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By Dylan Barmmer This is not Henry Walker’s first go-around in the NBA. Although technically, it just might be. Formerly known as Bill Walker, the talented new HEAT swingman was once a standout sub for the New York Knicks, appearing in 121 games over parts of three seasons from 2010 through 2012. And even before his time with the Knicks, the former college teammate of HEAT forward Michael Beasley was the 47th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft who would soon appear in 37 games with the Boston Celtics. But that was then. That was Bill Walker. This is now. This is Henry Walker. And this time around, Walker has wasted no time making his “new” name known. To HEAT teammates. HEAT fans. And observers all around basketball’s premier professional league. Call him Henry. Call him Bill. Call him William Henry Walker (his given name, in full). Call him… Clutch. Or, in the words of HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra: Fearless. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Walker has been all of these things and more in his first six games in a HEAT uniform. Determined to make the most of his second NBA chance, the seasoned swingman is playing with a tenacity that could pay huge dividends for the HEAT as they enter the stretch run of the 2014-15 season with a playoff berth hanging in the balance. It has certainly been an instant impact. Signed to a 10-day contract with the HEAT after carefully honing his craft in three different leagues in the United States, Venezuela and the Philippines since his last NBA action in 2012, Walker became only the third player in HEAT history to score at least 10 points off the bench in each of his first three games with the club. Walker made his HEAT debut against Philadelphia on Feb. 23, and promptly scored 11 points in 21 minutes off the bench to help pace the HEAT to a 119-108 victory. Walker connected on 4-of-5 shots – drilling three threes and throwing down a thunderous dunk. Walker’s performance in his next game was not nearly as smooth, but it was certainly more dramatic. Playing a season-high 33 minutes, Walker scored 10 points, pulled down six rebounds, dished two assists and snared two steals in a 93-90 overtime road win at Orlando. Walker finished 3-of-13 from the field, including 2-of-11 from long-range, but those two threes were nothing short of game-changing. The HEAT trailed 83-75 with just 37 seconds remaining on the clock, but Walker calmly drilled a pair of long threes to punctuate a 10-2 run that forced an 85-85 tie at the end of regulation. The HEAT went on to post a 93-90 win, and Walker immediately etched his new name into the annals of HEAT history. Walker’s first game-turning bomb came from 26 feet away with 22 seconds left on the clock, and cut the Magic lead to 84-82. Even though Walker had shot just 1-for-11 from the field (including 0-for-9 from long-range) up to that point, Spoelstra called a play to free Walker for the shot, and he delivered in dramatic fashion. After Magic rookie Victor Oladipo made just one of two free-throw attempts to put Orlando up 85-82 with 21 seconds remaining, Walker again found himself with the ball in his hands, drilling another long 3-pointer off a slick pass from Dwyane Wade to even the score at 85-85 with just two seconds left in regulation. The HEAT won overtime, 8-5, to win the game 93-90 and deflate their in-state rivals. “He kept on shooting, and that’s what you like,” Spoelstra said after the game. “He has fearlessness about him.” When asked by the HEAT’s Jason Jackson to recap his heroics, Walker himself insisted he had “nothing to lose,” adding that he “can’t be scared” of such moments. “I’m just glad they had faith in me,” Walker told Jackson. “I’m glad Dwyane threw that thing to me. I’ve been through a lot. I’m a fighter. I missed a lot of shots, but I stayed in there and made it.” Two nights later, Walker put forth another bold and big-time performance, scoring a season-high 16 points and grabbing three rebounds in a tough 104-102 loss at New Orleans. Walker hit 6-of-13 shots in that game, including 4-of-9 from 3-point range, and was on the floor for 31 minutes of the hotly contested game. The next night, with the HEAT facing the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks on the second half of a back-to-back, Walker got his first start in a HEAT uniform. As part of a three-guard lineup alongside Wade and the newly acquired Goran Dragic, Walker scored 10 points, grabbed two rebounds and dished an assist in 26 minutes. Two nights later against Phoenix, Walker got into some foul trouble and managed just 12 minutes on the court, but he still made an impact on the game with four rebounds and an assist. Most importantly, the HEAT posted an impressive 115-98 win. And in a March 4 meeting with the L.A. Lakers, Walker scored eight points, pulled down one rebound and added an assist and a steal during a 100-94 win. Walker was on the floor for 25 minutes of that game, including the closing minutes of a very tight game. In six games with the HEAT, Walker has averaged 9.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 24.8 minutes per game. He’s drilled 13 3-pointers, including two or more in five of those six games. And he’s given the HEAT a true spark, attitude and edge off the bench. The HEAT are 4-2 in the six games Walker has taken the floor, with each of the two losses coming by just two points. While Walker’s instant impact may look like something out-of-the-blue on the surface, the truth is that the HEAT have been preparing to showcase his talents for awhile now. Walker was originally acquired by the HEAT’s NBA Development League affiliate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on April 3, 2013 – his second NBADL stop since he was cut loose by the Knicks nearly a year earlier. He never played a game for the Skyforce, opting to sign with Trotamundos de Carabobo of Venezuela’s Liga Profesional de Baloncesto on May 20. But on October 31, 2013, Walker was reacquired by the Skyforce, and he spent the 2013-14 NBADL season with the club. Walker made a huge impact, averaging 14.7 points and 5.6 rebounds in 29.5 minutes a game over 48 games for the Skyforce, starting 33 of those 48 while shooting 44.7 percent from the floor, including 35.6 percent from long-range. Walker also produced in volume, drilling 98 3-pointers in those 48 games. After a short stint with the Alaska Aces in the Philippine Basketball Association early last year, Walker returned to Sioux Falls and the NBADL. In 17 games with the Skyforce this season, he averaged 15.1 points, starting eight of those 17 games while shooting 46.8 percent. With the recent three-team trade deadline deal that brought playmaking veteran Goran Dragic and his brother Zoran to the HEAT, a spot on the HEAT roster opened up for Walker. Spoelstra and the HEAT quickly called him up from Sioux Falls, then wasted little time calling his number. Walker has eagerly and aggressively answered the calls, and recently earned a second 10-day contract from the club as a reward for his performance. Walker is still relatively young – in age and in NBA experience and “mileage.” His strongest overall NBA season came in 2009-10, when the New York Knicks acquired him in a trade with the Celtics. After appearing in a limited role in just 37 games for Boston over the previous season-and-a-half, Walker arrived in New York with former HEAT standout Eddie House and J.R. Giddens in exchange for Nate Robinson and Marcus Landry – and made an immediate impact as a hard-charging, sweet-shooting sparkplug for the Knicks. Walker drained 50 3-pointers in those 27 games for the Knicks, and finished second in the entire NBA with a “true shooting percentage” of 64.9 for the 2009-10 season. Walker played a prominent role off the Knicks’ bench the following season, averaging 12.9 minutes per game. He appeared in a career-high 61 games, and shot 44.1 percent from the field, including 38.6 percent from 3-point territory. Walker canned a career-high 59 3-pointers that season, and also pulled down a career-best 122 rebounds. The Knicks won 13 more games than they had the previous season, making the 2011 NBA Playoffs as the sixth seed after posting a 42-40 regular season record. But the Knicks opted to release Walker in April of 2012. Thus began a nearly three-year basketball odyssey that traversed various corners of the globe and a few NBADL cities before reaching the sunny shores of Miami. It’s an inspiring and amazing basketball journey not unlike the recent road traveled by HEAT center Hassan Whiteside. Hard to follow. And even harder to believe. Whiteside has been an absolute revelation for the HEAT, not only reclaiming a stalled NBA career, but emerging as a unique and dominant force during the most recent act and arc of his career. The HEAT hope that Walker can author a similarly scintillating comeback story – and help them finish a challenging season strong to reach the postseason for a seventh straight year. After Watching Walker’s performance in his first six games in a HEAT uniform, there’s reason to believe in such a scenario. The statistical accomplishments and shooting heroics are impressive in and of themselves. But when you take a closer look at Walker and his package of size, skills and experience, things look even more promising. You also start to see why Spoelstra and his staff have been keeping close tabs on him for the past several seasons. Walker is big, long, athletic and powerful. He can play up to three different positions, and while knee injuries have curtailed some of his explosiveness over the years, he remains an excellent and agile athlete – as evidenced by that dunk in his first game with the HEAT. During his high school days in Ohio, Walker was regarded as an elite athlete and leaper. Dubbed “Sky Walker” by some and compared to Vince Carter by others, Walker teamed with fellow basketball prodigy – and current Milwaukee Buck – O.J. Mayo to lead North College Hill High School to rarefied air (including back-to-back state titles), along with starring appearances in just about every prep all-star affair imaginable. In fact, Walker ranks as the only prep player to ever earn MVP honors three times at the prestigious Reebok ABCD Camp. He also played on the undefeated (5-0) USA White team at the 2005 USA Youth Development Festival. Walker went on to sign with Kansas State, where he planned to team up with Beasley to give the Wildcats a formidable one-two punch. Walker’s freshman season was slowed by the first of a handful of knee injuries, but he bounced back to average 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds in 31 games as a sophomore in the 2007-08 season. He then decided to declare for the NBA Draft. Selected by Washington in the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft and then immediately traded to Boston, the West Virginia native and Ohio prep star had no idea he was about to embark on a professional basketball journey that would see him bounce from the northeast U.S. to Venezuela to the Philippines and then back to the southeast U.S. He probably never imagined he would play in four different leagues in three different countries during a particularly hectic three-year stretch. But through it all, Walker has emerged tougher, humbler and more seasoned than ever before. His brilliant smile suggests that he’s still enjoying the journey, and why not? He is Henry Walker now. He is back in the NBA. And he is, in a word: Fearless.
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.
dbarmmer posted a blog entry in The PULSE BlogBy Dylan Barmmer Last year, he provided a mid-season jolt that helped carry the HEAT to a record-setting regular season and a second consecutive NBA Championship. This season, versatile veteran big man Chris Andersen has been with the HEAT from training camp to opening night and beyond. And the results have been equally impressive. A few weeks into the second full month of the 2013-14 NBA season, the HEAT have a 16-5 record that includes a 10-game winning streak, and Andersen was a big reason for that sizzling success. Just as he was last season, when the HEAT ripped off an NBA-best and franchise-record 27-game winning streak that helped power them to a 66-16 record that also led the league and set a new franchise standard. The 35-year-old forward/center is averaging 6.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 0.5 assists and 0.4 steals – all in just 17.5 minutes per game off the HEAT bench. Andersen has appeared in 20 of the HEAT's 21 games, and currently leads all HEAT reserves in blocks and rebounding – and is first and fourth, respectively, on the entire HEAT team in those two categories. His scoring average ranks fourth among HEAT reserves, and his 64.1-percent field goal shooting leads all HEAT players. The rangy, electric, eclectic, 6-foot-10, 228-pound Andersen was also doing all of this despite playing in his 12th NBA season. His high-energy, stat-stuffing performances continue to build off an electric first season with the HEAT that saw him average 4.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, 0.4 assists and 0.4 steals and shoot a career-high 57.7 percent from the field in 14.9 minutes per game over 42 regular-season games. Even more impressively, the HEAT won 39 of those 42 games, which equates to an eye-popping winning percentage of 92.9 percent. Andersen has scored 10 or more points in 6 of his 20 appearances off the HEAT bench this season, pulled down at least 5 rebounds in 9 different games, and blocked at least one shot 13 different times. Not coincidentally, the HEAT won all but one of those games, with the lone loss coming on a last-second 3-pointer from Boston's Gerald Green in a 111-110 defeat on Nov. 9. The HEAT would go on to win their next 10 games following that defeat, and Andersen would play a major role in that run. Andersen averaged 6.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 0.5 assists in 17.8 minutes as the HEAT ripped off 10 consecutive victories from Nov. 12 through Dec. 1. Andersen hit 61.5 percent of his shots from the field and 72.2 percent of his free-throw attempts during that run, and turned in a few exceptional overall efforts off the HEAT bench. Andersen scored 10 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked 2 shots in a season-high 24 minutes of a 97-81 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Nov. 16, then turned in a 10-point, 5-rebound, 2-block gem in 18 minutes of a 120-92 victory at Orlando 4 nights later. On Nov. 25, Andersen scored a season-high 11 points, pulled down 7 rebounds and blocked 1 shot in 19 minutes of a 107-92 win over the Phoenix Suns. Then 4 nights later, he racked up 5 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 assist in a 90-83 win over the Toronto Raptors that pushed the HEAT's winning streak to 9 games. Even in the game that snapped the HEAT's 10-game winning streak, Andersen came up big off the bench, especially in the fourth quarter. The HEAT fell 107-97 to a determined Detroit Pistons team on Dec. 3, but Andersen poured in 8 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 16 strong minutes of action. Andersen was on the floor as the HEAT mounted a furious 18-6 run to pull within 91-86 with 6:45 left to play in the game, and he seemed to be everywhere during that surge – scoring, rebounding, defending and even tipping in a missed Michael Beasley free throw for a big basket. That game also marked Andersen's 60th regular-season game in a HEAT uniform. The HEAT posted a dominating 53-7 record during that 60-game stretch, which translates to an incredible 88.3-percent success rate. Andersen's many contributions, veteran savvy and seemingly endless energy come as no surprise now to HEAT fans, coaches and teammates, who watched the colorful big man follow up that splendid regular-season with a truly historic playoff performance. Andersen averaged 6.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 0.5 steals in 15.2 minutes per game over 20 postseason appearances, and his high-octane energy, fearless post play and near-flawless shooting served as key components in the HEAT's thrilling defense of their NBA Championship. In fact, Andersen's shooting – an incredible 80.7 percent from the field – set a new NBA Playoffs record for field goal percentage, besting James Donaldson's 75-percent mark over just 10 games of action for the Dallas Mavericks in 1986. It also put him in a rarefied air among HEAT legends, as former perennial NBA All-Star and current HEAT Vice President of Player Programs Alonzo Mourning shot 70.5 percent from the field in 15 games of the 2005 Playoffs, and hit on 70.3 percent of his field goal attempts in 21 postseason games in the 2006 NBA Playoffs, when the HEAT claimed the franchise's first-ever NBA Championship. All told, the HEAT went 15-5 in the 2013 NBA Playoffs with Andersen on the floor, and when you combine that 15-5 postseason mark with the 55-17 regular-season record the HEAT now boast when Andersen sees some court time, you're left looking at an overall record of 70-12 in Andersen's first 82 appearances in a HEAT uniform. Nobody would claim that Andersen is the prime reason for that superior 85.4-percent success rate – but no astute observer would claim that he doesn't factor signficantly into all that winning either. On a team populated heavily by perimeter players and accomplished outside shooters, Andersen's hard-driving, board-crashing, rim-protecting and all-out assaulting style of play provides a dimension and flavor that is immensely valuable and, at times, seemingly contagious. Andersen's incredible energy, rangy versatility, veteran smarts and experience and overall selfless style of play are also the kinds of qualities that cannot be measured merely by numbers, and it's apparent to all who have watched the HEAT closely over the past few seasons that Andersen is a special kind of player – one who is capable of being both a "glue guy" and a "hustle player" all at once. HEAT star and reigning NBA MVP LeBron James frequently sings the praises of Andersen in post-game interviews, often citing his "energy" and "basketball IQ" as prime reasons for another HEAT victory. Those same qualities have endeared Andersen to HEAT fans since he first joined the team as a free agent nearly a calendar year ago, and his entrances, exits and all-out efforts in games frequently draw lusty applause from the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd. Put simply, Chris Andersen knows how to play the game of basketball. And even better, he knows how to win. And is willing to do whatever it takes to secure a victory.
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.