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A Smart Blog Dedicated To Your Miami HEAT

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dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

Few people expected this from Norris Cole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

The Eastern Conference Finals are upon us again.

This time around, that means a HEAT-Boston Celtics matchup.

And when it comes to the Celtics, the name that seems to come up most these days is Rajon Rondo.

Even a casual look at the 2012 NBA Playoffs makes it quite difficult to ignore the impact of Boston's 6-foot-1, 186-pound point guard. A closer look makes it hard not to say something like "wow".

Rondo has averaged 15.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and an eye-popping 12.3 assists in 12 playoff games so far. He's recorded a points-assists double-double in all but two of those games, and notched 3 triple-doubles, including an 18-point, 10-rebound and 10-assist effort in the Celtics' 85-75 closeout win in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against Philadelphia. Rondo also registered a triple-double in the first game of that series, scoring 13 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and handing out 17 assists.

Amazing numbers from a dynamic player, to be sure.

But as HEAT fans can quickly attest to, his opponent at the point guard position is also in the midst of his own strong playoff run.

And Mario Chalmers seems to be playing at a higher and higher level as the postseason moves on.

In 11 playoff games, the HEAT's fourth-year point guard is averaging 11.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 steals. He's shooting 43.3 percent from the field, including 40.0 percent from 3-point range, and 77.4 percent from the free-throw line.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Chalmers' scoring average is fourth-best on the HEAT during the playoffs, his rebounding average is tied with Dwyane Wade for fourth-best, his assist average is third-best (just behind Wade's 3.6 average), his steals average is tied with Shane Battier for third-best and his 3-point percentage is third-best, just behind Mike Miller's 40.5%.

Chalmers' playoff scoring, assist, rebounding and 3-point shooting numbers are all equal to or better than his regular-season statistics, and he's had a couple huge individual performances of his own this postseason.

Chalmers scored 19 points and grabbed 7 rebounds and 3 steals in an 87-70 win at Madison Square Garden in Game 3 of the opening-round series against the Knicks. He netted a game-high 25 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and handed out 5 assists in a 94-75 loss in Indianapolis in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Pacers. Two games later, he scored 8 points, handed out 3 assists and grabbed a HEAT- and career-high 11 rebounds in a 115-83 Game 5 win. And in the closeout Game 6, Chalmers scored 15 points as the HEAT rolled to a 105-93 victory and advanced to meet the Celtics.

Over the last four games, Chalmers has averaged 14.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He's also hit 20 of 37 shots from the field, including 6 of 11 from behind the 3-point arc. The HEAT have won three of those four games, and in the one defeat, Chalmers scored a playoff career-high 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting.

For the HEAT to continue to advance and reach their second consecutive NBA Finals, Chalmers will need to continue to play and score at a high level. He'll also be asked to step up his defense against the cat-quick, multi-dimensional, frequently-brilliant Rondo, who averaged 18.6 points, 13.7 assists and 7.7 rebounds in three regular-season games against the HEAT.

The Celtics won two of those three games, but Chalmers did account for six steals, including a season-high five in the HEAT's 115-107 win in Miami on Dec. 27. In order for the HEAT to knock off the seasoned and savvy Celtics, the HEAT will need that kind of disruptive defensive effort from Chalmers throughout, although Dwyane Wade and NBA MVP LeBron James will possibly also be handed some sort of defensive assignment against the wiry and fiery Rondo.

Chalmers is not the prototypical point guard, nor a prolific assist machine in the mold of Rondo, but he does have impressive skills as a facilitator in his own right, and his versatility, confidence and shot-making ability are assets that continue to make him a highly valuable cog in the HEAT machine.

As these two Eastern Conference powers prepare for an intense showdown with a ticket to the NBA Finals on the line, the HEAT's point guard appears ready to rumble with Rondo.

It should be a very good show, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now? Not so much.

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

Same as he ever was.

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

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

And smarter and more efficiently than ever before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same as it's ever been.

dbarmmer

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

He's not part of the HEAT's starting five.

He's not one of the six HEAT players showcased in the upcoming NBA All-Star Weekend.

But when you look at the HEAT's record-breaking 26-7 start to the 2011-2012 season, it would be impossible not to focus on the role that Udonis Haslem has played.

TV pundits today love to talk about "glue guys" and "role players", and the 31-year-old Haslem is pretty much the epitome of both.

There's the tough, quiet leadership. The willingness to sacrifice not just playing time, but seemingly every inch of his chiseled, 6-foot-8, 235-pound body. The abundant energy on both ends of the floor. The blistering, unwavering drive that took him from University of Florida star to undrafted NBA standout (with a stint in Europe in between).

But in the case of Haslem, there's also numbers. And very impressive ones at that.

An ultra-reliable jump shooter and powerful force around the rim throughout his career, Haslem currently ranks seventh on the HEAT in scoring, averaging 6.3 points per game. His 82.4% free-throw shooting is fourth-best on the HEAT, and his 8.1 rebounds-per-game average ties him with LeBron James for second, just behind Chris Bosh. When you consider that Haslem plays 26:04 minutes a game to James' 36:35 minutes and Bosh's 35:16 minutes, that number is even more impressive.

Then again, all-out, all-around effort and hard-nosed rebounding have always been Haslem's calling card. His career rebounding average is 8.1 per game (in 30:30 minutes a game), and he's grabbed 10 or more boards off the bench 11 times this season -- including an early-season stretch of five straight games that had him among NBA leaders at one point.

And, now in his ninth season in his hometown team's uniform, Haslem is also on the verge of becoming something much, much more prestigious -- the HEAT's all-time leading rebounder.

After pulling down 7 rebounds (and scoring 10 points) in the HEAT's 120-108 win over the Kings last night, Haslem moved past HEAT icon Rony Seikaly for second place on Miami's all-time rebounding list, with 4,549. And if Haslem keeps up his current pace, there's a strong chance he'll surpass HEAT legend Alonzo Mourning, who hauled in 4,807 rebounds in a HEAT uniform.

Haslem also did something else quite impressive in the win over the Kings. In the midst of a game-breaking, 15-5 fourth-quarter run, he corralled a wayward 3-point attempt by Mike Miller, ruthlessly attacked the rim with one hand, and slammed down a vicious dunk.

And he made Dwyane Wade not only jump up out of his sideline seat, but run out toward the court in wild celebration. Yes, the same Dwyane Wade who had supplied another sizzling reel of highlights en route to a 30-point, 10-assist game.

Then again, how can you not root and cheer for Haslem? The player known affectionately as "UD" has become an absolute fixture in a HEAT uniform, and he's done so through good, old-fashioned hard work. There was the incredible transformation of his body, as he grew leaner, harder and meaner seemingly every year. There was the evolution of his mid-range jumper, gradually honed into a lethal and reliable weapon. There was his increasingly polished play in the post, not only at his more natural power forward position, but also at the center spot in some lineups.

Haslem has become such a mainstay and all-around asset, it's also easy to forget that last year, the HEAT and their fans barely got to experience Haslem's many gifts. Sidelined with ligament damage to his left foot, Haslem played in just 13 regular-season games, and didn't ever quite look like himself during the HEAT's run to the NBA Finals.

Now, it looks like he never missed a beat. Now, it looks like he's closing in on HEAT legend status. Now, it looks like the HEAT can only keep on winning.

Now, it looks like Udonis Haslem is back. And as reliable as ever.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

On a team saturated in super stardom, it can be easy to go unappreciated.

And when it's your nature to be humble, team-oriented and private, the odds are even higher that you might get overlooked from time to time -- even if you're 6-foot-11, possess a silky smooth jumper, can jump out of the building and tend to play with raw, primal passion.

But those who watch the Miami HEAT on a regular basis understand full well just how valuable Chris Bosh is.

And, after a recent 3-game stretch without the HEAT's All-Star forward/center, national observers have a better idea too.

The HEAT dropped the final two games of a post-All-Star Game road trip while Bosh attended the funeral of his beloved grandmother last week, and his absence was obvious in both losses.

Then, in his return to the court Monday night against the Nets, Bosh immediately reasserted his value with his unique presence, scoring 20 points in just 24 minutes of the HEAT's 108-78 rout of the Nets, including 16 in the pivotal first half. The versatile Bosh scored at will both inside and outside, finishing a sizzling 8 of 11 from the floor and igniting the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd with his play and passion.

Of course, this was nothing new for Bosh. The 6-foot-11, 235-pound Texas native did a little bit of everything during his debut season with the HEAT last year, averaging 18.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 77 regular-season games, and 18.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 21 playoff games. Those numbers weren't far off from his career averages of 19.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists, compiled mostly with the Toronto Raptors, who tabbed Bosh with the fourth pick of the 2003 NBA Draft -- the same draft that saw Dwyane Wade go fifth to the HEAT and LeBron James No. 1 overall to the Cavaliers.

The steady and heady Bosh has posted almost identical numbers so far this season, averaging 18.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 36 games. He's also among the top free-throw shooters for the HEAT at 81.7 percent, in line with his career average of 79.9 percent from the line -- a remarkably strong percentage for a big man. He's logged 9 double-doubles, scored 20 or more points 15 times, and dropped 30 or more four times, including a season-high 35 in a 92-85 win over Cleveland on Jan. 24.

But the most notable stat around Bosh this season may be that 1-2 record without him. Or maybe the 8-1 mark when Wade has been forced to sit out due to injury.

In those 9 games, Bosh has upped his offensive game, averaging 25.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists, and shooting a sizzling 59.1 percent from the floor. Bosh scored 22 or more points in 7 of those 9 games, and 30 or more in 4 games. The highlight was a virtuoso 33-point, 14-rebound, 5-assist game in 47 minutes of a 116-109 triple-overtime win in Atlanta on Jan. 5. Bosh even hit a 3-pointer to force the first overtime in that game, which saw the HEAT win without not only Wade, but James as well.

In fact, Bosh has hit 7 3-pointers this season, one more than he hit in 77 regular-season games for the HEAT last year. How many 6-foot-11 players can claim to not only knock down 3s, but do so in crucial, game-changing situations?

Not many. But then again, there really aren't many players like Chris Bosh.

A fact that the HEAT and their fans won't soon forget.

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

The NBA Draft is not the NFL Draft.

It doesn't eat up an entire long weekend. It doesn't stretch seven longer rounds. It doesn't regularly see future Hall Of Famers fall far below where they were expected to be selected.

The NBA Draft has two rounds. One. Two. That's it. And if you're a second-round pick, especially a late second-round pick, the chances of you ascending to stardom are quite slim.

And if you're not drafted at all...well, then you're really looking at an uphill battle for anything like a meaningful role. In fact, even sticking on a roster is quite the long shot.

Which makes the story of Joel Anthony all the more compelling.

The 6-foot-9, 245-pound Anthony is one of just three HEAT players who were not selected in the NBA Draft. And much like Udonis Haslem, Anthony plays an incredibly valuable and significant role.

The starting center for the HEAT for much of the past two seasons, the 29-year-old Anthony is a brilliant screen-setter, superior shot-blocker and excellent all-around athlete. Whether starting or coming off the bench during his five-season stint with the HEAT, Anthony has always provided maximum effort and energy, and frequently disrupts the other team's offense with his aggressive and timely shot-blocking.

Despite averaging just 21.0 minutes a game, Anthony is tied with Dwyane Wade for the HEAT lead with 1.3 blocks per game. Anthony has swatted away 2 shots or more in 23 of his 58 games this season, and the HEAT have a 17-6 record in those 23 games. He's had 4 games where he's blocked at least 4 shots, and the HEAT are 4-0 in those games. And in a thrilling 101-98 win at New Jersey on April 16, Anthony registered his 400th career block, already good enough for fourth-best in HEAT history.

Anthony's offensive game is still a work in progress, but his average of 3.3 points per game is the second-highest of his five-year career, and his 54.6% field goal percentage is a career-high and leads all HEAT players. During the HEAT's current 3-game win streak, Anthony has averaged 7.3 points, hitting 8 of 11 shots from the field — while pulling down 12 rebounds and swatting 6 shots. Anthony is also a solid free-throw shooter for a power player, averaging 67.0% during his career and 70.1% this season. His average of 3.9 rebounds per game is also sixth best on the HEAT, and represents a career-high.

All rock-solid statistics for an undrafted player. But even more impressive when you consider that Anthony didn't even grow up in the United States. And that the native Canadian once dreamed of hearing his name called in that longer, deeper, trickier NFL Draft (that dream was modified a bit when he grew 6 inches one summer to stand 6-foot-6 at age 16).

Anthony's path to the NBA has certainly been a long and unusual one. After prepping at Selwyn House School and Dawson College in his native Montreal, Anthony was recruited by Pensacola Junior College. Following two years of relentless work on and off the court, he transferred to former powerhouse program UNLV, where he led the Runnin' Rebels in blocked shots as a junior.

During his senior season, Anthony helped lead UNLV to a 30-7 record and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16, and was named the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year. His average of 6.77 blocks per 40 minutes was second in all of NCAA Division I basketball. He even had a monster 13-block game against TCU that season — one of just 17 times a player has blocked 13 shots or more since the NCAA began compiling block stats in 1985. Anthony also averaged 5.0 points per game in his final college season, shooting 60.0% from the floor.

Then-UNLV coach Lon Kruger called Anthony "the hardest worker we've had in 30 years." But that work ethic wasn't enough to earn Anthony an NBA contract via the Draft. So Anthony did what he's always done. He kept working. Hard.

Anthony showed up at his first HEAT training camp undrafted but also undaunted, and the HEAT liked what they saw enough to sign him to a one-year deal in July 2007. Anthony made 24 appearances as a HEAT rookie in the 2007-08 season, averaging 3.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 20.8 minutes per game. He continued to log extensive hours on and off the court, making his sculpted body even stronger through the HEAT's renowned conditioning program.

Anthony appeared in 145 games over the next two seasons, starting 44 of them. He averaged a career-best 1.4 blocks in each of those seasons, and in July 2010, the HEAT signed Anthony to a new 5-year contract. He appeared in 75 games last season, starting 11 of them, and averaged 2.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 19.5 minutes. He also shot a sizzling 53.5% from the field.

Now a staple of the HEAT roster, Anthony has come a long way from Canada and Florida junior colleges. And he figures to play a vital role once again as the HEAT begin to gear up for a strong playoff run.

"All the things that he does, we value," said HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra. "He's not an offensive juggernaut but he helps our offense. He's our best screener, he plays with energy, he gets up the court. In terms of our team defense, I don't know if there's five better centers in this league — in terms of speed and quickness, ability to cover ground, his intelligence — that fits into what we do."

Anthony is definitely a great fit for the HEAT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And making NBA postseason history along the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBA Champion.

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

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

Homecomings can be a beautiful thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

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

Call him Mr. March Madness.

Or Super Mario.

Or The HEAT's unsung X-Factor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

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

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

He is now a lethal three-point marksman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A third consecutive NBA Championship.

dbarmmer

By Dylan Barmmer

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

Battier Battles On

By Dylan Barmmer

Imagine you are playing for your third NBA team in two seasons.

Imagine you are in your 12th season overall, and 5 months away from your 34th birthday.

Imagine you had hardly any time to familiarize yourself with your new coaches, teammates, city or surroundings before being thrust into a prominent, multi-dimensional role as the bench leader of a deep, talented team.

Imagine much of this was happening while you battled lingering quadriceps and calf injuries.

Imagine you are Shane Battier.

The prize acquisition of the HEAT's offseason, the versatile, veteran Battier is averaging a respectable 4.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks in 22.5 minutes per game. He's played in all 52 of the HEAT's games, starting 7 of them. And he's compiled those numbers while battling the aforementioned litany of obstacles to smooth, sudden sailing in new waters.

In the 12 games that fellow veteran swingman Mike Miller has missed due to an ankle sprain over the past three weeks, Battier has picked up his production, scoring 5 points or more in 6 of those 12 games, including 11 points twice. And he's pulled down 4 rebounds or more 6 times. He's also drained 11 of 40 3-point attempts during that stretch.

Battier has also had a few monster games during this tough, truncated season. During a nailbiting 99-98 loss at Utah on March 2, he scored a season-high 18 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, handed out 3 assists and blocked a season-high 4 shots in 32 high-energy minutes. Battier drained 6 of 7 shots in that game, all from behind the 3-point arc.

Battier was also brilliant in a 106-89 win at Washington on Feb. 10, scoring 15 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) and grabbing 5 rebounds in just 23 minutes. He also had a steal, block and assist in that game, showcasing his impressive all-around talent.

For the season, Battier is shooting 38.3 percent from the floor, below his career average of 44.1 percent. But he's drained 34.9 percent of his shots from behind the 3-point arc, not far off his career average of 38.3 percent. And his 53 3-pointers made ranks second on the HEAT, behind only Mario Chalmers' 90.

“I want to play well," said Battier in early February. "I grade myself harder than anybody else. At this point, I’m not worried about the numbers. Even if I go on a tear, I’m pretty far below my averages. I’m not going to be playing to those."

But offense has always been a bit of a bonus for the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Battier, who carries a career average of 9.3 points per game over those 12 NBA seasons. Of course, the high-octane HEAT haven't needed Battier to score too much, allowing him to do the many other things he does so well -- many of which don't show up in box scores. In fact, of the 7 games Battier has scored 10 or more points in this season, only 4 have been HEAT wins.

The quintessential "glue guy", the rugged, rangy and resilient veteran has always been more revered for his myriad defensive abilities. And it's on that side of the ball that Battier's skill set, savvy and energy really jump out at even the most casual observer.

Battier willingly and creatively defends a number of players and positions, and does so with an energy and aggression that appears almost maniacal at times. When you consider that Battier is in his 12th NBA season and closing in on 34 years old, his defensive play is even more impressive.

And while hustle plays, dives and jump balls don't show up in the box scores, things like blocks and steals do. Battier's 32 blocks are fifth-best on the team, just behind Chris Bosh's 36. And his 45 steals are fourth-best on the HEAT, one ahead of Bosh. Not bad for a reserve player who also happens to be the HEAT's second-oldest player.

According to The Sporting News, Battier may also be the HEAT's smartest player. The esteemed publication recently tabbed him as the seventh-smartest athlete in all of professional sports. Graduating from Duke with honors while leading his team to two Final Fours and winning a National Title might have something to do with that. As might the effusive praise that seemingly every NBA analyst, especially former coaches like Hubie Brown and Jeff Van Gundy, regularly direct his way during telecasts.

Van Gundy, who coached Battier in Houston and doesn't exactly hand out compliments like candy, has called Battier "the finest competitor I ever coached."

"I have so much admiration for how Battier approaches his job, and his commitment to winning," Van Gundy said a few years back. "He comes ready to play every single day. He plays for the team, he plays for his teammates. If there is any NBA player that is egoless, it is Shane Battier. Battier is winning-driven."

Add all of it up, and you're left with the portrait of a player whose value transcends mere numbers. And you see why Battier was the sixth player selected in the 2001 NBA Draft after a decorated career at Duke, where he won a National Championship and swept the major National Player of the Year awards as a senior. And why he was later selected as part of the U.S. National Team, helping them to a bronze medal in the 2006 FIBA World Championship.

And you see why the HEAT coveted Battier long before signing him as a free agent this offseason.

Because, as Van Gundy said, Shane Battier is "winning-driven." And the HEAT are winning with him.

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

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

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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