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  1. My buddy Will posted a video to FanZoos discussing this question: Who on Miami Heat's starting 5 is a defensive liability? Watch What do you guys think? Is he right? Did he leave out anybody, or include anyone he shouldn't have?
  2. As a miami heat fan i'm a little concerned about our defense. It seems other then the piston game that our defense showed up but our defense has been a mixed a blah and pathetic lately. I know alot of the offense has masked it but what do you guys think. I also posted a video about this issue at on fanzoos https://www.fanzoos.com/watch/7K9m04sR5/do-miami-heat-fans-need-to-be-worried-about-latest-lost-to-portland-trail-blazers . Let me know what you guys think. I don't know if its something that spo can lock on or if its something else that we can do.
  3. By Dylan Barmmer There are examples of immediate impact. There are improbable and inspiring stories. And then there is Hassan Whiteside. What the HEAT’s inspired and inspiring new center is doing in his first NBA action since the 2011-12 season has been all of this and more – and the amazing accomplishments just continue to unfold with each game. In fact, in just two-and-a-half months in a HEAT uniform, the 25-year-old Whiteside has flat-out dominated a handful of games, set a few HEAT franchise records, and even etched his name into the annals of NBA history during a particularly amazing performance – which also happened to be nationally televised on a weekend. On one hand, it’s not too hard to see how this could happen. Standing at a full seven feet with incredibly long arms and an athletic and agile 265-pound frame, Whiteside’s presence alone is guaranteed to intimidate and frustrate the opposition. But in the curious case of Hassan Whiteside, that rare and powerful presence exists hand-in-hand, step-by-step, shot-by-shot, rebound-by-rebound and block-by-block with production. In fact, the production is one of the main themes of this story. And it’s a story that continues to amaze at nearly each and every turn. Consider the following plot twists and story developments: Signed after being cut by the Memphis Grizzlies (who he never played a single minute of a single game for) just before Thanksgiving of 2014, Whiteside quietly made his HEAT debut during a 107-86 loss to the Washington Wizards on Dec. 1, 2014. Playing just two minutes of the fourth quarter, Whiteside missed a pair of free throws and grabbed a rebound in those two minutes. Whiteside would make just two brief appearances over the HEAT’s next nine games, but in those seven short minutes, he scored six points, pulled down three rebounds and blocked a shot. A short stint with the HEAT’s NBA Development League affiliate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota followed. Then, on Dec. 19, again against Washington, Whiteside got his first extended look in HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra’s rotation, and the production was again immediate. During 16 minutes of a tough 105-103 loss to the Wizards, Whiteside scored six points, pulled down seven rebounds, snared two steals and blocked a shot. He also collected five personal fouls, however, limiting his further availability in the game. In the HEAT’s nationally televised 101-91 win over the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas Day, Whiteside made a brief appearance, grabbing three rebounds and blocking a shot in eight minutes of action. In the HEAT’s next game, a 103-95 loss to the Grizzlies on Dec. 27, Whiteside scored two points and grabbed seven rebounds in 16 minutes against his former team – a performance that sparked his inclusion in the HEAT rotation and began a run of 11 consecutive games with at least 10 minutes of playing time. Whiteside was once again highly productive during that stretch, grabbing at least seven rebounds in eight of those 11 games and scoring at least 10 points seven times. He also blocked three or more shots five times, and recorded 29 total blocks during that strong 11-game run. Whiteside also recorded the first three double-doubles of his suddenly budding NBA career during that 11-game stretch. His 11-point, 10-rebound, five-block performance keyed an 88-84 win over Brooklyn on Jan. 4, and his 23-point, 16-rebound, two-block, two-steal explosion sparked a 104-90 victory over the Clippers in Los Angeles on Jan. 11. He also scored 10 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots during a 104-89 loss at Golden State on Jan. 14. That game also marked Whiteside’s first career NBA start. Whiteside recorded all three of those double-doubles while playing just 29 minutes or less, and two of them came in a reserve role. The massive game off the bench against the Clippers was especially impressive, as his 23 points and 16 rebounds came in just 29 minutes, and both represented career highs for the young big man. Whiteside also became the first HEAT player with at least 20 points and 15 rebounds off the bench since the legendary Alonzo Mourning accomplished that feat – in April of 2001. This stretch of strong play ended only because Whiteside sprained his right ankle early in a 94-86 loss to Oklahoma City on Jan. 20. At the time of the injury, Whiteside had scored 10 points on flawless 5-for-5 shooting, grabbed two rebounds and blocked a shot – all in just 11 minutes of action. Whiteside would sit out the HEAT’s next two games to rest the ankle, but when he returned in a nationally televised game at Chicago on Jan. 25, he made a comeback that was not only impactful, but also historical – for both the HEAT and the entire NBA. Matched against the Bulls’ imposing and towering veteran frontline, Whiteside was brilliant and dominant as soon as he entered that game, and by the time the final buzzer had sounded on a convincing 96-84 HEAT win, he had racked up not just another double-double – but his first career triple-double. Whiteside’s 14 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocked shots came in under 25 minutes off the bench, and the performance was historical on several levels. The 12 blocks easily surpassed Mourning’s long-standing single-game HEAT record of nine, and he became just the eighth HEAT player to record a triple-double, but the full impact of Whiteside’s dominating performance ran even deeper. Since blocks were first tracked as an official statistic by the NBA in the 1973-74 season, Whiteside became the first player to record a triple-double that included 10 or more blocks while playing 25 minutes or less. He also became just the third player in the NBA’s shot-clock era to record any kind of triple-double in 25 minutes or less – with Thunder star Russell Westbrook the only player to ever record a triple-double in less playing time. Whiteside also became the first player with at least 12 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks in a single game since former Dallas Mavericks center Shawn Bradley did it on April 7, 1998. In the past 25 NBA seasons, the only other players to meet that “Triple-Dozen” standard were former HEAT great Shaquille O’Neal (in 1993-94 with the Orlando Magic), Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Mark Eaton. Whiteside, Bradley and Eaton are the only three players to ever do so while coming off the bench. Additionally, Whiteside became the first player to block 12 or more shots in 25 minutes or less since Manute Bol blocked 13 shots in 20 minutes for Golden State on March 21, 1989. Bol and Bradley also rank as two of the three tallest players in NBA history at 7-foot-7 and 7-foot-6, respectively. That historically dominant outing against the Bulls kicked off a current six-game streak of basketball brilliance for Whiteside, who continues to amaze, excite and inspire HEAT fans, teammates and coaches alike. Whiteside has posted a double-double in all but one of the HEAT’s past six games, finishing with 20 points and nine rebounds (and three blocks) in that one near-miss. He’s scored 16 or more points four times and grabbed at least 16 rebounds in three of those six games. Whiteside is averaging 16.8 points, 15.3 rebounds and 3.83 blocks in 30 minutes per game during his current six-game surge. He’s hit 46-of-75 field goals (61.3 percent) during this run, and turned the ball over just 10 times in 180 minutes. Most recently, Whiteside authored the first 20-20 game of his young NBA career. The 24-point, 20-rebound, three-steal and two-block tour de force came during a tough 102-101 loss at Minnesota on Feb. 4. Whiteside set a new career high and led all HEAT scorers with those 24 points, and did so on near-perfect 12-of-13 shooting – since 1970, that 92.3 percentage was the third highest in a 20-20 game – from the field. He set another HEAT record by opening the game a flawless 11-for-11 before his first miss, while also marking the highest shooting percentage in a road game in HEAT history, with a minimum of 10 attempts. The way Whiteside is rolling right now is truly remarkable, for any player. But to fully appreciate what Whiteside is now doing, however, you have to take a closer look at where and how his professional basketball career began – and the many twists and turns it has taken since. The native of Gastonia, NC attended six different high schools in two different states, concluding his prep career by leading The Patterson School in Lenoir, NC to a 34-2 record and No. 1 national ranking during the 2008-09 high school season. Even so, Whiteside was ranked as just the No. 19 center in the Class of 2009 by Scout.com, and the No. 87 overall recruit by rivalshoops.com. Whiteside joined Patterson School teammate DeAndre Kane at Marshall University for the 2009-10 college season, and wasted no time in establishing himself as a towering force for the Thundering Herd. As a true freshman at Marshall, Whiteside racked up a 14-point, 17-rebound, nine-block game in a 60-53 win over Ohio on Nov. 28, 2009 – then notched the Thundering Herd’s first-ever triple-double with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 11 blocks in a 105-54 rout of Brescia. Whiteside would go on to record two more triple-doubles (both against Central Florida) during his standout freshman season, and proved himself as a truly dominant shot-blocking force. Just 20 years old at the time, Whiteside led the nation with 182 blocked shots during the 2009-10 college season. That total also broke Jerome Jordan’s existing Conference USA single-season record, and set a new mark for Marshall – not just for a single season, but for an entire college career. The 182 blocked shots also established a new NCAA record for a freshman in a single season – topping the previous record of 177 blocks by Shawn Bradley at BYU in 1990-91. In March of 2010, shortly after Marshall coach Donnie Jones left to take the reins at UCF, Whiteside decided to test the waters of the 2010 NBA Draft where the Sacramento Kings selected Whiteside in the second round, tabbing him with the draft’s 33rd overall pick. Whiteside would appear in just two minutes of one game for the Kings during the 2010-11 season, accumulating no stats other than two personal fouls. He played part of that season for the Kings’ NBA Development League team in Reno, NV, and would also see action with the Reno Bighorns the following NBA D-League season. Sacramento gave Whiteside more of an extended look during the 2011-12 NBA season, as he appeared in 18 games off the Kings’ bench. Whiteside averaged 1.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in just 6.1 minutes per game over those 18 games, shooting 44.4 percent from the field. Committed to the development of talented center DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings opted to release Whiteside on Jul. 16, 2012. The two-plus years that followed are a whirlwind of global basketball activity as Whiteside went on to play for three D-League teams (Sioux Falls, Rio Grande Valley and Iowa), two Chinese NBL teams (Sichuan and Jiangsu Tongxi) and two teams in the Lebanese Basketball League (Amchit Club and Al Mouttahed Tripoli) before eventually signing with the Memphis Grizzlies in the closing months of 2014. During Whiteside’s worldwide whirlwind journey, he achieved his most remarkable and sustained success with the Sichuan Blue Whales of China’s NBL. Whiteside decided to head overseas to grow his game after the 2012-13 D-League season, and after a short stint with Amchit Club in Lebanon, he joining the Blue Whales on May 26, 2013. Whiteside dominated the competition in 27 games with the Blue Whales, averaging 25.7 points, 16.6 rebounds, 5.11 blocks and 1.41 steals while shooting 56.4 percent from the floor. The Blue Whales rolled to an undefeated playoff run and a NBL Championship, and Whiteside was named NBL Finals MVP. He also earned NBL Defensive Player of the Year, Center of the Year and All-NBL First Team honors. The rest of 2013 and much of 2014 was split between Lebanon (Al Mouttahed Tripoli) and China (Jiangsu Tongxi), but on Sept. 25, 2014, Whiteside landed the deal with the Grizzlies. His time in Memphis was extremely short-lived, however, as the Grizzlies waived Whiteside less than a month later, on Oct. 22. Whiteside then rejoined the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA D-League on Oct. 30, only to be traded to the Iowa Energy two days later. Five days after joining the Energy, Whiteside was again re-signed by the Memphis Grizzlies, on Nov. 19. But the Grizzlies again waived Whiteside, this time the very next day, and he rejoined the Energy on Nov. 22. Just two days later, Whiteside signed with another NBA team. On Nov. 24, the well-traveled big man inked a contract with the HEAT. The rest, as they say, is history. For both the HEAT and the shot-blocking and double-double-posting annals of the NBA. It’s a journey that seems almost impossible to follow – or comprehend. And in 2014 alone, this basketball odyssey saw Whiteside suit up for seven different teams in four different leagues in three different countries. Ever since donning a HEAT uniform, Whiteside has been a sheer force to be reckoned with – especially on the defensive end. Whiteside has routinely frustrated and at times flat-out dominated opponents with his rare shot-blocking, shot-altering and rebounding abilities, and his quick, long hands have snared at least one steal in nine different games. Whiteside’s displays of defensive prowess have often showcased an uncanny ability to not only block and alter shots under several circumstances, but a great sense of timing and anticipation combined with elite quickness and closing ability. He blocks shots from all angles and positions, and his amazing length allows him to block several shots at a downward angle and off backboards – often leading to quick run-outs for the HEAT, rather than an out-of-bounds situation that gives the ball back to the opponent. During his historic 12-block game in Chicago, Whiteside recorded seven swats as a help defender, with the other five coming in an on-ball defender role. All 12 of those blocks came within six feet of the basket, and five of them came against crafty, powerful and athletic veteran forward Taj Gibson. During the course of his six-year NBA career, the 6-foot-9 Gibson had never had five of his shots blocked by an opposing team prior to his rude introduction to Whiteside. An accomplished scorer, Gibson finished a close second to the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award last season. In 23 games so far with the HEAT this season, Whiteside has averaged 9.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.48 blocks in just 19.2 minutes per game. He’s also shooting a stunning team-high 64.9 percent from the floor. Whiteside has come off the HEAT bench in all but eight of those 23 games, which makes his production even more impressive. Just how the season ends for Whiteside and the HEAT remains to be seen, but what is certain is that the still-evolving, 25-year-old big man will excite, produce and at times completely dominate whenever he steps out on the floor. And when paired with perennial NBA All-Star Chris Bosh or fellow veteran big man Chris Andersen, the HEAT feature an imposing frontline that they have lacked in past seasons. In Hassan Whiteside, the HEAT have truly uncovered a diamond in the rough. And that diamond seems to shine brighter and longer each and every game. It’s a discovery that was several seasons, teams, leagues and countries in the making. It’s an alliance that was officially formed just days before Thanksgiving. And both the HEAT and Hassan Whiteside are thankful for what’s happened in the two-and-a-half months since.
  4. By Dylan Barmmer His career has been autographed with excellence and achievement. It has also been accented with setbacks and challenges. And as Danny Granger begins to carve out a niche and flesh out a role during his first season with the HEAT, the versatile veteran looks more and more willing and able to bring something special and impactful to his new teammates and organization. Granger entered the NBA as a cat-quick, long-limbed, silky-smooth small forward in 2005, joining the Indiana Pacers after a brilliant college career split between Bradley University and the University of New Mexico. In 95 games over four seasons at the two schools, the multi-talented, 6-foot-8 native of New Orleans averaged 16.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Granger averaged at least 18.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists in his final two college seasons at New Mexico, leading the Pacers to select the man nicknamed “Batman” with the 17th overall pick of the 2005 NBA Draft. Granger served a valuable role off the Pacers’ bench in his first NBA season, appearing in 78 games (and even making 17 spot starts) during the 2005-06 season. He averaged 7.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.8 blocks and 0.7 steals in 22.6 minutes a game, and helped the Pacers carve out a 41-41 record and a postseason appearance. Granger was also named to the All-NBA Rookie Second Team following his strong debut season. After his rookie season, Granger would soon evolve into the Pacers’ primary offensive threat, becoming more and more of a force over the next several seasons. After averaging 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds and making 57 starts in his second season, Granger averaged at least 18.7 points and 5.0 rebounds and made a minimum of 62 starts over the following five seasons. Granger’s finest campaign with the Pacers came in 2008-09, when he earned NBA All-Star and Most Improved Player honors by averaging 25.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals in 36.2 minutes a game. Granger started 65 of the 67 games he appeared in for the Pacers that season, and set career-highs in scoring and blocks. He also shot 44.7 percent from the field, including a career-high 40.4 percent from behind the three-point arc – where he also drilled a career-best 182 three-point field goals. At the end of that brilliant season, Granger had raised his scoring average by at least three points per game every season for three consecutive seasons (7.5, 13.9, 19.6, 25.8) – becoming the first player in NBA history to post such dramatic improvement. After playing an intense, aggressive, all-out style and logging many high-impact minutes over seven seasons with the Pacers, Granger began to have some challenges with his knees. He was limited to 62 games during the 2009-10 season, though he still managed to average 24.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.8 blocks. Granger also joined the U.S. Senior Men’s National team in the summer of 2010, helping the star-studded team win the gold medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. Granger would bounce back to play extensively in each of the following two seasons, but would appear in just five games in the 2012-13 season while battling patellar tendinosis. In April of 2013, he underwent surgery on his left knee, and ended up sitting out the remainder of the 2012-13 season before returning to action last season. Granger appeared in 29 games for the Pacers last season, coming off the bench in all but two of them, before the only team he had ever played for decided to deal him to the Philadelphia 76ers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen on the eve of the 2014 NBA trade deadline. The rebuilding 76ers decided to part ways with Granger after acquiring him, and he ended up closing out the season with the Los Angeles Clippers. In 12 regular-season games with the Clippers, Granger averaged 8.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 0.7 assists in 16.2 minutes per game off the bench. He would go on to play a solid role for the Clippers in the playoffs, appearing in 13 postseason games as a reserve. The 31-year-old Granger signed with the HEAT this past summer, and entered his 10th season as an NBA professional vying to serve a vital role as a bench sparkplug and scorer in Erik Spoelstra’s innovative and “positionless” rotation. Slowly but surely, he has worked his way into a rotation spot and more offensive opportunities. Since working his way back to game strength and shape following more offseason knee rehabilitation, Granger has now appeared in 14 of the HEAT’s first 35 games, including two spot starts. Granger has averaged 7.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.3 assists and 0.3 blocks in 20.7 minutes over those 14 games, shooting 45.2 percent from the floor, including a sizzling 42.6 percent (20-of-47) from behind the three-point line. Granger worked his way back into the HEAT rotation in a big way around the Holidays, and closed out 2014 on an absolute tear. With his recent string of strong, energetic, powerful play, he looks like a true weapon for the HEAT. Over the final four games of 2014, Granger scored at least 9 points and pulled down 3 or more rebounds in each game, averaging 15.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.5 steals in 26.8 minutes per game. Granger hit an incredible 24-of-34 (70.6 percent) shots from the floor, including 11-of-18 (61.1 percent) from behind the three-point arc. Granger’s year-end outburst began in a nationally televised Christmas Day game. He scored nine points and grabbed a season-high seven rebounds in 22 high-energy minutes off the bench, making several crucial plays on both ends of the court in the closing minutes of a 101-91 home win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Granger drilled 4-of-5 shots in that game, and his late-game energy and offense ignited the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd and helped secure a sweet victory. Granger followed that with an 18-point, 3-rebound outing in a 103-95 loss to powerful Memphis two days later, and on Dec. 29, he exploded for the most extensive and complete outing of his time in a HEAT uniform. Granger scored a season-high 21 points, pulled down 4 rebounds, dished two assists and snared one steal in a season-high 32 minutes off the HEAT bench during a narrow 102-101 loss to in-state rival Orlando. As efficient as he was explosive, Granger drilled 7-of-10 field goal attempts in that game, making 6-of-7 shots from three-point range. Two nights later, Granger closed out 2014 with a strong showing in a New Year’s Eve game against his old team, scoring 14 points and grabbing three rebounds in 25 minutes of a 106-95 loss to the Pacers in Indianapolis. The Pacers’ home crowd cheered Granger when he first checked into the game, but by the time he hit his second of two 3-pointers en route to those 14 points, they were less supportive of their former star. In the HEAT’s first game of 2015, Granger made less of a statistical impact – scoring three points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing three assists – but his all-around, all-out efforts over 31 minutes of passionate, professional play helped the HEAT earn a hard-fought and much-needed 88-84 win over the rival Brooklyn Nets. Just how much Granger continues to play – or how much of a statistical impact he makes when he does play – for the HEAT this season remains to be seen. But his rare blend of size, skill, length, toughness, versatility and veteran savvy could well prove to be an invaluable asset to the team down the stretch. Granger has always been able to score at a high rate (he has three 40-plus-point games on his NBA resume), and able to pour in those points in a variety of ways. Now, the experienced and seasoned veteran also appears to be evolving into a better three-point marksman than he has ever been. He can pose as an offensive threat for the HEAT at not just small forward, but also the shooting guard and power forward spots if needed, and is capable of defending multiple positions as well. He also possesses excellent ball-handling and passing skills, and can serve in a “point forward” role if called upon to do so. Granger also possesses considerable postseason experience, having appeared in 35 career playoff games, including those 13 with the Clippers last summer. He’s averaged 10.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.4 blocks in 25.7 minutes a game over those 35 games, which includes 19 starts. When the HEAT tangled with the Pacers during a thrilling six-game Eastern Conference Semifinals series in the 2012 Playoffs, Granger was a true postseason force, averaging 13.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 0.7 steals in 36.2 minutes per game over those six games. He started all 11 of the Pacers’ games during the 2012 Playoffs, averaging 17.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.4 blocks in 38.2 minutes per game over those 11 games. Granger clearly brings a lot to the table as the HEAT continue to evolve in the second half of this season, and his considerable skill set and experience help provide the team with flexibility, security and confidence.
  5. By Dylan Barmmer They're here. Again. And he has helped lead them back here. Again. The HEAT are about to tipoff their fourth consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals, and franchise face and all-time scoring leader Dwyane Wade remains as valuable and vital as ever to the team's deep and productive playoff runs. In fact, you could even argue that Wade has never been better than he is now, in his 10th postseason journey. Or at least, he has never been more efficient than he is now, at age 32. As the stakes have risen for the HEAT during their historic run to a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Wade has steadily improved his production. And he's done so from top to bottom, all across the board. Wade averaged 17.5 points, 3.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 33.3 minutes per game in the HEAT's first-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats. He shot 49.1 percent from the field and 70.8 percent from the free throw line, scoring 15 or more points in each of the four games. In the HEAT's five-game series win over the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Wade averaged 18.2 points, 4.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 35.0 minutes per game. He shot 50.7 percent from the field and 85.0 percent from the line, scoring 14 or more points in each of the five games and netting 20 or more twice – including a playoff-high 28 in the closeout game. In the HEAT's six-game Eastern Conference Finals triumph over the Indiana Pacers, Wade averaged 19.8 points, 4.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 35.5 minutes per game. He shot 54.5 percent from the field and 85.0 percent from the line, scoring 13 or more points in each of the six games and netting 23 or more in each of the series' first three games. Wade was also at his best from behind the three-point arc in that series, connecting on 6-of-13 shots from long-range for a sizzling 46.2-percent clip. Wade's long-revered defensive prowess was also on full display in the Eastern Conference Finals, as he snared two or more steals in each of the final four games. He also helped hold the Pacers to 93 or fewer points in each of those games, and pulled down 20 rebounds to go with his nine steals during that four-game stretch. The HEAT have posted an exceptional 12-3 record during their 2014 NBA Playoffs run, and Wade has played a pivotal role in that success. The seasoned and savvy shooting guard has started each of those 15 games, staying on the floor for an average of 34.7 minutes – second only to reigning NBA Finals MVP LeBron James on the HEAT roster. He's averaged 18.7 points, 4.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 0.3 blocks, and shot 51.9 percent from the field – including 38.9 percent from behind the three-point arc – and 80.0 percent from the line. Wade ranks second to only James in scoring, assists and steals this postseason, and is fourth on the HEAT in both rebounds and blocks. Wade's sparkling 51.9-percent field goal percentage is third-best behind only Chris Andersen and James, his 80.0 percent mark from the line ranks fifth, and his 38.9-percent clip from behind the three-point arc is sixth-best on a deep three-point shooting team. Wade also ranks second to only James in both field goals and free throws attempted and made this postseason, showcasing his seemingly ever-expanding array of offensive moves and shots. From slashing layups and putbacks to lethal midrange bank shots to stepback jumpers to alley-oop dunks, Wade consistently finds ways to create and finish shots, frustrate and deflate defenses and create easy, open opportunities for his teammates. He's even honed and refined the timely three-pointer, using the long-range shot with particularly stunning success in the Eastern Conference Finals. In short, Wade is doing a bit of everything for the HEAT this postseason. And he's doing it as effectively and efficiently as anybody else on the roster. Just like always. Wade opened his 10th playoff run with a bang, scoring 23 points, dishing five assists, grabbing one rebound and snaring one steal in a 99-88 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Easter Sunday. Wade drilled 10-of-16 shots – including 1-of-2 from long-range – and hit 2-of-3 free throws in 34 high-octane minutes to help the HEAT launch their drive for a third consecutive NBA Championship in dominant fashion. Wade was even more dominant in the HEAT's closeout victory over the Brooklyn Nets in the next round, scoring 28 points – on 10-of-18 shooting from the field and a flawless 8-of-8 from the line – dishing three assists and grabbing two rebounds in 37 minutes as the HEAT posted a 96-94 victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Wade then continued to score at a high clip as the HEAT began their Eastern Conference Finals with a rematch against the rival Indiana Pacers. He scored 27, 23 and 23 points as the HEAT took a 2-1 lead over the Pacers, and handed out at least four assists in each of those three games. Wade was especially impressive in the HEAT's pivotal 87-83 road win in Game 2, scoring 23 points, dishing five assists, grabbing five rebounds and snaring one steal as the HEAT roared back from a late deficit to knot the series at 1-1. Wade nailed 10-of-16 shots from the field and 3-of-4 free throws in that game, and scored 10 of his 23 points (on flawless 5-of-5 shooting) in the game-turning fourth quarter. As the HEAT gear up for a NBA Finals rematch with the veteran, versatile, deep San Antonio Spurs, Wade continues to author new chapters in a compelling, champion-caliber career. Already a legend in the eyes of HEAT fans, and almost certainly a future NBA Hall of Famer, Wade has now suited up in a HEAT uniform for an incredible 147 playoff games. Wade has started each and every one of those games, averaging 23.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks in 39.0 minutes per game – and shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 77.7 percent from the line over those 147 games. To put that 147-playoff game total in perspective, consider that it's nearly the equivalent of two full NBA regular seasons. That total is so high in large part due to Wade's ability to carry his team when the games matter most, and his HEAT teams have played at least 13 games or more in seven of his 10 postseason appearances, including 21 or more games four times. Of course, three of those four extended postseason runs ended in NBA Championships, and for Wade and the HEAT, a fourth title – and third in three years – is now just four playoff wins away. Wade came up big-time in the 2013 NBA Finals against the Spurs, averaging 19.6 points, 4.6 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.3 blocks in 36.6 minutes per game. Wade hit 47.6 percent of his field goals and 77.3 percent of his free throws in that sensational seven-game series, and scored 23 or more points in three of the final four games. Wade averaged 23.5 points and drilled 41-of-83 (49.4 percent) field goals and 12-of-14 (85.7 percent) free throws over that crucial, final four-game stretch, which saw the HEAT race back from a 3-2 series deficit to hoist the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy once again. He also posted a 25-point, 10-assist game and a 23-point, 10-rebound outing during that run, with the latter helping the HEAT post a 95-88 closeout win in Game 7. In a pivotal Game 4 HEAT victory, Wade scored 32 points, grabbed six rebounds, snared six steals and dished four assists in a game- and series-turning performance that helped the HEAT post a 109-93 road win and knot the series at 2-2. Had the HEAT lost that game, they would have faced a 3-1 series deficit and extremely long odds of defending their title. Wade simply refused to let that happen, hitting 14-of-25 field goals and single-handedly compiling more steals than the entire Spurs team. Just what happens in the 2014 Finals remains to be seen, but HEAT fans, teammates and coaches alike all expect equally efficient, versatile and clutch performances from Wade. After all, it's what he's always done for the HEAT. Especially when the games matter most.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.