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dbarmmer posted a blog entry in The PULSE BlogBy 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.
By Dylan Barmmer His impact has been immediate. And his energy, electric. When the HEAT signed 10-year veteran forward-center Chris Andersen to a 10-day contract on Jan. 20, they knew they were getting a player who has always proven capable of providing copious amounts of both – the impact imprinting itself all across the court and the stat sheet, and the energy coursing out of seemingly every pore of his rangy 6-foot, 10-inch frame. But with Andersen having played only sparingly over the past few seasons (just 32 games for the Nuggets in last year's lockout-shortened season, and not at all this season prior to signing with the HEAT), and the colorful big man having turned 34 last summer, what was uncertain was just how much Andersen could provide to a brand new organization with a deeply ingrained culture and core group. And just how long it would take him to make a truly meaningful contribution. The answers? A lot. And not long at all. Andersen made his HEAT debut in a 110-88 home win over the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 25, five days after signing that initial 10-day contract – and 10 months to the day since his last appearance in an NBA game – and made his presence felt right away, scoring 2 points and snaring 2 rebounds in just 4 minutes off the bench. HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra held Andersen out of a 100-98 double-overtime loss at Boston two days later, and on Jan. 30, he was signed by the team to a second 10-day contract. Andersen responded by racking up 3 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block and 1 steal in 10 electric minutes of a 105-85 win at Brooklyn that evening. Two nights later, he scored a season-high 9 points (on perfect 4-for-4 shooting from the floor, and 1-for-1 from the free-throw line), grabbed 3 rebounds and added 1 assist, 1 block and 1 steal in 12 minutes of a 102-89 loss at Indiana. That would be the only game Andersen would appear in that the HEAT would not emerge victorious, as they sprinted into the All-Star break on a season-best 7-game winning streak that started with a 100-85 win over Toronto two nights later. Andersen had 1 point and 4 rebounds in 11 more active minutes of that game, and the next evening, he stuffed the stat sheet with 4 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 16 live-wire minutes of a 99-94 win over Charlotte. Four days later, the HEAT knew they had seen enough, and extended Andersen's contract for the remainder of the season. That evening, Spoelstra granted Andersen a season-high 18 minutes on the floor, and he responded with an 8-point, 4-rebound, 2-assist, 2-steal masterpiece in a 111-89 victory over the L.A. Clippers, who entered that game with a sparkling 35-16 record. Andersen also played a key role in limiting Clippers All-Star power forward Blake Griffin to just 13 points and 5 rebounds, well below his season averages of 18.5 and 8.7. In his first 10 games in a HEAT uniform, Anderson has averaged a rock-solid 3.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.6 blocks and 0.6 steals – in just 10.8 minutes per game. Despite being 11th on the club in minutes per game, he currently ranks fifth in rebounding average and sixth in blocks and steals per game. Andersen has also pulled down at least 4 rebounds in 6 of those 10 games – despite averaging just 12.3 minutes over those 6 games. And Andersen has managed to do all this while admittedly still working his way back into NBA-level conditioning – remember, he hadn't appeared in an NBA game since March 25, 2012 – and finding his ideal fit in the HEAT culture, both on and off the floor. Most importantly, the HEAT are 9-1 in those 10 games. Infused with a jolt of glass-scraping adrenaline from Andersen off the bench, the HEAT have also won the rebounding battle in 6 of those 10 games, including each of the last four heading into the All-Star break. Prior to donning a Heat uniform, Andersen had played in 482 NBA games, averaging 5.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in a shade under 18 minutes per game for Denver and New Orleans. So his numbers are pretty much right on par with his career averages, which were compiled while playing for teams boasting far less overall talent than the defending NBA Champion HEAT. But much like more-established HEAT standouts Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers, much of Andersen's value seems to come in ways that are not easily measured by statistical analysis alone. Andersen plays like a leaping, sprinting, blocking, rebounding, diving, defending demon. In fact, his all-out effort and intensity is so dazzling at times, he seems to be in two places at once. HEAT star and reigning NBA MVP LeBron James has publicly praised the "energy" Andersen has brought to the HEAT lineup on a few occasions already, and his frenetic frontcourt tenacity and rebounding acumen call to mind the style of NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who was a vital and often underrated cog in the Michael Jordan-led championship Chicago Bulls teams. Then there are games like Andersen's last one before the All-Star break -– a rousing 110-100 HEAT win in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder had racked up a 23-3 record prior to that evening. A quick glance afterward at the box score reveals that Andersen scored 1 point and grabbed 4 rebounds – while racking up 4 fouls – in just 7 minutes off the bench. But to watch the game was to see Andersen's all-out hustle and assault on the boards help give the HEAT a decided edge in attitude, especially on the inside. And his aggressive and agitating defense on Thunder star Kevin Durant not only played a key role in the HEAT securing a commanding 63-46 halftime lead, but incited the capacity Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd into a lusty expression of disapproval. It remains to be seen what the rest of the regular season – and the ensuing postseason run – holds for the HEAT as a whole and Andersen in particular. There are still many moving pieces in the HEAT's frontcourt rotation, and on nights when matchups dictate the need for outside shooting over inside aggression, Andersen will likely find his minutes reduced. But no matter what happens, it seems likely that the HEAT have found at least the beginnings of a winning formula with Andersen, who wasted no time in resuming his already impressive NBA career with an instant flourish.
By Dylan Barmmer Preparation pays off. And in the NBA, you never know when your number might be called. Veteran reserve sharpshooter James Jones reminded HEAT fans of the value of staying ready recently, scoring 18 vital points by draining 6 clutch 3-pointers off the bench in a 98-75 win over Detroit on April 8. Fellow veteran swingman Shane Battier has done the same all season, providing a little bit of everything off the bench and stepping in to start 8 games at various spots on the schedule during this grueling, compressed season. And so has Ronny Turiaf. He just hasn't been with the HEAT quite as long. Not even close, actually. Jones has had four years to learn the HEAT system, and adjust to his various roles within it. Battier joined the HEAT during the offseason, and has appeared in all 56 games this season. In stark contrast, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound Turiaf has only been with the HEAT since March 21. And before jumping right into the fire down in the low post, the rugged power forward/center had barely played all season. Turiaf was sent from Washington to Denver at the NBA trading deadline on March 15. The Nuggets immediately bought out Turiaf's contract, he cleared waivers, and the HEAT eagerly signed the 7-year veteran. Turiaf played in just the first 4 games for the Wizards, missing the next 2-plus months with a broken hand. In those 4 games, Turiaf averaged 1.5 points and 3.0 rebounds in just 11.8 minutes, shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from the floor. But when Turiaf signed with the HEAT, he was ready to mix it up again down low, and coach Erik Spoelstra wasted no time inserting him in the mix. Turiaf played 11:28 off the bench in an 88-73 win at Detroit, scoring 4 points and grabbing 4 rebounds. Turiaf also added an assist and a steal in his high-energy debut, and hit both of his shot attempts from the field. The 29-year-old Turiaf has continued to play a valuable role for the HEAT, even starting the past 5 games at center. In 11 games in a HEAT uniform, he's averaged 3.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 15.7 minutes. He's shot 53.6% from the field, and drained 6 of his first 7 shots. And every time he's on the floor, it's nearly impossible not to notice his powerful blend of energy, athleticism, aggressiveness and leaping ability. Turiaf scored 8 points, pulled down 9 rebounds and blocked 2 shots in 21:57 of the same game Jones dominated recently, and in his first start for the HEAT, he scored 6 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and swatted 2 shots in a 99-93 win over Philadelphia. Turiaf's sky-high shooting percentage leads the HEAT, who are shooting 47.3% overall as a team. The 1.1 blocks per game is second-best on the club, just behind Dwyane Wade and Joel Anthony's 1.3 average. And the 4.1 rebounds per game are good for fifth-best, just above Anthony's 4.0 average. In fact, Turiaf has pulled down 5 rebounds or more in 5 of his 11 games with the HEAT. The fast success shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to anyone who's followed Turiaf over the course of his career. In 7 seasons with 5 different teams, Turiaf has proved durable, productive and valuable, averaging 5.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.4 blocks while shooting 53.0% from the field in 17.5 minutes per game. His most productive season came in 2008-09, when he averaged 6.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.1 blocks in 21.3 minutes for Golden State. All those numbers except scoring average were career highs, and Turiaf also appeared in a career-high 79 games for the Warriors that season, starting a career-high 26. That standout season came one year after he helped the Los Angeles Lakers reach the 2008 NBA Finals, where they eventually fell to the Boston Celtics in 6 games. The Lakers went 57-25 that season, and Turiaf averaged a career-high 6.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.4 blocks in 18.4 minutes. He played in 78 of those 82 games, starting 21 of them. During the Lakers' 19-game playoff run, Turiaf averaged 2.0 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.0 blocks while shooting 58.8% from the field in 9.8 minutes per game. Turiaf has had a rock-solid career in the NBA's trenches, certainly not the most common course for a player who learned the game on the tiny Caribbean island of Martinique before playing his high school ball in Paris. After his eye-opening time at Paris' National Institute of Physical Education, Turiaf decided to trek out to the American West, accepting a scholarship to play for upstart Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Turiaf was a standout for four years for the Zags, earning All-West Coast Conference accolades during his final three seasons and WCC Player Of The Year honors after leading the conference in scoring as a senior. Turiaf averaged 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds during his four-year college career, including 15.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game as a senior. After his decorated career at Gonzaga, Turiaf was selected in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft, with the 37th overall pick, by the Lakers. He was a valuable and versatile member of the Lakers roster for three seasons, and a favorite of the notoriously demanding Kobe Bryant during his stay in L.A. Now, he's a key component in the HEAT's march toward the postseason.
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.
By Dylan Barmmer As debuts go, it was just about perfect. Mike Miller had waited and waited and waited, under doctors' and coaches' orders to sit out the HEAT's first 12 games while he healed up from offseason sports hernia surgery. Then, in a Jan. 17 home game against the dangerous San Antonio Spurs, Miller jumped back in the saddle. And unleashed his six-shooter. Or more like three-shooter. The rangy 6-foot-8 swingman drilled his first shot, a beautiful 3-point dagger that emphatically announced his return. Then, he hit another. And another. And... When the smoke had cleared, Miller had blasted his way to a perfect 6 of 6 from the field -- with all 6 coming from long-range -- to score 18 points in just 15 minutes off the bench. The performance tied a HEAT record for 3-pointers made without a miss in one game, and with the drop of each bomb, you could feel and hear added electricity in the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd. Miller's sweet-shooting heroics got a bit lost in a game that saw LeBron James key a 39-12 third quarter en route to a 120-98 comeback win. But while James (33 points) and Chris Bosh (30) got the headlines the next day, it was Miller's clutch shooting that won and wowed the crowd. Of course, with Miller, it's never about just the shooting. A self-proclaimed "gym rat", the former University of Florida star was all over the court in his debut, pulling down 4 rebounds, diving for loose balls and doing whatever it takes to make a difference for his team. HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra had said he was planning on playing Miller "five or six" minutes, but the 13-year veteran made a go of it for 15. And with that kind of shooting, production and overall hustle, who could blame Spoelstra for letting Miller run wild? “Every once in a while you get going when you’re a shooter,” Miller said after his red-hot debut. “I just happened to do that.” Given everything Miller had endured since signing with the HEAT prior to the 2010-2011 season, it's no wonder he fought his way back so fast this season. Fighting off an array of injuries last season, including damage to both thumbs, Miller averaged just 5.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in only 41 games. Then came offseason hand, shoulder and hernia surgeries. The HEAT gave Miller plenty of time to heal up and prepare in practice at the right pace. And then the 31-year-old sharpshooter made his explosive debut. In 9 games since, Miller has yet to put together such a statistically spectacular performance. But he's become a vital part of the HEAT rotation, averaging 7.1 points and 3.0 rebounds in 18.1 minutes off the bench. He's shooting a sizzling 60.4 percent from the field, including a remarkable 54.6 percent (12 of 22) from behind the arc. Even more impressive, the HEAT are 8-2 with Miller in the lineup. Both losses have come to the relentless Milwaukee Bucks, and Miller scored a grand total of just 3 points (on 1-of-4 shooting) in those two defeats. Seeing a connection yet? Miller made his debut when Dwyane Wade was still sidelined with foot injuries, and since D-Wade's return, he has seen his minutes reduced a bit. But he's still averaged 6.8 points and 2.3 rebounds over those 4 games. He's also drained 12 of 17 shots from the field, including a sizzling 6-of-8 showing for 14 points in just 17 minutes in a 109-95 win over New Orleans Monday night. With Miller still finding his footing and a tightly compressed season unfolding in curious ways, the HEAT know their hard-charging, sweet-shooting veteran can only get better the more he plays. After all, the man who was the fifth overall pick of the 2000 NBA Draft by Orlando -- and promptly won the NBA Rookie Of The Year Award -- is a career 46.3-percent shooter (40.5% from long-range) and has averaged at least 15.0 points a game four times, for two different teams. Now, he's a valuable part of the HEAT rotation. And increasingly determined to bring HEAT fans to their feet with his brilliant brand of play.