and roll to a 98-79 victory and another shot at a Finals appearance -- which James helped deliver with 31 points, 12 rebounds and 2 assists in a 101-88 Game 7 win at AmericanAirlines Arena.

"He was absolutely brilliant this series, and we all know it," said HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra. "He's playing at an historic level during the playoffs, driving us with his will...He is pushing himself beyond his limits, and he's pushing the rest of the team as well."

Of course, the final chapter of this sizzling story remains to be written. James and his hungry HEAT teammates will begin to author an ending starting Tuesday, June 12 in Oklahoma City. Awaiting them will be the deep, fast, athletic and energetic Thunder and Kevin Durant, who led the NBA in scoring at 28.0 points a game and finished second in MVP voting to James. And Durant has been penning his own personal passion play in these playoffs, scoring 30 or more points and grabbing at least 10 rebounds six times in 15 games.

The stakes have been raised once again. And James looks ready to continue elevating his own game.

He wants that championship. And it is now only four wins away.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

HEAT. Knicks. NBA Playoffs.

Need we say more?

In case you do want or need more, we'll dive into it all deeper now. And we'll take a closer look at what promises to be a heavily exciting, competitive and talked-about playoff series starting Saturday.

The two teams collided in the playoffs four consecutive times from 1997 to 2000, but the hotly contested and ultra-physical postseason rivalry has laid dormant since then. Until now.

And if this lockout-compressed regular season is any indication of what's to come starting Saturday, we should have yet another riveting HEAT-Knicks playoff battle on our hands.

This season, the 46-20 HEAT went 3-0 against the 36-30 Knicks, with each game playing out as great theater. Here's a closer look at those games:

Jan. 27: HEAT 99, Knicks 89

Boosted by the return of Dwyane Wade from a 6-game layoff due to an ankle sprain, the HEAT built a 52-48 halftime lead and rolled to a 10-point win at AmericanAirlines Arena. Wade scored 28 points, including 18 in the first half, and added a season-high 5 steals and 4 assists. LeBron James racked up a game-high 31 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, to go along with a game-high 7 assists and 8 rebounds. The HEAT survived 18 3-point field goals from the Knicks, including 7 from reserve Bill Walker. Neither forward Carmelo Anthony nor guard Jeremy Lin played for New York. Knicks center Tyson Chandler scored 9 points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. The Knicks fell to 7-12 after the loss, while the HEAT moved to 14-5.

Feb. 23: HEAT 102, Knicks 88

The HEAT rolled into the NBA All-Star Game break riding an 8-game winning streak after rolling the Knicks once again at home -- and putting a dramatic damper on the "Linsanity" that was swirling around new point guard Lin. Chris Bosh scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed 8 rebounds, Wade added 22 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists and James racked up 20 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists and a season-high 5 steals. The HEAT were everywhere early and often in this game, shooting a sizzling 49.4% from the floor, grabbing 12 steals and blocking 10 shots. Anthony scored 19 points for New York, but Lin, in his lone appearance against the HEAT, struggled to just 8 points on 1-of-11 shooting. Lin also turned the ball over 8 times with just 3 assists. The HEAT sizzled into the All-Star break at an NBA-best 27-7 following the win, while the resurgent Knicks entered the break at 17-18.

April 15: HEAT 93, Knicks 85

In their lone trip to Madison Square Garden this season, the HEAT ended a 9-game home win streak for the Knicks, closing out the game on an 18-6 run to survive a 42-point outburst from Anthony. James scored 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, Wade added 29 points and 9 boards and Bosh chipped in 16 points and 14 rebounds. The loss was just the fifth in the previous 18 games for the Knicks, who fell to 31-29 afterward. The HEAT concluded their regular season sweep of the Knicks and improved to 42-17 overall. Anthony was sensational, scoring his 42 points on 14-of-27 shooting from the floor and adding 9 rebounds. J.R. Smith added 16 points and 7 rebounds off the bench, but the rest of the Knicks struggled all game long.

Of course, that's all in the past now. And as the two teams gear up to face off again now, a few things come to mind.

--The HEAT's stars should be well rested. Wade played in just 2 of HEAT's final 7 games, James saw action just once in the final 4 and Bosh was held out of each of the last 6. Wade averaged 26.3 points in 3 games against Knicks this season, while James averaged 26.7 points and 8.7 boards. Bosh will be looked upon to help neutralize the aggressive and long-limbed Chandler, who often gave the HEAT fits as a member of the Dallas Mavericks during last year's NBA Finals. Bosh cleaned up on the glass with 14 rebounds in the teams' last meetings, and the HEAT would love to see that kind of production throughout this series. In fact, it would likely prove pivotal.

--Anthony is in the zone right now. The HEAT need to do everything in their power to nudge the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Anthony out of his rapidly expanding comfort zone. Anthony averaged 22.6 points on 43-percent shooting in 55 games this season, but over his final 14 games, he scored 30 or more points 8 times, including 39 or more 4 times. Whereas Lin became a focal point under since-departed head coach Mike D'Antoni's pick-and-roll offense, the loss of Lin to a knee injury and the ascension of former assistant Mike Woodson to the head coaching job has put Anthony back where he always longs to be -- front and center. Anthony averaged 30.5 points in 2 games against the HEAT this season, including that 42-point explosion in their last meeting.

--Amar'e Stoudemire can't be forgotten. The veteran big man struggled a bit for the Knicks this season, averaging 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in just 47 games. In 2 games against the HEAT this season, Stoudemire managed just 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds, hitting just 9 of 21 field goal attempts. But Stoudemire looked strong in the season's final 4 games, scoring 15 points or more 3 times and hitting 56.3% of his shots from the field as the Knicks went 3-1 during a crucial late-season sprint. The 29-year-old Stoudemire is not near the ultra-athletic leaper he once was, but he can still erupt and score points in bunches. He can also team with Chandler down low to disrupt teams' offenses, as he showed by blocking 8 shots during that final, pressure-packed 4-game stretch.

--The HEAT can break the Knicks on the fast break. With Wade and James bounding into this series on fresh legs, the HEAT will look to revive the dazzling, daring and devastating fast break attack that made them so hard to beat this season. The HEAT are at their best when their dynamic duo is playing pitch-and-catch at a high level and on a high wire, and these kinds of plays tend to not only suck the winds out of an opponent's sails, but also send the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd into a raucous frenzy. When the HEAT beat the Knicks the first time this season, Wade came back at home after 6 games off and was flying all around AmericanAirlines Arena. Several early dunks and blocks by Wade and James staked the HEAT to a big early lead, got the crowd energized and led to a 10-point home win. More of the same Saturday would be huge.

Those are just some of the many things to keep an eye on as the newest chapter in HEAT-Knicks unfolds starting Saturday, with Game 2 set for Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

No matter what you do, don't take either eye off the court for too long. Because this seems destined to be more great HEAT-Knicks theater.

Stay tuned...

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

The HEAT are on to the next round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, having defeated the New York Knicks in five games to advance to a showdown with the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

But while the first round was all about overcoming a superstar scorer and vanquishing a long-loathed rival, this particular matchup figures to be decided in the trenches a little bit more.

And when you take a close look at the Pacers' power rotation, it's easy to see why HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra declared, "The team we'll be facing is a physical team."

The Pacers are anchored by massive 7-foot-2, 260-pound center Roy Hibbert, who achieved All-Star status this season while averaging 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. They also feature rugged 6-foot-9, 260-pound veteran David West and blossoming, blitzing backup Tyler Hansbrough (6-foot-9, 250) at the power forward position, with 6-foot-9, 225-pound journeyman Lou Amundson another big sparkplug option off their bench.

Much more a collective unit than the Carmelo Anthony-led Knicks, the Pacers went 42-24 in the lockout shortened regular season, then breezed by the Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic in five games in their opening playoff series. Hibbert (11.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.8 blocks) and West (15.8 points, 9.6 rebounds) absolutely dominated inside against the Magic, and to emerge victorious and reach the Eastern Conference Finals for a second consecutive season, the HEAT will have to receive efficient, energetic and passionate play from their own power rotation.

HEAT center Chris Bosh more than held his own against Knicks center and NBA Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, averaging 15.0 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting 51.0% from the field. And power forward Udonis Haslem averaged 3.8 points and 6.4 rebounds, grabbing 7 or more boards in three of the five games -- despite averaging just 19 minutes per game.

With the Knicks relying on most of their offense from Anthony and fellow wing player J.R. Smith, Spoelstra didn't dip too deep into his power rotation, electing instead to play veteran wings Shane Battier and Mike Miller for long stretches of time. But when he was called upon, HEAT center Joel Anthony displayed his customary energy and athletic ability, averaging 1.6 points and 3.4 blocks in just 17 minutes per game. Anthony was especially impressive in the final two games against the Knicks, scoring 4 points and grabbing 6 rebounds in 19 minutes in Game 4 and chipping in 4 points and 5 rebounds during 19 minutes of action in the closeout Game 5.

The perimeter-oriented series meant that veteran forward-center Ronny Turiaf saw even less action, appearing in just 7 minutes of Game 1. But the 6-foot-10, 246-pound Turiaf did manage 3 rebounds and 1 block in that time on the floor, and he figures to play more of a role against the inside-out attack of the Pacers. Turiaf was rock-solid for the HEAT in the 13 games since his signing, averaging 3.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 block in just 17 minutes a game. He even started five games at center for the HEAT, averaging 4.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in those five games.

The HEAT went 3-1 in four regular-season games against the Pacers, and it was telling that they won the rebounding battle decisively in all three victories. In the one HEAT loss, a 105-90 defeat in Indianapolis on March 26, the Pacers won the battle of the boards 49-33. But overall, in the four games, the HEAT held a 171-157 edge.

Turiaf appeared in just one of those four games, scoring 6 points, grabbing 5 boards and blocking a shot in 17 minutes off the bench in the one HEAT loss. Anthony played heavily in all four games, starting at center and averaging 5.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 22.3 minutes. If both players can repeat that production during this postseason series, the HEAT should be in excellent position to advance confidently into the Eastern Conference Finals.

Haslem also put up big numbers against the Pacers in the regular season, averaging 5.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in 24 minutes. The hard-nosed veteran came off the bench in all four of those games, and hauled in 9 or more rebounds in three of the four. Now in a starting power forward role, Haslem will have his hands full with the bruising duo of West and Hansbrough. His game is somewhat similar to West's, however, and he should be up for the challenge of neutralizing Indiana's second-leading playoff scorer. Both Anthony and Turiaf can lend a hand off the bench, with their shot-blocking acumen being of particular value.

Bosh played all four regular season games against Indiana, but started at the power forward position, alongside then-starting center Anthony. Bosh averaged 15.5 points and 5.3 rebounds, and posted a 22-point, 6-rebound outing in a 118-83 home win on Jan. 4. It will be interesting to see how the veteran Bosh matches up against the towering Hibbert in the middle this time around, and he should have a decided edge when it comes to quickness, being nearly 30 pounds lighter than the still-developing and more methodical former Georgetown star.

It all adds up to an interesting series of matchups in the trenches, and when you factor in the added intensity and physicality of playoff basketball, it should get even more interesting.

Come Sunday, we'll get a better idea just how physical this series will be.

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

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

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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

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.