By Dylan Barmmer
He was born and bred in Miami.
He has worn a HEAT uniform for all 11 of his NBA seasons.
Only Dwyane Wade has appeared in more games in that uniform.
He holds the HEAT franchise record for career rebounds.
He has shone, stood out and even starred at both the power forward and center positions.
But for Udonis Haslem, this season has been more about patience than production.
And like it often does, that patience has started to pay off lately – for both Haslem and the HEAT.
After playing sparingly and sporadically for much of his 11th NBA season – and not playing a single minute in any of the HEAT's 10 February games – the beloved and determined Haslem re-emerged as a valuable and versatile cog in the HEAT's machine in March.
In 13 games in March, Haslem averaged 3.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.4 assists and 0.3 blocks in 11.8 minutes of action. He shot a sensational 62.2 percent from the field in those 13 games, and pulled down 4 or more rebounds in 7 of those games. He also scored 14 or more points twice, and blocked at least 1 shot in 3 different games. Over his final 5 appearances of the month, Haslem logged at least 15 minutes of court time in each game. And more importantly, the HEAT won the final 3 of those 5 games – and went 8-5 in the 13 March games Haslem saw action in.
Haslem has clearly been thrilled to be back in the HEAT's rotation in full force, especially when he's been given a starting role. In both of those 14-point-plus games, the hard-nosed and heady veteran scored 12 points in the first quarter alone.
Haslem's finest all-around game of both the month and the season came in a 101-96 loss at Boston on March 19. Starting and playing 27 minutes, Haslem scored 14 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, dished a season-high 3 assists and blocked a season-high 2 shots.
With reigning NBA MVP LeBron James sidelined with back spasms, Haslem started at center against the Celtics, and turned in an absolutely huge first-quarter performance that showed observers he still can affect the game in a variety of ways.
Haslem helped stake the HEAT to a 34-22 lead after that first quarter, scoring 12 points, pulling down 4 rebounds, dishing 2 assists and blocking 2 shots in 11 high-impact minutes. Haslem hit 6-of-7 shots in the quarter, and finished a sizzling 7-of-8 from the field for the game.
Haslem also played a large role in a prime-time, knock-down, drag-out, ultra-intense showdown with the rival Pacers in Indianapolis on March 26. Haslem scored 2 points, grabbed 4 rebounds and blocked 1 shot in 21 minutes off the HEAT bench, and the down-to-the-wire nail-biter ended in a narrow 84-83 win for the Pacers on their home court.
Haslem's lone basket came during the tail end of a key 15-4 run that ended the first half and put the HEAT up 45-44 heading into halftime. But it was in the second half that Haslem seemed to really impact the game – in a less statistical but maybe more meaningful manner.
While Haslem's statistical impact in that game was minimal, he played a vital role and left a decided impact on the game – particularly on the defensive end. Towering 7-foot-2, 290-pound Pacers center Roy Hibbert scored 17 points in the first half – including 13 in the first quarter. With the 6-foot-8, 235-pound Haslem willingly and valiantly bodying him in the post for much of the second half, Hibbert managed just 4 points after halftime.
Haslem's recent resurgence has been as much about that physicality and presence as it has been about any conventional statistical impact like points or rebounds. Renowned for his toughness and intensity both within the HEAT culture and around the entire NBA, Haslem possesses the kind of Old School intimidation factor that you just don't see much of these days around the league. It's certainly the kind of thing that can impact and infuse the HEAT with an "edge" in more than one way – not just during the 2013-14 season's stretch run, but well into their postseason drive.
Of course, Haslem can still score and rebound at a high level too. That was made more than obvious two nights after the Pacers grudge match, when Haslem started and scored a season- and game-high 17 points to go along with 5 rebounds during a 110-78 rout of the Pistons in Detroit.
On a night when the HEAT were without Wade, Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and Greg Oden – and the Pistons honored the 1989 NBA Champion "Bad Boys" at halftime – Haslem helped the HEAT take control of the game early, scoring 12 points and grabbing 4 rebounds in 11 minutes of a first half that saw the HEAT stake a 57-42 lead. Haslem actually scored all 12 of those points in the first quarter, drilling 6 of his 7 field goal attempts and helping the HEAT race out to a 28-23 lead after one. With the HEAT missing their starting backcourt and top reserve, Haslem was part of a first-time starting five that also included James, Chris Bosh, Toney Douglas and James Jones.
And when the game was over, the HEAT had a 32-point win, James had his 37th career triple-double (17 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds) and Haslem had his most productive and efficient offensive game of the season (he scored his 17 points in just 21 minutes, and hit 8-of-11 field goals).
Haslem has been equally impressive in April's early going, starting all 3 of the HEAT's games and scoring at least 6 points while grabbing 5 or more rebounds and playing at least 25 minutes in each of those 3 games. The HEAT are 2-1 in those 3 games (with their only loss coming in double-overtime), and Haslem has averaged 7.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 0.7 blocks while shooting a scorching 64.3 percent in 26.7 minutes per game.
In a 102-91 win over the rival New York Knicks on April 6, Haslem scored 6 points, dished 2 assists and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds in a season-high 28 minutes. That game also marked 7 straight starts for Haslem – and the HEAT improved to 5-2 during that 7-game run down the season's stretch.
After sitting out stretches of 3 games or more 5 times, and having averaged just 13.3 minutes a game over 42 overall games (including 14 starts) this season, the soon-to-be 34-year-old Haslem will have plenty of energy to expend come playoff time. And as HEAT fans know all too well, the man known affectionately as "UD" has played some of his best basketball in a HEAT uniform in the intense crucible of the NBA Playoffs – where points, rebounds, defense and overall toughness and execution are always at more of a premium.
Haslem's postseason experience is extensive – and then some. He's averaged 6.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.3 blocks and 24.1 minutes in 122 career postseason games, including 78 starts. He's also shot 48.0 percent from the field and 71.8 percent from the free-throw line over those 122 playoff games, and scored 772 points while snaring 750 rebounds.
Along with Wade, Haslem is also one of only two HEAT players to have been part of all 3 of the franchise's title teams. Haslem was a major factor in each of those 3 title runs, playing 66 games (including 52 starts) and averaging at least 4.8 points and 3.6 rebounds while shooting 45.5 percent or better from the field in each of those 22-game postseasons.
During the HEAT's third Championship drive in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Haslem shot a postseason career-best 59.3 percent from the field and averaged 5.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and a postseason career-best 0.7 steals in his 16.2 minutes of action.
Haslem was particularly effective and efficient in the HEAT's first-round sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 7.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.5 blocks and 0.3 steals in just 17.0 minutes. He shot a sizzling 61.9 percent from the field over the series' 4 games, and scored 25 total points (making 11-of-15 field goals) in just 36 minutes in Games 3 and 4.
When the HEAT secured their first NBA Championship to cap the 2006 NBA Playoffs, a then-25-year-old Haslem started 22 games at power forward alongside center Shaquille O'Neal and averaged 8.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.6 steals.
Haslem's role with the HEAT has changed since then, an inevitable evolution that always occurs in every athlete's career over time. But one thing about Haslem and the HEAT remains the same as it ever was:
Whenever HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra decides to call Haslem's number, the rugged, reliable veteran will always be ready to go. And he'll always give the only club he's ever played for everything he's got.
That's still a lot. And it's still worth an awful lot to the HEAT.