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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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."