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  1. By Dylan Barmmer It has been a fascinating and intriguing journey for James Ennis. With quite a few miles traveled along the way. Over the past three years, the ultra-athletic, cat-quick Ennis has gone from under-the-radar college star at Long Beach State to champion and league MVP candidate in Australia to his current role – an intriguing and versatile component of the HEAT’s rotation. Now that he’s been with the HEAT for several months, coaches, teammates and fans alike are beginning to see more and more of what made the dynamic 24-year-old swingman so successful in previous programs. The 6-foot-7, 208-pound Ennis grew up in Ventura, California, and went on to basketball stardom at Ventura High School before splitting his first two college seasons between Oxnard College (2009-10) and Ventura College (2010-11). Ennis moved on to Long Beach State in 2011, and found great success in two seasons as a starter for the 49ers. As a junior in the 2011-2012 season, Ennis averaged 10.0 points and 4.1 rebounds per game and helped lead the 49ers to the Big West Conference title. The explosive Ennis also garnered All-Big West Conference honors in his first season at Long Beach State. As a senior in the 2012-13 season, Ennis really came into his own, averaging 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while leading the 49ers to a second consecutive Big West Conference title. Ennis was also named Big West Player of the Year and an Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American. That season gave Ennis added buzz among NBA personnel people. The Atlanta Hawks selected Ennis in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft, tabbing him with the 50th overall pick. His draft rights were then immediately traded to the HEAT – but Ennis would spend his first professional basketball season not only miles away from Miami, but far away from the NBA as he signed with the Perth Wildcats of Australia’s National Basketball League prior to their 2013-14 season. Ennis wasted no time starring in and at times dominating the NBL, averaging 21.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 steals in 31.7 minutes a game over 33 games. Ennis started all but one of those games for the Wildcats at the small forward spot, and shot 46.6 percent from the field, including 35.5 percent from behind the three-point arc. More importantly, Ennis helped lead the Wildcats to victory in the 2014 NBL Championship. He finished third in NBL MVP voting, and won a handful of other league honors, including Forward of the Year and Import Player of the Year. He was also named All-NBL First Team and awarded the Gordon Ellis Medal as the Wildcats’ team MVP. Not satisfied with dominating the competition in Australia, Ennis then immediately moved on to Puerto Rico, where he averaged 16.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks in 33.6 minutes over 12 games for Piratas de Quebradillas. Ennis started all 12 of those games for Piratas, shooting 47 percent from the field. In June of 2014, Ennis left Puerto Rico to return to the continental U.S. – and pursue his ultimate dream of an NBA career. Playing for the HEAT’s entry in the NBA Summer League for the second straight summer, Ennis dazzled with his leaping ability, quick hands, ferocious dunking and accurate outside shooting, prompting the HEAT to officially sign Ennis to an NBA contract on July 15, 2014. Ennis got his first taste of NBA action in the HEAT’s 2014-15 season opener, scoring five points and grabbing two rebounds in 15 minutes of action as the HEAT posted a 107-95 win over the Washington Wizards on Oct. 29, 2014. Ennis’ most talked-about moment in his debut was a thunderous fourth-quarter dunk over former HEAT swingman Rasual Butler – an explosive and vicious jam that made numerous highlight reels. With an array of injuries slowing starters Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng, and key reserve Chris Andersen also battling assorted ailments, Ennis factored heavily into coach Erik Spoelstra’s rotation from mid-November through late-December. Given the opportunity to showcase his still-expanding skill set, Ennis flashed moments of excellence and suggested he could serve as a powerful sparkplug off the HEAT bench in the months and years to come. Over a 20-game stretch from Nov. 16 through Dec. 23, Ennis saw 12 minutes or more of game action 14 times – including 22 minutes or more in six of those 20 games. He scored seven or more points in seven of those 20 games, including a 10-point outing in a 95-83 win at Brooklyn on Nov. 17 and a career-high 16-point outburst in a 100-84 victory over Boston on Dec. 21. Ennis also showcased his rebounding abilities during this run of games, pulling down a career-high eight rebounds in that win over the Celtics and posting an eight-point, eight-rebound performance in a 114-97 loss to Golden State on Nov. 25. Ennis fell out of the HEAT playing rotation over the final week of 2014, but nagging leg injuries to Wade and Deng provided the high-energy reserve with additional opportunities in much of January. Given the chance to provide and produce more, Ennis once again delivered. Ennis logged at least 15 minutes of floor time for the HEAT six times in January and scored seven or more points in three different games. Overall, he appeared in 10 games in the first month of 2015, averaging 4.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 0.5 steals over 17.1 minutes per game. Ennis’ finest January performance came in a 93-72 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 30, when he scored 15 points and hauled in four rebounds in 32 minutes of action. Ennis nailed 6-of-12 shots in that game, including 3-of-5 from long-range. His most emphatic basket came on a sensational, powerful alley-oop dunk on a pass from Mario Chalmers, and the tomahawk jam ignited the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd. Two days later in Boston, Ennis again showed strong against the Celtics, recording eight points, three rebounds and a steal in an important 83-75 road win on Feb. 1. Ennis played 24 high-energy minutes in that game, and connected on 3-of-6 shots from the field. He also hit both of his free throw attempts, and his scoring output off the HEAT bench ended up being the difference in the eight-point victory. Ennis would go on to appear in seven more games in February, and averaged 3.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per game for the month. The HEAT went 4-4 in the eight games Ennis appeared in during the month. When the HEAT signed gritty veteran Henry Walker towards the end of February, the still-learning Ennis faced an even tougher climb back into Spoelstra’s regular rotation. Ennis has appeared in just six games in March, but he’s made a major impact in all but one of those games (and he only played one minute in that one). With the HEAT battling for a playoff spot down the season’s stretch and Wade, Deng, Andersen and Hassan Whiteside all missing varying amounts of time due to injuries, Ennis has done a little bit of everything when presented with the opportunity to again showcase his skills. And he’s done it while being asked to sit out eight consecutive games in between those opportunities. Ennis appeared in three of the HEAT’s first four games in March, posting an 11-point, five-rebound performance during a tough 99-97 loss at Washington on March 6. Then came the eight consecutive stints on the sidelines, before Ennis reemerged as a strong cog off the HEAT bench over the past three games. Ennis has delivered on Spoelstra’s decision to once again re-insert him into the rotation, scoring at least six points in each of those three games and pulling down six rebounds in two of them. His six-point, six-rebound, two-block performance helped key a crucial 93-86 victory over the Celtics on March 25, and on March 29, Ennis tied his career-high with 16 points and pulled down six rebounds in a 109-102 win over the Detroit Pistons. Ennis has averaged 7.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 17.7 minutes per game in his six March appearances. He’s also shot a sizzling 56.5 percent from the field, including a remarkable 58.3 percent (7-of-12) from behind the three-point arc. Most importantly, the HEAT are 4-2 in those six games. All told, Ennis has appeared in 53 games for the HEAT in his first NBA season. He’s averaging 4.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.6 assists in 15.2 minutes per game. He’s shooting 40.7 percent from the field, including 34.8 percent from long-range, and an outstanding 83.6 percent from the line. Ennis has scored seven or more points in 15 of those 52 games, and grabbed three or more rebounds 20 different times. Ennis has scored at least 10 points in five different games, and grabbed six or more rebounds eight times. Ennis has also thrilled HEAT fans and ignited teammates with a handful of high-flying, eye-popping, rim-rocking dunks – with the jam against the Mavericks and the season-opening stuff over the Wizards both gaining national acclaim. As he begins to develop more experience, confidence, insight and savvy on the HEAT practice court and in critical NBA game situations, Ennis only figures to become an even more valuable, versatile and exciting option for Spoelstra to utilize off the HEAT bench. With the HEAT challenged by injuries this season, Ennis has even made a spot start, with that lone start coming just nine games into his first NBA season. Ennis can play both the small forward and shooting guard positions, and his quickness, energy, leaping ability and overall athleticism are the kind of assets any team would welcome. As the HEAT launch full sprint into the stretch run of this intriguing and eventful 2014-15 season, Ennis stands ready to provide a serious jolt of energy, excitement and athleticism off the HEAT bench.
  2. Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann By Dylan Barmmer It is his turn now. As Chris Bosh heads into his fifth season with the HEAT, the versatile, intelligent and passionate 30-year-old veteran does so with 11 full NBA seasons, nine NBA All-Star Game selections and four NBA Finals appearances under his belt. Bosh also enters the 2014-15 NBA season as something else as his role expands beyond what it was before. Of course, Bosh has always been extremely valuable to the HEAT. During his first four seasons with the club, Bosh did a little bit of everything. And it all added up to a lot of everything for the HEAT, who reached unprecedented heights during that four-season stretch. Bosh averaged at least 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in each of those four seasons. He shot at least 48.7 percent or better from the field, and 79.8 percent or better from the free throw line. All told, Bosh averaged 17.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.9 steals while shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 81.3 percent from the line in 287 regular-season games over the past four seasons. He started each one of those 287 games, logging at least 32.0 minutes per game and missing just 25 games over that four-season stretch. Most importantly, Bosh helped the HEAT reach the NBA Finals in each of those four seasons – and was a key component of the HEAT’s back-to-back NBA Champion teams in 2012 and 2013. During that stunning four-season stretch, the HEAT claimed the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference titles each season and compiled an amazing 224-88 regular-season record – which translates to a sizzling 71.8 winning percentage. Bosh came up big in the HEAT’s playoff runs too, playing in 78 games (including 74 starts) and averaging 14.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 1.1 assists and 0.8 steals while shooting 48.1 percent from the field (including 40.6 percent from 3-point range) and 79.0 percent from the line. His crucial rebound-and-assist in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals set up Ray Allen’s now-legendary corner three-pointer that proved pivotal in forcing a Game 7, which the HEAT won to claim the franchise’s third NBA title. While Bosh accomplished all of this and more, he also did much of his playing, scoring, rebounding, defending and leading in the long shadows of franchise face Dwyane Wade and global icon LeBron James – who won the NBA MVP Award in two of his four seasons in a HEAT uniform. With the ultra-athletic James and Wade frequently facilitating and executing the HEAT offense and often anchoring the team’s defense with their incredible quickness, Bosh was often required to play a more complimentary and underappreciated role within the framework of the team. Many times, this role led to limited offensive touches, which in turn often led to modest scoring statistics. The 6-foot-11, 235-pound Bosh almost always impacted the game on both ends, however, using his rare blend of size, length, quickness, intelligence, power and savvy to do everything from finish rim-rattling dunks to drill corner three-pointers on offense and pull down gritty rebounds and rack up game-turning steals on defense. During the past two seasons, Bosh also worked extremely hard to develop his long-range shooting touch, evolving his game to the point where he drained a career-high 74 three-pointers in 79 games last season – before canning 30 three-pointers in just 20 playoff games as the HEAT again reached the NBA Finals. The versatile and cerebral Bosh also started at both center and power forward during his first four seasons in a HEAT uniform, never hesitating to do anything and everything HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff asked of him. Many athletes talk about things like service and sacrifice for the greater good of the team, but few elite-level NBA players demonstrate these traits like Bosh. This season, with the departure of James to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, Bosh will get the opportunity to move to the forefront of the team’s offense. It remains to be seen just how the ever-innovative Spoelstra will utilize the always-versatile Bosh, but the veteran HEAT coach sounds excited about all the possibilities that await him and his team on the eve of a new era in HEAT basketball. “He probably has the toughest responsibilities in terms of doing everything,” said Spoelstra after a recent practice. “Being an anchor for us defensively, having to guard multiple positions and then offensively, yes, we are running some offense through him where he has to generate offense for us. But he is arguably our best facilitator also to get other people involved, and he has to strike that balance. And he also has to space the floor for us. He does all those things. It takes a highly intelligent player and a highly versatile player to be able to manage all those responsibilities and he makes that look easy.” In preseason play, Bosh has looked aggressive, assertive, hungry and motivated while serving as the focal point of the HEAT offense and the anchor of the defense. Bosh led the HEAT in scoring in four of the first five preseason games he appeared in, and also finished with a team high in rebounds in four of those five games. His aggressive play also translated to trips to the free-throw line, and his sweet stroke from there resulted in Bosh scoring 24 points on 24-of-32 shooting from the line. “He’s aggressive,” said Spoelstra. “I just like the way Dwyane and CB have been aggressive, getting to the free-throw line, getting into the paint. They’re both in attack mode, but they’re picking their spots. They’re so unselfish. It helps when your better players are unselfish, other guys can get involved. We just need to keep on working. Other guys are going to find their rhythm playing off of them and understanding how we want to play. It will take some time, but we’re committed to the process.” For his part, Bosh sounds equally excited about his new role on the new-look HEAT. He signed a long-term contract extension to remain with the club this offseason, and his preseason production has him feeling as confident as ever out on the court. “It’s going well,” said Bosh after a recent practice. “I can score the basketball. I know I can do that. I’ve always been able to do that. I’ve worked on my game a lot more in preparation for a lot more touches and I’m very confident. I have no problem with scoring the basketball. It’s just getting my teammates involved, making sure I keep those guys happy too. That’s more of a challenge for me. I can score; I’m not worried about that.” Bosh knows that striking that balance between scoring and facilitating is going to take a lot of hard work on his part. He also knows that Spoelstra and his teammates are going to give him every opportunity to serve as the go-to guy, which will require him to maintain a strong, attacking attitude at all times. “Last year was more when I get it, shoot it every time and it was more of a difficulty in figuring out when to shoot it and when to move it,” said Bosh. “This year, I have to get guys involved, so it’s a bigger responsibility to look for my shot, but put the team first. Of course I have to be aggressive. Coach is going to get me the ball where I need it, and my teammates are going to get me the ball where I need it, but I have to make sure that I’m moving the ball and finding that balance to where I’m getting other guys involved as well. They’re both difficult positions to be in, but you know I’m trying to get better and better every day at it.” Bosh clearly relishes the challenge that awaits him and the HEAT this season. He knows that while he must come out aggressive and stay aggressive, he can’t get too worked up or deviate too much from the natural flow of the game and the framework of the overall team structure and strategy. “I just have to make sure there is a flow to the game at first,” said Bosh. “In the first two, three, four, five minutes, I’ll take easy ones if I get them, but I can’t just be aggressive off the bat. It has to come through the offense and I have to make sure that the ball is moving side to side.” Such a disciplined, measured and studied approach will help not only Bosh, but his teammates – some of whom will be playing extensively together for the first time as part of the HEAT. As a player who has always sacrificed personal glory for the sake of the team, Bosh understands this as well as anybody. “So (at) the start, I’m trying to make sure we have a nice flow to the game, everybody gets in a rhythm,” said Bosh. “That way, if I’m successful in the post (and) they start doubling, guys aren’t touching the ball for the first time when we’re asking them to make a play.”
  3. By Dylan Barmmer They're here. Again. And he has helped lead them back here. Again. The HEAT are about to tipoff their fourth consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals, and franchise face and all-time scoring leader Dwyane Wade remains as valuable and vital as ever to the team's deep and productive playoff runs. In fact, you could even argue that Wade has never been better than he is now, in his 10th postseason journey. Or at least, he has never been more efficient than he is now, at age 32. As the stakes have risen for the HEAT during their historic run to a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Wade has steadily improved his production. And he's done so from top to bottom, all across the board. Wade averaged 17.5 points, 3.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 33.3 minutes per game in the HEAT's first-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats. He shot 49.1 percent from the field and 70.8 percent from the free throw line, scoring 15 or more points in each of the four games. In the HEAT's five-game series win over the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Wade averaged 18.2 points, 4.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 35.0 minutes per game. He shot 50.7 percent from the field and 85.0 percent from the line, scoring 14 or more points in each of the five games and netting 20 or more twice – including a playoff-high 28 in the closeout game. In the HEAT's six-game Eastern Conference Finals triumph over the Indiana Pacers, Wade averaged 19.8 points, 4.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 35.5 minutes per game. He shot 54.5 percent from the field and 85.0 percent from the line, scoring 13 or more points in each of the six games and netting 23 or more in each of the series' first three games. Wade was also at his best from behind the three-point arc in that series, connecting on 6-of-13 shots from long-range for a sizzling 46.2-percent clip. Wade's long-revered defensive prowess was also on full display in the Eastern Conference Finals, as he snared two or more steals in each of the final four games. He also helped hold the Pacers to 93 or fewer points in each of those games, and pulled down 20 rebounds to go with his nine steals during that four-game stretch. The HEAT have posted an exceptional 12-3 record during their 2014 NBA Playoffs run, and Wade has played a pivotal role in that success. The seasoned and savvy shooting guard has started each of those 15 games, staying on the floor for an average of 34.7 minutes – second only to reigning NBA Finals MVP LeBron James on the HEAT roster. He's averaged 18.7 points, 4.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 0.3 blocks, and shot 51.9 percent from the field – including 38.9 percent from behind the three-point arc – and 80.0 percent from the line. Wade ranks second to only James in scoring, assists and steals this postseason, and is fourth on the HEAT in both rebounds and blocks. Wade's sparkling 51.9-percent field goal percentage is third-best behind only Chris Andersen and James, his 80.0 percent mark from the line ranks fifth, and his 38.9-percent clip from behind the three-point arc is sixth-best on a deep three-point shooting team. Wade also ranks second to only James in both field goals and free throws attempted and made this postseason, showcasing his seemingly ever-expanding array of offensive moves and shots. From slashing layups and putbacks to lethal midrange bank shots to stepback jumpers to alley-oop dunks, Wade consistently finds ways to create and finish shots, frustrate and deflate defenses and create easy, open opportunities for his teammates. He's even honed and refined the timely three-pointer, using the long-range shot with particularly stunning success in the Eastern Conference Finals. In short, Wade is doing a bit of everything for the HEAT this postseason. And he's doing it as effectively and efficiently as anybody else on the roster. Just like always. Wade opened his 10th playoff run with a bang, scoring 23 points, dishing five assists, grabbing one rebound and snaring one steal in a 99-88 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Easter Sunday. Wade drilled 10-of-16 shots – including 1-of-2 from long-range – and hit 2-of-3 free throws in 34 high-octane minutes to help the HEAT launch their drive for a third consecutive NBA Championship in dominant fashion. Wade was even more dominant in the HEAT's closeout victory over the Brooklyn Nets in the next round, scoring 28 points – on 10-of-18 shooting from the field and a flawless 8-of-8 from the line – dishing three assists and grabbing two rebounds in 37 minutes as the HEAT posted a 96-94 victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Wade then continued to score at a high clip as the HEAT began their Eastern Conference Finals with a rematch against the rival Indiana Pacers. He scored 27, 23 and 23 points as the HEAT took a 2-1 lead over the Pacers, and handed out at least four assists in each of those three games. Wade was especially impressive in the HEAT's pivotal 87-83 road win in Game 2, scoring 23 points, dishing five assists, grabbing five rebounds and snaring one steal as the HEAT roared back from a late deficit to knot the series at 1-1. Wade nailed 10-of-16 shots from the field and 3-of-4 free throws in that game, and scored 10 of his 23 points (on flawless 5-of-5 shooting) in the game-turning fourth quarter. As the HEAT gear up for a NBA Finals rematch with the veteran, versatile, deep San Antonio Spurs, Wade continues to author new chapters in a compelling, champion-caliber career. Already a legend in the eyes of HEAT fans, and almost certainly a future NBA Hall of Famer, Wade has now suited up in a HEAT uniform for an incredible 147 playoff games. Wade has started each and every one of those games, averaging 23.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks in 39.0 minutes per game – and shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 77.7 percent from the line over those 147 games. To put that 147-playoff game total in perspective, consider that it's nearly the equivalent of two full NBA regular seasons. That total is so high in large part due to Wade's ability to carry his team when the games matter most, and his HEAT teams have played at least 13 games or more in seven of his 10 postseason appearances, including 21 or more games four times. Of course, three of those four extended postseason runs ended in NBA Championships, and for Wade and the HEAT, a fourth title – and third in three years – is now just four playoff wins away. Wade came up big-time in the 2013 NBA Finals against the Spurs, averaging 19.6 points, 4.6 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.3 blocks in 36.6 minutes per game. Wade hit 47.6 percent of his field goals and 77.3 percent of his free throws in that sensational seven-game series, and scored 23 or more points in three of the final four games. Wade averaged 23.5 points and drilled 41-of-83 (49.4 percent) field goals and 12-of-14 (85.7 percent) free throws over that crucial, final four-game stretch, which saw the HEAT race back from a 3-2 series deficit to hoist the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy once again. He also posted a 25-point, 10-assist game and a 23-point, 10-rebound outing during that run, with the latter helping the HEAT post a 95-88 closeout win in Game 7. In a pivotal Game 4 HEAT victory, Wade scored 32 points, grabbed six rebounds, snared six steals and dished four assists in a game- and series-turning performance that helped the HEAT post a 109-93 road win and knot the series at 2-2. Had the HEAT lost that game, they would have faced a 3-1 series deficit and extremely long odds of defending their title. Wade simply refused to let that happen, hitting 14-of-25 field goals and single-handedly compiling more steals than the entire Spurs team. Just what happens in the 2014 Finals remains to be seen, but HEAT fans, teammates and coaches alike all expect equally efficient, versatile and clutch performances from Wade. After all, it's what he's always done for the HEAT. Especially when the games matter most.
  4. By Dylan Barmmer Good things can come to those who wait. Need further proof? Just look at HEAT forward Rashard Lewis. A savvy, lengthy, versatile veteran with a knack for draining the 3-point shot, the 34-year-old Lewis came to the HEAT last season with all kinds of accolades accumulated over 14 NBA seasons. He had made two NBA All-Star teams. He had averaged 16 or more points for 8 consecutive seasons. He had surpassed the 15,000-point plateau. He had scored 50 points in a single game. He had teamed with All-Star center Dwight Howard to lead the Orlando Magic to a 2009 NBA Finals appearance. He had made more 3-point field goals than all but a few fistfuls of players in league history. But if he was to join the star-studded, sharp-shooting, veteran-laden HEAT, the then-free agent Lewis had to accept a significantly smaller role. Nothing was assured, not even a regular spot in the playing rotation. Lewis was fine with that assignment. He wanted to do something he had yet to accomplish in his decorated career – win a NBA Championship. So he signed on for a two-year stint with the reigning NBA Champions. And when called upon, Lewis delivered. In many areas. And in the end, Lewis was right there with his HEAT teammates last June, grinning his trademark grin from ear to ear, and hoisting the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy proudly above his head. This season has seen the same sort of quiet and dedicated professionalism from the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Lewis. Except with former HEAT bench sparkplug Mike Miller now in Memphis, and Future Hall of Famers Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade battling some early season setbacks, Lewis has seen his role – and playing time – expand dramatically during the first month of the 2013-14 season. The results have been equally impressive. Lewis does a little bit of everything. He does it all very well. And the HEAT just keep on winning. Lewis proved especially valuable during the recent absence of fellow veteran and two-time teammates Allen, who missed 3 games while battling the flu. Playing without their top bench scorer and facilitator – and arguably one of the best and smartest all-around players in NBA history – the HEAT went a flawless 3-0. Lewis' own blend of savvy, smarts and skill was a big reason why. Lewis logged 24 minutes during the HEAT's 118-95 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 12, scoring 7 points, grabbing 3 rebounds, snaring 2 steals and dishing 1 assist in a well-rounded performance. Lewis was a flawless 3-for-3 from the field in that game, draining his lone 3-point attempt as the HEAT overcame the absence of Allen to post yet another win. With Allen out again three nights later, Lewis turned in his most prolific outing of the young season, scoring 11 points, grabbing 3 rebounds, handing out 2 assists and snaring 1 steal in 29 minutes of a thrilling 110-104 triumph over the up-tempo Dallas Mavericks. The 29 minutes and 11 points set high marks for Lewis through his first 8 appearances of the 2013-14 season, and he once again put on a clinic in efficient and effective shooting, drilling 4-of-6 field goals, including 3-of-5 from behind the 3-point arc. The next night, Lewis once again played an extended and vital role in a HEAT victory, logging a season-high 33 minutes in a 97-81 road win over the improved Charlotte Bobcats. Lewis' 33 minutes easily led all HEAT reserves, and he scored 9 points and pulled down a season-, HEAT- and game-high 9 rebounds in his extended court time. The 9 rebounds not only led all players in the game, but also represented Lewis' highest rebounding total in a HEAT uniform. Lewis also hit 1 of the team's 6 3-pointers in the HEAT's third consecutive win, which also marked their 13th straight victory over Southeast Division rival Charlotte. Lewis also stepped in and stepped up in fine fashion in just the second game of the season, when the HEAT decided to give Wade a night off in Philadelphia to rest his sore knees on Oct. 30. The HEAT lost that game 114-110, but Lewis was an all-around force off the bench, scoring 11 points, dishing a season-high 5 assists, grabbing 1 rebound and snaring 1 steal in 20 high-energy minutes. Lewis hit 4-of-8 field goal attempts – including 1-of-4 3-pointers – and swished 2-of-3 free-throw attempts in that game, and his 5 assists were second only to James' game-high 13 among all HEAT players. With Wade again sitting out as a precautionary measure this week, but Allen back in the playing rotation, Lewis once again led all reserves with 26 minutes of action in the HEAT's 104-88 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 19. With a refreshed Allen pouring in 17 points, Lewis chipped in 2 points, a game- and season-high 5 steals, 3 assists and 2 rebounds in another strong all-around effort. The HEAT improved to 8-3 with their fourth consecutive win, also their eighth over division rival Atlanta. The next night, with Wade once again resting, Lewis again led all HEAT bench players with 25 minutes of playing time, scoring 2 points, dishing 3 assists, grabbing 2 rebounds and snaring 2 steals in a 120-92 win at Orlando. Lewis also helped assist in a strong HEAT defensive effort that limited the energetic Magic to just 40.8-percent shooting on their own floor. With their season-high fifth consecutive victory, the HEAT improved to 8-1 in their previous 9 games, with the lone loss coming on a last-second, desperation 3-pointer at the hands of Boston's Jeff Green. Through the first 12 games of the season, the HEAT boast a 9-3 record and a 5-game winning streak, and Lewis is averaging 5.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals in 19.1 minutes per game. Lewis has hit 45.5 percent of his field goal attempts, including 41.7 percent (10-of-24) from long-range. The 1.2-steals-per-game average ranks third on the HEAT, behind only starters Wade and Mario Chalmers. Lewis' key contributions in multiple areas came as no surprise to HEAT coaches, teammates and fans, who watched the Texas native fit seamlessly into the HEAT culture and fill in admirably on the floor whenever called upon last season. During the HEAT's run to a second consecutive NBA Championship, Lewis averaged 5.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.3 blocks in 14.4 minutes per game over 55 games in their record-setting regular season. He hit 41.4 percent of his field goal attempts, including 38.9 from 3-point range. Lewis even started 9 games for the HEAT, averaging 7.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 blocks and 0.4 steals in those 9 starts. As the HEAT sat several players with nagging injuries during the final month of their remarkable 66-16 season, Lewis reminded everyone of his immense talents and prolific scoring touch by averaging 11.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks in 28.1 minutes per game over 9 April games. Lewis poured in 14 or more points in 6 of those 9 games, including a season-high 19 in 2 of the final 4 games, and hit 3 3-pointers in 4 different games. Most importantly, the HEAT went 8-1 down the stretch run, including a flawless 8-0 to close out the season and finish with the NBA's best record. That distinction provided the HEAT with homecourt advantage throughout the 2013 NBA Playoffs – an edge that would prove pivotal in their thrilling 7-game series wins over the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals and San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. Lewis saw limited action in the postseason, but produced when called upon, averaging 1.5 points, 0.6 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.2 blocks and 0.2 steals in just 4.3 minutes per game over 11 playoff games. He scored 4 points, grabbed 1 rebound and handed out 1 assist in 5 minutes of action in Game 2 of the 2013 NBA Finals, a 103-84 HEAT win over the San Antonio Spurs. It was a marked departure from Lewis' role on that 2009 Orlando Magic team, when he averaged 19.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.0 steals in 41.1 minutes per game over 24 games to lead the Magic to a Finals showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers. But where that experience ended with a loss to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, this run culminated in an unforgettable, hard-won NBA Championship. Lewis' megawatt smile from the HEAT's Championship Podium stood out more than any individual stat line ever could. Good things definitely came to Lewis during his 14th NBA season, and he showed that he is more than capable of patiently waiting to contribute when and where he is needed. On a deep and determined team that features the NBA MVP Award winner in 4 of the past 5 seasons in LeBron James, Lewis' selfless approach is needed as much as a superior skill set. This season, his 16th in the NBA, Lewis has not had to wait nearly as long to log major minutes, and he has once again answered the bell in professional fashion. In so doing, he has helped the HEAT overcome an early challenge that included not only the illness absence of Allen, but nagging knee issues with Wade and back spasms that slowed fellow veteran forward Udonis Haslem and, to a lesser degree, James. Finally free from his own knee ailments after several setbacks over the past few seasons, Lewis looks quicker and more explosive this season, and has been able to log more than 20 minutes of court time in 7 of his first 10 appearances, including each of the past 5 games. The HEAT are also a flawless 5-0 during that 5-game stretch. Lewis has been in the NBA for so long, he played alongside 18-year veteran Allen for a team that no longer exists. Both players made NBA All-Star teams while racking up points and 3-point hits in bunches for the Seattle SuperSonics, who drafted Lewis straight out of Alief Elsik High School with the 32nd overall pick of the 1998 NBA Draft. Lewis spent the first 9 seasons of his compelling career in Seattle, averaging 14.8 points or more in each of his final 7 seasons, including at least 20.1 points in each of the last 3. The 38-year-old Allen played alongside Lewis in Seattle during those final 5 seasons, and averaged at least 23.0 points or more himself. Both players left Seattle for new teams following the 2006-07 season, and the SuperSonics left Seattle to become the Oklahoma City Thunder a year later. Lewis has hit 1,751 3-pointers and counting during his career, one of the closest active players to Allen's all-time NBA record of 2,871 and counting. That impressive total is also good enough for eighth all-time in NBA annals – and just 10 long-range hits away from passing former Sacramento sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic (1,760) for the No. 7 spot on that elite list. Among active players, only Allen, Detroit's Chauncey Billups and the Brooklyn Nets duo of Paul Pierce and Jason Terry have converted more 3-point field goal attempts than Lewis, who currently ranks fifth on the sharpshooting HEAT in 3-point percentage (41.7 percent) and sixth in 3-pointers made (10). And when the HEAT topped in-state rival Orlando Wednesday night, Lewis achieved yet another major milestone in his well-decorated NBA career: 1,000 regular-season games played. Lewis also has extensive postseason experience, having seen action in 75 playoff games, including 63 starts. Lewis' career averages of 15.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.5 blocks over those 1,000 regular-season games, and 14.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks in the 75 postseason games, demonstrate not just elite-level production in many areas of the game, but remarkable consistency and steadiness. Just how big a role Lewis continues to play for the HEAT this season will ultimately be decided by head coach Erik Spoelstra and the usual variety of variables that factor into the up-tempo grind that defines each and every NBA season. But no matter what the net result is, Spoelstra, HEAT players and fans alike can all rest assured knowing that Lewis will continue to do whatever the team needs from him. And do it all at an extremely high level.
  5. By Dylan Barmmer Homecomings can be a beautiful thing. Michael Beasley, the HEAT organization and HEAT fans alike all hope to be celebrating a successful homecoming for the talented young veteran this NBA season. If that homecoming party comes on the heels of a joyous Championship celebration alongside the NBA’s reighning back-to-back Champs? Even better. There is no question Beasley has the skills to help the HEAT celebrate a third consecutive NBA Championship at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. The HEAT and their fan base know this better than anybody else. Beasley made his first foray into the professional basketball ranks when the HEAT selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, and the 6-foot-9.5-inch, 235-pound forward spent his first two NBA seasons in a HEAT uniform. Beasley was just 19 years old when he first joined the HEAT, and had played only one year of college basketball, starring at Kansas State and leading the nation in rebounding under the tutelage of Frank Martin, who previously coached fellow HEAT forward Udonis Haslem at Miami Senior High School. Beasley’s blend of size, strength, length, quickness, versatility and scoring ability – combined with his per-game averages of 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for the Wildcats – proved too enticing for the HEAT to pass up, and they made him the second pick of that 2008 Draft, behind only current Chicago Bulls star and then-University of Memphis standout Derrick Rose, who is also the only player not named LeBron James to win a NBA MVP Award over the past five seasons. Beasley played a vital role and put up strong numbers for the HEAT from the get-go, averaging 13.9 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 47.2 percent from the field in 81 games, including 19 starts, during the 2008-09 NBA season. The field goal percentage remains a career high for Beasley, who averaged those 13.9 points in just 24.8 minutes per game. The HEAT finished 43-39 in Beasley’s rookie season, which was also the first season for Erik Spoelstra as the HEAT’s head coach. Beasley’s play certainly caught people’s attention around the league, and he was named to the All-Rookie First Team. In his second season with the HEAT, Beasley increased his scoring, rebounding and playing-time averages to 14.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 29.8 minutes per game, with his rebounding average ranking as a career high. He played in 78 games for the HEAT during that 2009-10 season, starting all 78 of them, and the club finished with a 47-35 record. Following his second season with the club, the HEAT traded Beasley to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a pair of second-round draft picks (2011 and 2014), and the move enabled the HEAT to free up enough salary cap space to sign then-free agents LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Mike Miller that same summer. While James and Bosh teamed with Dwyane Wade to lead the HEAT to three consecutive NBA Finals appearances, those same three seasons saw Beasley play key roles for the Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns, with his most productive professional season coming in his first year in Minnesota. Beasley averaged a career-high 19.2 points and 5.6 rebounds in a career-high 32.3 minutes a game for the Timberwolves during the 2010-11 NBA season, and exploded for 42 points and 9 rebounds in a 98-89 win over the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 10, 2010. When Beasley became available on the open market this offseason, the HEAT decided to give the versatile, aggressive big man another look, figuring his proven knack for providing instant offense – including his ability to play both forward positions and handle and shoot the ball with both hands – would help not only make up for the loss of veteran sharpshooter Miller, but provide added depth in the frontcourt rotation as the club prepares to pursue a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance. Beasley did not disappoint in his first two preseason appearances for the HEAT, racking up 22 points and pulling down 7 rebounds in 28 high-energy minutes off the bench. The HEAT won both games, and Beasley connected on 8-of-16 field goals, including 7-of-12 from inside the 3-point arc. As talented as he is, and as productive as he has been, there is still so much room for improvement with Beasley, who possesses an intriguing blend of youth and professional experience. Beasley doesn’t even turn 25 until Jan. 9, 2014, yet he already has five seasons of NBA action and game experience under his belt. He’s also played for three different organizations – one on the East Coast, one in the Southwest, and one in the Midwest. Over those five seasons – playing for three different teams in three very different systems – Beasley boasts averages of 14.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.5 blocks, in just 26.4 minutes per game. He’s connected on 44.7 percent of his field goals – including 34.5 percent from behind the three-point arc – and 75.7 percent of his free-throw attempts. He’s drilled 30 or more 3-pointers in four of his five NBA seasons, including a career-high 60 during his prolific 2010-2011 season. Beasley even has valuable playoff experience, having averaged 11.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.6 blocks in 12 postseason games – including 5 starts – during his first stint with the HEAT. Put simply, Beasley has always produced on the court. Especially when it comes to scoring the ball. Then again, that’s what Beasley has always done in his basketball career. Beasley grew up starring and scoring for championship-caliber AAU teams alongside current Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant in the Washington, D.C. area, and was named the MVP of the 2007 McDonald’s High School All-American Game (one year after Durant won such honors in that showcase game). In his one season of college basketball, as a true freshman, Beasley not only led the country in rebounding, but his 26.2 points-per-game average was third best in the nation. He also led the nation in 40-point games (three), double-doubles (28), 30-point, 10-rebound games (13) and 20-point, 10-rebound games (22), and he ranks today as only the 27th player in NCAA Division I history to rack up 26 or more double-doubles in a single season. No less an authority than Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers is on record as saying, “I think one day he may lead the league in scoring.” The HEAT won’t look to Beasley to lead the league – or even the team – in scoring this season. But they will expect what he has always proven capable of providing each and every time he takes the floor: Instant offense. Aggressive energy. Tenacious rebounding. And excellent athleticism. Michael Beasley is back home again with the HEAT. And he’s ready to make the most of his second stint with the club.
  6. 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.
  7. By Dylan Barmmer Dwyane Wade wasn't always at his best last season. A sore and at-times swollen left knee challenged him often, especially in the postseason. But the face of the franchise still played a vital and irreplaceable role as the HEAT claimed their second NBA title, averaging 22.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks while shooting 46.2% from the field over 23 playoff games. So last July, arthroscopic knee surgery was performed. Wade even bypassed the 2012 Summer Olympics to get his body and mind properly prepared for the rigors of his 10th NBA season. And when the 2012-2013 NBA season started and began to flow into its groove, Wade didn't always appear to be finding or staying in his. HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra even opted to hold Wade out of three games in November, a month that saw him average 17.1 points, 4.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks while shooting 46.6% from the floor over 10 games. At the time, there were whispers and even some public proclamations about Wade's alleged loss of athleticism and overall decline as a star player. Now? Not so much. Dwyane Wade is back. And always on the attack. On both ends of the court. In all phases of the game. Same as he ever was. Ever since he entered the NBA as a fresh-faced rookie out of Marquette in the 2003-04 season, "attack" has been the word Wade seems to use most to describe his own attitude and style of play. Now, a decade into a career that has seen him win two NBA titles and an NBA Finals MVP -- as well as 9 All-Star selections, 2 All-NBA First Team selections and an NBA scoring title in 2008-09 -- the 31-year-old Wade is attacking as hard and relentlessly as he always has. And smarter and more efficiently than ever before. As the HEAT have compiled a remarkable 47-14 record that includes a franchise-record and NBA-season-best 18-game-and-counting winning streak, Wade has shot a career-best 52.3% from the field -- well above his already impressive 48.8% career average. His 21.8 points per game rank second on the HEAT behind reigning MVP LeBron James' 26.8 and ninth in the entire NBA...and just off the 22.1 regular-season average he posted while helping James and Chris Bosh lead the HEAT to the NBA title last season. Wade's 4.9 assist-per-game average ranks second on the HEAT behind James' 7.1, and is his highest since he averaged 6.5 assists a game in 2009-10. He's even posted 15 games with at least 7 assists so far this season. Wade's work on the boards has been equally impressive. His 5.0 rebound-per-game average puts him fourth on the HEAT and is just off his career average of 5.1 -- and above the 4.8 average he posted last season. Wade has grabbed at least 6 rebounds in 20 games, including a season-high 12 in a 99-94 win over Charlotte on Feb. 4. But Wade's game has always been about excelling in all areas -- on both ends of the court. Spoelstra has praised Wade's relentless and disruptive defensive work several times this season, and it's easy to see why. Long recognized as one of the most accomplished, instinctive, prolific and clutch shot blockers at his position, the 6-foot-4 Wade is averaging 0.82 blocks per game, third behind the 6-foot-11 Bosh's 1.26 and the 6-foot-8 James' 0.85 averages. There are some longtime NBA observers who believe that Wade is the best shot-blocking guard in the history of the NBA, and when you consider he is the only guard in NBA history to average 1 block per game throughout his career, it's easy to see why. Even as he fought through all that knee pain last season -- and played a career-low 33.2 minutes per game -- Wade averaged 1.3 blocks per game. That was more than four times the typical NBA shooting guard's average, and on a per-minute basis, Wade actually swatted away more shot attempts than not only Bosh, but fellow big men Kevin Garnett (6-foot-11), Pau Gasol (7-foot) and LaMarcus Aldridge (6-foot-11). As per usual, this season has seen Wade grab a handful of game-shifting and game-saving swats...and steals. Wade's knack for taking the ball away from the opponent remains firmly intact. His 1.79 steals per game this season lead the HEAT and rank seventh in the NBA, and are right around his career average of 1.8. Wade has snared 3 or more steals 13 times this season -- including a season-high 6 in a 105-91 win over the Indiana Pacers on March 10 -- and has recorded at least 1 steal in each of the past 22 games, helping guide the HEAT to a 20-2 record during that remarkable run. That streak has also put Wade within striking distance of Sherman Douglas' franchise record of 27 straight games with a steal. Lately, Wade has seemed particularly spectacular. And at times, nearly unstoppable. Wade poured in a season-high 39 points in a 141-129 double-overtime win over the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 26. He also racked up 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in 45 monumental minutes of action -- draining 19 of 28 shots from the floor in a rousing win that kept the HEAT's winning streak alive at 12 games. The next game out, Wade scored a HEAT-high 22 points, handed out 8 assists and grabbed 4 rebounds and 2 steals as the HEAT knocked off a physical Memphis Grizzlies team 98-91 on March 1. Wade shot 9 of 16 from the floor and came up big in several key moments as the HEAT snapped the Grizzlies' own 8-game winning streak. Two days later, in a nationally televised battle with the nemesis Knicks, Wade pumped in 20 points, lobbed 8 assists and grabbed 8 rebounds under the hot lights of Madison Square Garden. The near-triple-double helped the HEAT post a 99-93 win and avenge two earlier losses to the Knicks. Wade shot 8 of 16 from the field and grabbed 1 steal to stretch his steals streak to 18 games...and the HEAT's winning streak reached 14 games. Wade then scored 32 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and dished a season-high 10 assists in a 97-81 victory at Minnesota on March 4. He sank 15 of 23 shots from the floor in ruthlessly dissecting the Timberwolves defense...and 14 of his 15 field goals were layups. Two nights later, Wade scored 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting in a thrilling 97-96 comeback win over Orlando. That put him at a remarkable 62% clip over his previous seven games -- a stretch that saw him net at least 20 points in each game -- including 30 or more 3 times. Wade also grabbed a game-high 4 steals and 6 rebounds, and his big game was instrumental in the HEAT rallying to extend their win streak to 16 games -- a mark that surpassed the previous franchise record of 15 consecutive wins. Wade's averages during that 7-game run looked like this: 27.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.9 blocks. And on March 11, the NBA announced that Wade had been named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played from March 4-10. It was the 16th such honor earned by Wade in his stellar career, tying a franchise record. As the release announced, Wade shot 50% or better from the field in all 4 games that week, and has now hit at least 50% of his field goal attempts in 10 straight games -- 1 game shy of tying his career-best streak. He also scored at least 20 points in each of the week's 4 games, and is in the midst of nine consecutive games with 20 points or more. Wade's averages over those 4 games looked like this: 25.3 points, 5.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 steals -- while shooting 60.6% from the field and 88.2% from the line. Those are numbers that normally affix themselves to James' name these days. And statistics that have proven absolutely vital in the HEAT establishing yet another franchise record during this electrifying 2012-13 season. But even his stat-stuffing statistics don't tell the full story of Wade's value to this HEAT team. Asked to defer some of his marquee billing and surrender shot attempts since James and Bosh joined the HEAT prior to the 2010-11 season, Wade has graciously accepted a somewhat reduced role on offense...and learned to optimize efficiency without compromising aggression. He doesn't furiously launch his body into the fray as much as he used to in past seasons, and doesn't make quite as many appearances at the free-throw line as a result -- though his 346 attempts from the line rank second to only James' 414 on the HEAT and ninth among all NBA players. Wade still racks up his fair share of slam dunks, and many of them remain highlight-worthy. But there is oh so much more to Wade's offensive game these days, and his ever-burgeoning and polished skill set means maximum and at times eye-popping efficiency -- for both Wade personally and the HEAT as a team. From his lethal Euro Step to his dazzling array of flip and scoop shots to his baseline-blitzing layups and reverse layups to his sweet midrange jumper, Wade can savvily and coldly dissect an opposing defense in a wide variety of ways. And he seems to always do it with an extra touch of creative flair, routinely making almost everything look cool and easy. At times, it's like watching an inspired artist go to work on a blank canvas. With a seemingly infinite palette of colors to paint with. And then there are Wade's many talents as a leader. His Chicago-born and -bred toughness speaks for itself, and seems to often set the tone for the HEAT as a unit. His willingness to praise his teammates, especially James, who he dubbed "off the planet" good recently, mirrors his eagerness to share the ball on the court -- where his pinpoint-perfect lobs to James have resulted in dozens of dunks that seem to defy the lays of gravity and have often rattled not just the rim, but also the will and focus of opposing teams. Wade has developed an amazing synchronicity and chemistry with James in their three seasons together, with seemingly each game providing at least one or two amazing moments of basketball poetry between the superstar teammates -- especially on the fast break, which is frequently triggered by a Wade steal. It's almost as if each man knows exactly what the other is going to do, well before he does it. And the way Wade is playing in his 10th NBA season, HEAT fans can rest assured knowing that whatever he does on a given evening...it will be something special to behold. Same as it's ever been.
  8. 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.
  9. By Dylan Barmmer At this point, it's hard to even find a point to start – or finish – when it comes to discussing the all-around brilliance of LeBron James. In fact, James' brilliance has become so consistent, it's almost as if it's commonplace to HEAT fans. Turn on the game on TV, or slide into your seat at AmericanAirlines Arena, and you're bound to see the reigning NBA MVP, in the prime of his career at age 27 (he turns 28 just five days after Christmas), dominate the game and the opponent in just about every and all ways imaginable. At this point, it's as predictable and expected as a stunning South Florida sunset. It's just going to happen. And it's going to be a beautiful thing to behold. But as the HEAT approach a prime-time Christmas Day matchup (and 2012 NBA Finals rematch) with the equally white-hot Oklahoma City Thunder, why not take a few moments to truly savor the basketball genius that is LeBron James. If James was Santa Claus – and at 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, he'd have a hard time fitting down chimneys – here are just some of the many glistening gifts he has brought HEAT fans so far this season, hot on the heels of claiming the franchise's second NBA World Championship and first-ever NBA MVP Trophy: --As of Monday, Dec. 24, James is the only player in the NBA to currently lead his team in scoring (25.4 points per game), rebounding (8.5 rebounds per game) and assists (6.8 assists per game). --James' scoring average ranks fifth in the entire NBA and second in the Eastern Conference. His rebounding average ranks 17th in the NBA and eigth in the East. His assists average ranks 10th in the NBA and fifth in the East. --James is also the only non-guard in the NBA to rank in the top 10 in assists. In fact, the uber-versatile James is the only player in the top 35 who isn't listed as a backcourt player. --James has racked up 13 double-doubles, good for 10th in the entire NBA and fourth in the East. --James is one of just 13 players to compile a triple-double (26 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in a 105-101 loss at Washington on Dec. 4), and has narrowly missed out on several others. --In a 103-92 win over Minnesota on Dec. 18, James scored 22 points, dished 11 assists, grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked 4 shots. James became the first player to compile such a stuffed stat line in an NBA game since Hall of Famer Chris Mullin had 25 points, 13 assists, 13 rebounds and 4 blocks for Golden State on January 4, 1995. Oh, and James has compiled that same stat line or better four other times during that near- 18-year span. While not one other NBA player has managed to do so one time. --James has opened the season by scoring 20 points or more in each of the HEAT's 24 games. That is the longest such streak to start a season since Hall of Famer Karl Malone did so for Utah in 1989-90. (James' 20-point scoring streak actually stretches back to 29 consecutive regular-season games, and 45 straight overall games). --James has also gone each of the past 6 games without being whistled for a single personal foul. Despite his aggressive, intense, physical, hard-charging style of play, James has now played over 250 straight minutes without being called for a personal foul. --In the midst of his 20-point scoring streak, James has scored 30 or more points six times, including 3 games in December. --James has dished 7 or more assists 12 times. The HEAT are 9-3 in those 12 games. In the four games where James has handed out 11 or more assists, the HEAT are 3-1. --James has grabbed 10 or more rebounds in 10 games. The HEAT are 7-3 in those 10 games. --James is shooting 54.2% from the field, just behind Chris Bosh's 54.8% among HEAT regulars – and above his personal career-best 53.1% set last season. --Playing on a team stocked with 3-point marksmen, including the NBA's best ever in Ray Allen, James ranks third on the HEAT in 3-pointers made (34) and fourth in 3-point percentage (44.2%). --James also ranks third on the HEAT in both steals (1.25 steals per game) and blocks (0.83 blocks per game). --James graced the cover of Sports Illustrated earlier this month, having been honored as the illustrious publication's Sportsman of the Year. --James was also named the NBA's Eastern Conference Player of the Month for November. --And, most importantly, James has led the HEAT to an 18-6 record, the best winning percentage in the East (.750). The HEAT are a sizzling 13-2 at home, best in the East and second to only Oklahoma City (14-2) in the entire NBA. So sit back. And savor all the blistering brilliance of LeBron James – the gift who keeps on giving (and scoring, passing, rebounding, dunking, blocking shots, etc...) to HEAT fans. And don't forget to wish him a happy 28th birthday on December 30. Happy Holidays, HEAT fans. Enjoy.
  10. By Dylan Barmmer “This is very overwhelming to me as an individual award, but this is not the award I want, ultimately. I want that championship. That’s all that matters to me.” --LeBron James, upon being named NBA MVP on May 12, 2012 He is closer now. And he appears hungrier than ever before. LeBron James claimed his third NBA MVP trophy in the past four years by averaging 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.8 blocks in his second season in a HEAT uniform. He shot a career-best 53.1 percent from the floor and led the HEAT to a 46-20 mark and a second consecutive Southeast Division title during a grueling, lockout-compressed campaign. In receiving 85 of 121 first-place votes, James became only the eighth player in NBA history to win MVP honors at least three times, joining Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlin, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Moses Malone and the player he has often drawn comparisons to, Earvin "Magic" Johnson. But as great as James was during the regular season, he's been even greater during the 2012 NBA Playoffs. And as the challenges and pressure have mounted with each subsequent round, James has elevated his game to new levels each time. From a purely statistical level, the progression looks like this, with both James' scoring and rebounding averages rising in stride with the stakes: --Averages of 27.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.2 steals in 5 games against the New York Knicks. James scored 30 or more points twice in that series and did not register a 10-rebound game. He handed out 5 or more assists 3 times. --Averages of 30.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.7 steals and 0.7 blocks in 6 games against the Indiana Pacers. James scored 30 or more points three times (including 40 points in Game 4) and grabbed 10 or more rebounds three times. James grabbed 15 or more boards twice in that series, including a playoff-high 18 in that same Game 4. James also handed out at least 5 assists in 5 of the 6 games. --Averages of 33.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.3 blocks in 7 games against the Boston Celtics. James scored 30 or more points in 6 of the 7 games (including playoff-high 45 in Game 6) and grabbed 10 rebounds or more five times. In the one game James failed to reach the 30-point mark, he scored 29. He also grabbed 12 boards or more four times, including in each of the last three games. And perhaps most impressively, James racked up at least 30 points and 10 rebounds together in the same game five times. So if you're scoring at home, that's 11 games of 30 or more points in 18 total playoff games. Eight games with at least 10 rebounds. Eleven games with at least 5 assists. And postseason averages of 30.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.8 blocks. In other words, even James' average is about as far above average as you can get. Of course, elite athletic competition is about more than just statistics. James' eye-popping numbers throughout the HEAT's postseason run don't completely illustrate just how dominant, active, versatile and valuable he has been, particularly on defense. And James' awesome averages in this last series -- he became the first player since Shaquille O'Neal in the 2000 NBA Finals to have six 30-point games in a playoff series -- are even more impressive when you consider they came against a veteran, battle-tested Celtics team in the Eastern Conference Finals, with a trip to the NBA Finals hanging in the balance. When the Celtics won the middle three games to take a commanding 3-2 lead and push the HEAT to the brink of elimination, James donned a serious game face and stormed out the gates to lead his team to back-to-back wins by averaging 38.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. James' overpowering 45-point, 15-rebound, 5-assist performance in Game 6 was only the second time such a stat line had been recorded in NBA playoff history. The other player to reach such staggering heights? Wilt Chamberlain. James doesn't possess the same towering presence as the 7-foot-1 Chamberlin did, but his game can be every bit as huge. And in that pivotal Game 6 road win on June 7, it was absolutely gigantic. Playing in front of a rowdy Boston crowd and facing playoff elimination, James made 12 of his first 13 shots en route to an incredible 19-of-26 shooting performance in that game. He scored 14 first-quarter points and added 16 more in the second quarter, setting a HEAT playoff scoring record for a first half. James and the HEAT would wear down the Celtics and roll to a 98-79 victory and another shot at a Finals appearance -- which James helped deliver with 31 points, 12 rebounds and 2 assists in a 101-88 Game 7 win at AmericanAirlines Arena. "He was absolutely brilliant this series, and we all know it," said HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra. "He's playing at an historic level during the playoffs, driving us with his will...He is pushing himself beyond his limits, and he's pushing the rest of the team as well." Of course, the final chapter of this sizzling story remains to be written. James and his hungry HEAT teammates will begin to author an ending starting Tuesday, June 12 in Oklahoma City. Awaiting them will be the deep, fast, athletic and energetic Thunder and Kevin Durant, who led the NBA in scoring at 28.0 points a game and finished second in MVP voting to James. And Durant has been penning his own personal passion play in these playoffs, scoring 30 or more points and grabbing at least 10 rebounds six times in 15 games. The stakes have been raised once again. And James looks ready to continue elevating his own game. He wants that championship. And it is now only four wins away.