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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. By Dylan Barmmer He brings an instant infusion of speed, toughness and aggression every time he hits the floor. His football background translates into a physical, intriguing and exciting style of play. His youth and enthusiasm seem to often inspire his veteran HEAT teammates. And 24-year-old reserve point guard Norris Cole not only understands his role in his second year in the HEAT system -- he relishes it. "I bring a lot of energy," said Cole when asked to define his role. "I’m the young guy out there. I’m the speed demon out there so I bring a lot of energy." The energy, speed and youth the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Cole injects into the game when he takes the floor can't be quantified statistically, but many of his other contributions can. After playing in 17 of the HEAT's first 19 games, Cole currently ranks fourth on the HEAT with 2.3 assists per game and fifth on the club with 0.7 steals per game. Cole also ranks eighth on the HEAT in scoring, with 5.1 points per game, and seventh in 3-point field goals made, with 6. But maybe most importantly for the second-year (and HEAT's second-youngest) player, Cole ranks seventh on the HEAT with 19.9 minutes per game over the 17 games he's appeared in this season. That's already half a minute more than the 19.4 minutes he averaged over 65 games as a rookie last season. HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra seems to be entrusting Cole with more and more playing time and responsibilities in his second season. Cole has logged 20 minutes or more eight times this season, and 23 minutes or more in three of his past four games. It's easy to see why. Cole has been especially efficient and productive over his past five games, a stretch that has also seen the HEAT go 4-1. He's averaged 7.2 points, 2.0 assists, 1.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals over 22.4 minutes, hitting 16 of 33 shots (48.5%), including 3 of 6 3-pointers. Cole has scored 8 or more points in three of those five games, including a season-high 12 in a 102-89 win over Brooklyn on Dec. 1 and 10 in a 101-92 win over Atlanta on Dec. 10. Cole also grabbed 2 rebounds and a season-high 3 steals in the win over Brooklyn, and he drilled all four of his field goal attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers, in the Atlanta game. His second 3-pointer came with 4:44 left to play and gave the HEAT their largest lead of the game at 95-82. There's also the less-easily quantifiable or measurable contributions brought by the smart, tenacious, physical Cole, who was ready to head to Walsh University on a football scholarship before Gary Waters and Cleveland State persuaded him to dedicate his talents and passion to the hardwood. His cousin, Trent Cole, is a decorated NFL veteran defensive end, and Cole himself flexed his muscle on the gridiron as the star quarterback at Dayton, Ohio's Dunbar High when he wasn't starring on the court or in the classroom (Cole was a member of the National Honor Society and served as his class' salutatorian). Cole became known for his tireless work ethic and willingness to sacrifice statistics for team success at Cleveland State, moving from shooting guard to point guard during his final two college seasons. That same drive and intelligence impressed Spoelstra and the HEAT staff during his first (albeit abbreviated) training camp and preseason, which saw Cole average 9.5 points and 4.5 assists and earn a serious, valuable role with a HEAT team that would go on to win the NBA title. Cole said he put in a lot of time and hard work during his first full NBA offseason this past summer, and his familiarity with the HEAT system, coaches and teammates increased exponentially as a result. "A lot of things are different," said Cole. "I’ve had a full training camp, which is more repetition with the coaching staff, more practices. So I’m a little more comfortable out there on the court. My first 11 games last year were actually pretty good for being a rookie. But, I think I’m more comfortable out there. I’m more poised as a point guard." When asked to pinpoint just what area of his game has improved the most, Cole's answer was as quick as his first step. "My decision making as a playmaker," said Cole. "I know what I’m looking for out there now. There’s no guessing. I know what the other team is doing. I know what we’re supposed to be doing. I think that’s the biggest key, being comfortable with that." Cole may not have always known what he was doing or looking for during his rookie season, but as he said, he certainly made a quick impression after joining the HEAT as a late first-round pick from Cleveland State, where he became the first man in Horizon League history to earn both Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors -- and was a finalist for the Wooden Award. In just his second NBA game, Cole exploded for 20 points in 29 minutes against the gritty, veteran Boston Celtics (including 14 in pivotal fourth quarter), helping key a 115-107 win in the HEAT's home opener. That total remains a career high (he matched it in a 105-90 win at Indiana on Feb. 14, 2012), but Cole did manage to score 10 points or more in 20 more games, and finished his rookie season averaging 6.8 points per game. Cole also dished 4 assists or more 14 times, including a career-high 9 (to go along with 16 points) in a 129-90 win over Charlotte in just his fifth NBA game. Cole finished the season averaging an even 2.0 assists per game. Like any rookie, Cole's scoring, along with his overall play, tended to fluctuate from game to game, opponent to opponent. That hasn't been as much of an issue this season, which has seen veteran Ray Allen take over much of the second-unit scoring load, but Cole still sees room for improvement. "Being consistent," said Cole when asked where he needs to improve his game the most. "Not just playing one or two or three good games. Putting consecutive games together where you’re playing solid. Where you’re playing productive." Cole has certainly been playing solid and productive lately. And HEAT fans hope to see more of the same from this exciting, aggressive, athletic and energetic young player.
  4. By Dylan Barmmer The Eastern Conference Finals are upon us again. This time around, that means a HEAT-Boston Celtics matchup. And when it comes to the Celtics, the name that seems to come up most these days is Rajon Rondo. Even a casual look at the 2012 NBA Playoffs makes it quite difficult to ignore the impact of Boston's 6-foot-1, 186-pound point guard. A closer look makes it hard not to say something like "wow". Rondo has averaged 15.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and an eye-popping 12.3 assists in 12 playoff games so far. He's recorded a points-assists double-double in all but two of those games, and notched 3 triple-doubles, including an 18-point, 10-rebound and 10-assist effort in the Celtics' 85-75 closeout win in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against Philadelphia. Rondo also registered a triple-double in the first game of that series, scoring 13 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and handing out 17 assists. Amazing numbers from a dynamic player, to be sure. But as HEAT fans can quickly attest to, his opponent at the point guard position is also in the midst of his own strong playoff run. And Mario Chalmers seems to be playing at a higher and higher level as the postseason moves on. In 11 playoff games, the HEAT's fourth-year point guard is averaging 11.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 steals. He's shooting 43.3 percent from the field, including 40.0 percent from 3-point range, and 77.4 percent from the free-throw line. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Chalmers' scoring average is fourth-best on the HEAT during the playoffs, his rebounding average is tied with Dwyane Wade for fourth-best, his assist average is third-best (just behind Wade's 3.6 average), his steals average is tied with Shane Battier for third-best and his 3-point percentage is third-best, just behind Mike Miller's 40.5%. Chalmers' playoff scoring, assist, rebounding and 3-point shooting numbers are all equal to or better than his regular-season statistics, and he's had a couple huge individual performances of his own this postseason. Chalmers scored 19 points and grabbed 7 rebounds and 3 steals in an 87-70 win at Madison Square Garden in Game 3 of the opening-round series against the Knicks. He netted a game-high 25 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and handed out 5 assists in a 94-75 loss in Indianapolis in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Pacers. Two games later, he scored 8 points, handed out 3 assists and grabbed a HEAT- and career-high 11 rebounds in a 115-83 Game 5 win. And in the closeout Game 6, Chalmers scored 15 points as the HEAT rolled to a 105-93 victory and advanced to meet the Celtics. Over the last four games, Chalmers has averaged 14.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He's also hit 20 of 37 shots from the field, including 6 of 11 from behind the 3-point arc. The HEAT have won three of those four games, and in the one defeat, Chalmers scored a playoff career-high 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting. For the HEAT to continue to advance and reach their second consecutive NBA Finals, Chalmers will need to continue to play and score at a high level. He'll also be asked to step up his defense against the cat-quick, multi-dimensional, frequently-brilliant Rondo, who averaged 18.6 points, 13.7 assists and 7.7 rebounds in three regular-season games against the HEAT. The Celtics won two of those three games, but Chalmers did account for six steals, including a season-high five in the HEAT's 115-107 win in Miami on Dec. 27. In order for the HEAT to knock off the seasoned and savvy Celtics, the HEAT will need that kind of disruptive defensive effort from Chalmers throughout, although Dwyane Wade and NBA MVP LeBron James will possibly also be handed some sort of defensive assignment against the wiry and fiery Rondo. Chalmers is not the prototypical point guard, nor a prolific assist machine in the mold of Rondo, but he does have impressive skills as a facilitator in his own right, and his versatility, confidence and shot-making ability are assets that continue to make him a highly valuable cog in the HEAT machine. As these two Eastern Conference powers prepare for an intense showdown with a ticket to the NBA Finals on the line, the HEAT's point guard appears ready to rumble with Rondo. It should be a very good show, indeed.
  5. By Dylan Barmmer The Big Three. Enough has been said, written, shouted and Tweeted about LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh over the past year to make even ESPN feel overwhelmed. But what about the Miami HEAT's newest set of Super Heroes? You know, the Terrific Twosome? The HEAT are off to a strong 13-5 start that includes a dazzling 8-1 mark without Wade, who has battled an array of foot and leg ailments that have forced him to cool his heels and heal. And while James and Bosh have balled big in the absence of Flash, the point guard tandem of Mario Chalmers and rookie Norris Cole has flashed its own brand of brilliance early and often. Through 18 games, starter Chalmers and his eager understudy have combined to average 20.7 points, 7.0 assists and 2.6 steals per game, while draining a collective 42 3-point field goals – or nearly 2.5 per game. When the HEAT fell just short of its second NBA title last season, it closed with the since-departed Mike Bibby starting and Chalmers stepping in in relief. In 92 collective regular-season games between them, Bibby and Chalmers combined to average 13.7 points, 5.0 assists and 1.6 steals per game. And beyond the so-so numbers, the pairing just never seemed to fully jell, and the overall pace and athleticism appeared nothing like it is today. Today, things are indeed looking on point at the point. And that's not just because of the combined efforts of Chalmers and Cole, but also because of the two players' very different skill sets and styles. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Chalmers is more of a classical, jump-shooting point guard, and with 243 NBA games now under his belt, the 25-year-old seems to be blossoming into more of a solid starter at a very difficult position. A good passer who can also drain a variety of jump shots, Chalmers is currently averaging a career-high 11.9 points and shooting a sizzling 51.7% from the floor, including 44.9% from long-range. Chalmers' 35 3-pointers lead the HEAT by a long shot, and many of them have come at critical points in games. The HEAT's revamped offense still empowers James to play primarily as a point-forward (he leads the HEAT, and all NBA forwards, with 7.1 assists a game), and puts the ball in Wade's skilled hands an awful lot too. But Chalmers' 4.3 assist-per-game average is third on the team behind James and Wade, and ranks as the fourth-year guard's highest average since his 4.9 as a rookie in 2008-09. He's handed out 5 assists or more in 7 games this season, including 8 (with 0 turnovers) in a 113-92 win over Philadelphia on Jan. 21. Chalmers' quick hands have also nabbed 3 or more steals 4 times this season, and his 1.5 per-game average is third on the team behind James and Wade. When Chalmers goes to the bench for a breather, the HEAT tend to leave opponents gasping even more. That's because the fiery Cole, a 23-year-old rookie from Cleveland State, prefers to play at a fast and furious pace. And while Cole is averaging a respectable 2.7 assists in 21:06 minutes off the bench, it's his ability to race to open spaces and find his own shot that most stands out. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Cole is more of a scoring, slashing, "combo" point guard than Chalmers, and the former Horizon League Player Of The Year wasted no time showing HEAT fans how fast he can fill it up. In just his second NBA game, Cole exploded for 20 points in 29 minutes, helping lead the HEAT to a 115-107 win over Boston in its home opener. Cole drained 8-of-16 field goals and 4-of-6 from the line, and 14 of his 20 came in the fourth quarter. Cole has reached double figures in scoring 6 more times since then, and his 8.8 point-per-game average is fifth on the team, behind Chalmers. The HEAT are 5-2 when Cole scores in double figures, and 7-0 in games where he hands out 4 or more assists. Because of his incredible speed with the ball, many of Cole's assists come on drops and dishes in the paint, where his teammates can take high-percentage shots. The HEAT nabbed Cole with the 28th pick of the 2011 draft, and in so doing secured a player with not only scoring acumen, but four years of college basketball under his belt. That's becoming increasingly rare in today's NBA, as evidenced by a quick glance at the HEAT roster. James went straight from high school to the pros, Bosh played one year at Georgia Tech, Wade played two years at Marquette and Chalmers starred for three seasons at Kansas – winning the National Championship on a clutch 3-pointer his final season. Cole also has strong football bloodlines (he starred in high school, and his cousin, Trent Cole, is a premier NFL pass rusher), and watching him play basketball at times recalls another great gridiron-inspired guard, Allen Iverson. So in the case of Chalmers and Cole, 2 really is better than 1 for the HEAT so far this season – and not as far off from The Big 3 as the casual observer may believe.