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  1. By Dylan Barmmer There are examples of immediate impact. There are improbable and inspiring stories. And then there is Hassan Whiteside. What the HEAT’s inspired and inspiring new center is doing in his first NBA action since the 2011-12 season has been all of this and more – and the amazing accomplishments just continue to unfold with each game. In fact, in just two-and-a-half months in a HEAT uniform, the 25-year-old Whiteside has flat-out dominated a handful of games, set a few HEAT franchise records, and even etched his name into the annals of NBA history during a particularly amazing performance – which also happened to be nationally televised on a weekend. On one hand, it’s not too hard to see how this could happen. Standing at a full seven feet with incredibly long arms and an athletic and agile 265-pound frame, Whiteside’s presence alone is guaranteed to intimidate and frustrate the opposition. But in the curious case of Hassan Whiteside, that rare and powerful presence exists hand-in-hand, step-by-step, shot-by-shot, rebound-by-rebound and block-by-block with production. In fact, the production is one of the main themes of this story. And it’s a story that continues to amaze at nearly each and every turn. Consider the following plot twists and story developments: Signed after being cut by the Memphis Grizzlies (who he never played a single minute of a single game for) just before Thanksgiving of 2014, Whiteside quietly made his HEAT debut during a 107-86 loss to the Washington Wizards on Dec. 1, 2014. Playing just two minutes of the fourth quarter, Whiteside missed a pair of free throws and grabbed a rebound in those two minutes. Whiteside would make just two brief appearances over the HEAT’s next nine games, but in those seven short minutes, he scored six points, pulled down three rebounds and blocked a shot. A short stint with the HEAT’s NBA Development League affiliate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota followed. Then, on Dec. 19, again against Washington, Whiteside got his first extended look in HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra’s rotation, and the production was again immediate. During 16 minutes of a tough 105-103 loss to the Wizards, Whiteside scored six points, pulled down seven rebounds, snared two steals and blocked a shot. He also collected five personal fouls, however, limiting his further availability in the game. In the HEAT’s nationally televised 101-91 win over the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas Day, Whiteside made a brief appearance, grabbing three rebounds and blocking a shot in eight minutes of action. In the HEAT’s next game, a 103-95 loss to the Grizzlies on Dec. 27, Whiteside scored two points and grabbed seven rebounds in 16 minutes against his former team – a performance that sparked his inclusion in the HEAT rotation and began a run of 11 consecutive games with at least 10 minutes of playing time. Whiteside was once again highly productive during that stretch, grabbing at least seven rebounds in eight of those 11 games and scoring at least 10 points seven times. He also blocked three or more shots five times, and recorded 29 total blocks during that strong 11-game run. Whiteside also recorded the first three double-doubles of his suddenly budding NBA career during that 11-game stretch. His 11-point, 10-rebound, five-block performance keyed an 88-84 win over Brooklyn on Jan. 4, and his 23-point, 16-rebound, two-block, two-steal explosion sparked a 104-90 victory over the Clippers in Los Angeles on Jan. 11. He also scored 10 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots during a 104-89 loss at Golden State on Jan. 14. That game also marked Whiteside’s first career NBA start. Whiteside recorded all three of those double-doubles while playing just 29 minutes or less, and two of them came in a reserve role. The massive game off the bench against the Clippers was especially impressive, as his 23 points and 16 rebounds came in just 29 minutes, and both represented career highs for the young big man. Whiteside also became the first HEAT player with at least 20 points and 15 rebounds off the bench since the legendary Alonzo Mourning accomplished that feat – in April of 2001. This stretch of strong play ended only because Whiteside sprained his right ankle early in a 94-86 loss to Oklahoma City on Jan. 20. At the time of the injury, Whiteside had scored 10 points on flawless 5-for-5 shooting, grabbed two rebounds and blocked a shot – all in just 11 minutes of action. Whiteside would sit out the HEAT’s next two games to rest the ankle, but when he returned in a nationally televised game at Chicago on Jan. 25, he made a comeback that was not only impactful, but also historical – for both the HEAT and the entire NBA. Matched against the Bulls’ imposing and towering veteran frontline, Whiteside was brilliant and dominant as soon as he entered that game, and by the time the final buzzer had sounded on a convincing 96-84 HEAT win, he had racked up not just another double-double – but his first career triple-double. Whiteside’s 14 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocked shots came in under 25 minutes off the bench, and the performance was historical on several levels. The 12 blocks easily surpassed Mourning’s long-standing single-game HEAT record of nine, and he became just the eighth HEAT player to record a triple-double, but the full impact of Whiteside’s dominating performance ran even deeper. Since blocks were first tracked as an official statistic by the NBA in the 1973-74 season, Whiteside became the first player to record a triple-double that included 10 or more blocks while playing 25 minutes or less. He also became just the third player in the NBA’s shot-clock era to record any kind of triple-double in 25 minutes or less – with Thunder star Russell Westbrook the only player to ever record a triple-double in less playing time. Whiteside also became the first player with at least 12 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks in a single game since former Dallas Mavericks center Shawn Bradley did it on April 7, 1998. In the past 25 NBA seasons, the only other players to meet that “Triple-Dozen” standard were former HEAT great Shaquille O’Neal (in 1993-94 with the Orlando Magic), Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Mark Eaton. Whiteside, Bradley and Eaton are the only three players to ever do so while coming off the bench. Additionally, Whiteside became the first player to block 12 or more shots in 25 minutes or less since Manute Bol blocked 13 shots in 20 minutes for Golden State on March 21, 1989. Bol and Bradley also rank as two of the three tallest players in NBA history at 7-foot-7 and 7-foot-6, respectively. That historically dominant outing against the Bulls kicked off a current six-game streak of basketball brilliance for Whiteside, who continues to amaze, excite and inspire HEAT fans, teammates and coaches alike. Whiteside has posted a double-double in all but one of the HEAT’s past six games, finishing with 20 points and nine rebounds (and three blocks) in that one near-miss. He’s scored 16 or more points four times and grabbed at least 16 rebounds in three of those six games. Whiteside is averaging 16.8 points, 15.3 rebounds and 3.83 blocks in 30 minutes per game during his current six-game surge. He’s hit 46-of-75 field goals (61.3 percent) during this run, and turned the ball over just 10 times in 180 minutes. Most recently, Whiteside authored the first 20-20 game of his young NBA career. The 24-point, 20-rebound, three-steal and two-block tour de force came during a tough 102-101 loss at Minnesota on Feb. 4. Whiteside set a new career high and led all HEAT scorers with those 24 points, and did so on near-perfect 12-of-13 shooting – since 1970, that 92.3 percentage was the third highest in a 20-20 game – from the field. He set another HEAT record by opening the game a flawless 11-for-11 before his first miss, while also marking the highest shooting percentage in a road game in HEAT history, with a minimum of 10 attempts. The way Whiteside is rolling right now is truly remarkable, for any player. But to fully appreciate what Whiteside is now doing, however, you have to take a closer look at where and how his professional basketball career began – and the many twists and turns it has taken since. The native of Gastonia, NC attended six different high schools in two different states, concluding his prep career by leading The Patterson School in Lenoir, NC to a 34-2 record and No. 1 national ranking during the 2008-09 high school season. Even so, Whiteside was ranked as just the No. 19 center in the Class of 2009 by Scout.com, and the No. 87 overall recruit by rivalshoops.com. Whiteside joined Patterson School teammate DeAndre Kane at Marshall University for the 2009-10 college season, and wasted no time in establishing himself as a towering force for the Thundering Herd. As a true freshman at Marshall, Whiteside racked up a 14-point, 17-rebound, nine-block game in a 60-53 win over Ohio on Nov. 28, 2009 – then notched the Thundering Herd’s first-ever triple-double with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 11 blocks in a 105-54 rout of Brescia. Whiteside would go on to record two more triple-doubles (both against Central Florida) during his standout freshman season, and proved himself as a truly dominant shot-blocking force. Just 20 years old at the time, Whiteside led the nation with 182 blocked shots during the 2009-10 college season. That total also broke Jerome Jordan’s existing Conference USA single-season record, and set a new mark for Marshall – not just for a single season, but for an entire college career. The 182 blocked shots also established a new NCAA record for a freshman in a single season – topping the previous record of 177 blocks by Shawn Bradley at BYU in 1990-91. In March of 2010, shortly after Marshall coach Donnie Jones left to take the reins at UCF, Whiteside decided to test the waters of the 2010 NBA Draft where the Sacramento Kings selected Whiteside in the second round, tabbing him with the draft’s 33rd overall pick. Whiteside would appear in just two minutes of one game for the Kings during the 2010-11 season, accumulating no stats other than two personal fouls. He played part of that season for the Kings’ NBA Development League team in Reno, NV, and would also see action with the Reno Bighorns the following NBA D-League season. Sacramento gave Whiteside more of an extended look during the 2011-12 NBA season, as he appeared in 18 games off the Kings’ bench. Whiteside averaged 1.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in just 6.1 minutes per game over those 18 games, shooting 44.4 percent from the field. Committed to the development of talented center DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings opted to release Whiteside on Jul. 16, 2012. The two-plus years that followed are a whirlwind of global basketball activity as Whiteside went on to play for three D-League teams (Sioux Falls, Rio Grande Valley and Iowa), two Chinese NBL teams (Sichuan and Jiangsu Tongxi) and two teams in the Lebanese Basketball League (Amchit Club and Al Mouttahed Tripoli) before eventually signing with the Memphis Grizzlies in the closing months of 2014. During Whiteside’s worldwide whirlwind journey, he achieved his most remarkable and sustained success with the Sichuan Blue Whales of China’s NBL. Whiteside decided to head overseas to grow his game after the 2012-13 D-League season, and after a short stint with Amchit Club in Lebanon, he joining the Blue Whales on May 26, 2013. Whiteside dominated the competition in 27 games with the Blue Whales, averaging 25.7 points, 16.6 rebounds, 5.11 blocks and 1.41 steals while shooting 56.4 percent from the floor. The Blue Whales rolled to an undefeated playoff run and a NBL Championship, and Whiteside was named NBL Finals MVP. He also earned NBL Defensive Player of the Year, Center of the Year and All-NBL First Team honors. The rest of 2013 and much of 2014 was split between Lebanon (Al Mouttahed Tripoli) and China (Jiangsu Tongxi), but on Sept. 25, 2014, Whiteside landed the deal with the Grizzlies. His time in Memphis was extremely short-lived, however, as the Grizzlies waived Whiteside less than a month later, on Oct. 22. Whiteside then rejoined the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA D-League on Oct. 30, only to be traded to the Iowa Energy two days later. Five days after joining the Energy, Whiteside was again re-signed by the Memphis Grizzlies, on Nov. 19. But the Grizzlies again waived Whiteside, this time the very next day, and he rejoined the Energy on Nov. 22. Just two days later, Whiteside signed with another NBA team. On Nov. 24, the well-traveled big man inked a contract with the HEAT. The rest, as they say, is history. For both the HEAT and the shot-blocking and double-double-posting annals of the NBA. It’s a journey that seems almost impossible to follow – or comprehend. And in 2014 alone, this basketball odyssey saw Whiteside suit up for seven different teams in four different leagues in three different countries. Ever since donning a HEAT uniform, Whiteside has been a sheer force to be reckoned with – especially on the defensive end. Whiteside has routinely frustrated and at times flat-out dominated opponents with his rare shot-blocking, shot-altering and rebounding abilities, and his quick, long hands have snared at least one steal in nine different games. Whiteside’s displays of defensive prowess have often showcased an uncanny ability to not only block and alter shots under several circumstances, but a great sense of timing and anticipation combined with elite quickness and closing ability. He blocks shots from all angles and positions, and his amazing length allows him to block several shots at a downward angle and off backboards – often leading to quick run-outs for the HEAT, rather than an out-of-bounds situation that gives the ball back to the opponent. During his historic 12-block game in Chicago, Whiteside recorded seven swats as a help defender, with the other five coming in an on-ball defender role. All 12 of those blocks came within six feet of the basket, and five of them came against crafty, powerful and athletic veteran forward Taj Gibson. During the course of his six-year NBA career, the 6-foot-9 Gibson had never had five of his shots blocked by an opposing team prior to his rude introduction to Whiteside. An accomplished scorer, Gibson finished a close second to the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award last season. In 23 games so far with the HEAT this season, Whiteside has averaged 9.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.48 blocks in just 19.2 minutes per game. He’s also shooting a stunning team-high 64.9 percent from the floor. Whiteside has come off the HEAT bench in all but eight of those 23 games, which makes his production even more impressive. Just how the season ends for Whiteside and the HEAT remains to be seen, but what is certain is that the still-evolving, 25-year-old big man will excite, produce and at times completely dominate whenever he steps out on the floor. And when paired with perennial NBA All-Star Chris Bosh or fellow veteran big man Chris Andersen, the HEAT feature an imposing frontline that they have lacked in past seasons. In Hassan Whiteside, the HEAT have truly uncovered a diamond in the rough. And that diamond seems to shine brighter and longer each and every game. It’s a discovery that was several seasons, teams, leagues and countries in the making. It’s an alliance that was officially formed just days before Thanksgiving. And both the HEAT and Hassan Whiteside are thankful for what’s happened in the two-and-a-half months since.
  2. Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon By Dylan Barmmer His impact has been immediate. In his first season in a HEAT uniform, veteran forward Shawne Williams has been nothing short of invaluable for the club – and for many reasons. While high-profile veterans Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger were brought in via free agency to much fanfare, the 28-year-old Williams was also signed to compete for a forward position on the new-look HEAT in a more under-the-radar move. Deng cemented the starting small forward role in training camp, but assorted injuries slowed both McRoberts and Granger. Williams came in healthy, and immediately played well. Blending versatility with length, toughness and superior shooting ability, the 6-foot-10, 230-pound journeyman eventually earned the starting power forward spot opposite Deng. But he certainly didn’t stop there. Not content with merely securing a starting role, Williams has at times played a starring role for the HEAT – his seventh NBA team in seven NBA seasons. As the HEAT have built a 6-5 start to the 2014-15 NBA season, Williams has started all 11 games, averaging 11.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 made three-point field goals a game in 28.8 minutes. He's hit 51.2 percent of his field goal attempts, including a sizzling 51 percent from behind the three-point line. Williams has scored 13 or more points in six of the HEAT's first 11 games, and grabbed at least four rebounds eight times. Williams has also drilled at least three three-pointers in seven games. His 27 total three-pointers easily leads the HEAT, and ranks seventh in the entire NBA. Williams’ shooting has also been impressive from the free-throw line, as he’s canned 12 of 16 overall attempts from the line (75 percent). Williams has always possessed an intriguing blend of size and skill. He was a high draft selection into the NBA, with the Indiana Pacers selecting him with the 17th overall pick of the 2006 NBA Draft after he did a bit of everything in his one year of college basketball at Memphis. Williams averaged 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks for Memphis in the 2005-06 NCAA season, starting 34 of the 36 games he played in for the Tigers. He led all Conference USA freshmen in both scoring and rebounding, and won Conference USA Tournament MVP honors after averaging 18.0 points and 6.7 rebounds in three games of the postseason tournament. Williams’ professional career began with a strong start, as he scored 13 points for the Pacers in his NBA debut against the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 11, 2006. That point total was good enough for the second-best NBA debut by a rookie in the Pacers’ proud history. Williams went on to average 3.9 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.5 assists and 0.2 blocks in 12.1 minutes during his rookie season. He played in 46 games that season, even making three starts for the Pacers. Williams saw his averages increase to 6.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 0.4 blocks over 14.9 minutes per game in his second season with the Pacers, which saw him play in 65 games, including three starts. The Pacers decided to trade Williams that offseason, sending him to the Dallas Mavericks for former HEAT star Eddie Jones and two second-round draft picks. Williams played sparingly for the Mavericks in the 2008-09 NBA season, averaging 2.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in 11.3 minutes over 15 games. Shortly before the midpoint of the 2009-10 season, the Mavericks traded Williams and Kris Humphries to the then-New Jersey Nets for Eduardo Najera. The Nets waived Williams four days later. Williams resurfaced next season with the New York Knicks, and enjoyed the best season of his NBA career in 2010-11. Playing a pivotal role off the bench, Williams helped the Knicks reach the postseason by averaging a career-best 7.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 0.7 assists and 0.6 steals in 20.7 minutes. Williams appeared in 64 games for the Knicks, even making 11 spot starts, and drilled 40.1 percent of his three-point field goals to set a new career-best. Williams then signed a two-year contract with the Nets, and ended up splitting those two seasons between the Nets and China’s Guangzhou Liu Sul. In between, he was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers for Gerald Wallace, but never appeared in a game for the Blazers. Williams’ NBA odyssey resumed in the 2013-14 season with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he was reunited with then-coach Mike D’Antoni, who had coached him to his best NBA season in New York. Appearing in 36 games for the Lakers, including 13 starts, Williams averaged 5.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 0.8 assists and 0.5 steals in 20.9 minutes – setting career bests in rebounds, blocks and minutes per game. Needing backcourt help, the Lakers released Williams in January. Williams spent much of the remainder of the season with the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the NBA D-League, averaging 20.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.7 assists in 31.5 minutes over 23 games. Williams started 21 of those 23 games, and shot 45.6 percent from the field, including 41.8 percent from long-range. This past summer, Williams landed in Miami, signing a two-year contract with the HEAT. He’s wasted no time in establishing himself in just three short months, selflessly and skillfully integrating himself into the HEAT’s culture of hard work, hard defense, hustle, heart and on-court intelligence. Williams’ statistically strong games include a 15-point, 4-rebound, 4-assist performance in a 114-96 road win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 1 and a 16-point, five-rebound performance in a 107-102 win over the Toronto Raptors the following night. Williams also scored nine points, pulled down five rebounds and blocked three shots in a 96-89 loss at Charlotte on Nov. 5, poured in 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting (including 4-of-5 from behind the three-point line) in an 81-75 loss to the Pacers on Nov. 12 and scored 13 points while grabbing a season- and game-high 11 rebounds in a 91-84 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 16. He’s scored at least seven points in all but one game this season, and has played a minimum of 19 minutes in every game. Starting at power forward for a proud and perennially successful franchise like the HEAT is impressive in its own right. But leading a strong team in both three-point field goal percentage and three-point field goals made is even more impressive. Doing so from the power forward spot? That’s something closer to surreal, but it’s very real for Williams and the HEAT so far this season. HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra has lauded Williams for his shooting ability, versatility and toughness, and as the club establishes a new era with several new faces in the playing rotation, Williams has served notice that he can be relied upon to play a valuable, versatile role for his coaches and teammates. Just what the future holds for Williams and the HEAT remains to be seen, especially as McRoberts and Granger work themselves back into NBA-level conditioning and game shape. What appears certain, however, is that Williams can be counted on to knock down big shots, grab important rebounds, play hard-nosed defense and do whatever the HEAT ask of him to help ensure team success. Not a bad start for the new guy. Not at all.
  3. By Dylan Barmmer When talk turns to the HEAT among national observers, the names LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh generally dominate the conversation. But during the HEAT's exceptional and sensational run since James and Bosh joined franchise face Wade in the summer of 2010, many other men have contributed mightily to the success. Some call them "role players," while others prefer the term "glue guys." Whatever you call them, these players have filled key roles in the HEAT's drive to three consecutive NBA Finals appearances. And as the HEAT have begun their quest for a third consecutive NBA Championship by going 6-0 to open the 2014 NBA Playoffs, such supporting players have been equally instrumental. In the HEAT's first round series sweep of the young Charlotte Bobcats, it was Miami native James Jones who seized his opportunity to make an impact in a newly expanded role. In the HEAT's Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the veteran Brooklyn Nets, Shane Battier has gotten the call to contribute more. And just like fellow versatile veteran Jones, the 35-year-old Battier has taken full advantage of his increased opportunity. After playing just two minutes in all of the HEAT's series sweep of Charlotte, Battier was tabbed by HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra to start at small forward against the Nets. The decision paid immediate dividends – on both ends of the floor. Battier helped key a 107-86 win against the savvy, experienced Nets, scoring eight points, handing out two assists and grabbing one rebound in 26 minutes of action. Battier shot an efficient 3-of-5 from the field, including 2-of-4 from behind the three-point arc, in his first start since the HEAT's regular-season finale on April 16. He drilled his first shot attempt, a three-pointer from the right corner, to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:56 remaining in the first quarter, and he later played a key role in a 24-10 third-quarter run that put the HEAT up 70-54 and led to a comfortable win. Battier converted a layup in the opening minutes of the second half that put the HEAT up 50-43 with 10:37 left to play in the third quarter. When he buried another three-pointer from the right corner 2:25 later, the HEAT had a 55-49 lead with 8:12 remaining in the third. From there, the HEAT would mount a 15-5 burst that seemed to break the will of the Nets. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound Battier also helped limit dangerous Nets forward Joe Johnson to 17 points in 32 minutes of action. The sweet-shooting Johnson had averaged 21.9 points in the Nets' first-round win over the Toronto Raptors, scoring 24 points or more in four of the series' seven games. With Battier defending him for much of the game, Johnson managed just 11 shot attempts, including six from behind the three-point arc. In Game 2 two nights later, Battier nailed his very first shot attempt – a three-pointer that put the HEAT up 5-2 with 7:43 to play in a hard-fought first quarter. He closed the game with three points, one rebound and one steal in 19 minutes, helping the HEAT earn a 94-82 victory and take a commanding 2-0 series lead. And once again, he helped hold down Johnson, who finished with only 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Through the first two games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals series, Battier has averaged 5.5 points, 1.0 rebound, 1.0 assists and 0.5 steals in 22.5 minutes. He's hit 4-of-8 field goals, including 3-of-6 from long-distance. Most importantly, the HEAT have won both games, and now hold a powerful 2-0 lead as the series shifts to Brooklyn for the next two games. Battier's stellar contributions at both ends of the floor have come as no surprise to HEAT fans, teammates and coaches, who have seen the 13-season veteran do just about everything possible – in both starting and reserve roles – during his three seasons in a HEAT uniform. Battier joined the HEAT in the offseason prior to the 2011-12 season, and went on to play in 65 of that lockout-shortened season's 66 games, making 10 starts. Battier averaged 4.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.5 blocks in 23.1 minutes of that regular season, which saw the HEAT post a 46-20 record. In the postseason, Battier was moved into more of a starting role, and elevated his statistical output. In starting 16 of the HEAT's 23 playoff games, Battier averaged 7.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks to help the HEAT win the franchise's second NBA Championship. He averaged a whopping 33.4 minutes per game during that Championship drive, and hit 38.2 percent of his three-point shot attempts. In his first full-length regular season with the HEAT, Battier averaged 6.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.8 blocks and 0.6 steals in 24.8 minutes per game, helping the HEAT post a NBA-best and franchise-record 66-16 mark. He saw action in 72 of those 82 games, starting 20, and shot a career-best 43.0 percent from behind the three-point arc, finishing just behind Ray Allen with 136 hits from long-range. Once the playoffs arrived, Battier moved into an exclusively reserve role, and averaged 4.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 blocks and 0.2 steals in 17.8 minutes per game off the HEAT bench. He also saved his best for last, scoring a postseason-high 18 points by drilling six three-pointers as the HEAT topped the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals. Battier nailed 6-of-8 shots from long-range in that game, including each of his first five attempts. "Reports of my demise were premature," quipped the quick-witted and humble Duke University graduate after that big-time showing in a must-win game. Battier continued to demonstrate his value this season, playing in 73 games and starting 56 of them. Battier averaged 4.1 points, 1.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.5 blocks in 20.1 minutes per game, shooting 34.8 percent from long-range – and draining 73 three-pointers. He scored nine or more points 10 times, and also drilled at least three three-pointers in 10 different games. Of course, Battier's value to a team goes well beyond the standard statistical accomplishments. A hard-working, aggressive and highly intelligent player and teammate, Battier is well known for doing much of the game's "dirty work" – taking charges, setting picks, keeping opponents away from the rim, diving for loose balls, executing inbounds passes and the like. His ability to knock down long-range shots also helps the HEAT space the floor and opens driving lanes for James, Wade, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole. Battier's willingness to do whatever it takes to help his team win – including sitting out for long stretches of games, if not entire games – is as renowned in NBA circles as his wit, intelligence, versatility and long-range shooting ability. It's this special skill set that causes former coaches and current TV analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Hubie Brown to wax poetic every time Battier's name comes up, and it's what prompts Wade to call him "one of my favorite teammates of all time." It's also what compelled the then-Vancouver Grizzlies to select Battier with the sixth overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, making him one of seven HEAT players to have been tabbed in the Top 6 of an NBA Draft. Now, close to 13 years later, Battier is a seasoned veteran, an accomplished three-point marksman, a crafty, cunning defender and much, much more. Most importantly, he's not just able to do many things exceptionally well – he's willing to do whatever the HEAT ask of him to help the team secure its third consecutive NBA Championship. The odds are certainly in their favor. After all, Battier and the HEAT are both a perfect 2-for-2 since he first donned a HEAT uniform.
  4. By Dylan Barmmer As the HEAT attempt to secure a third consecutive NBA Championship, veteran center/forward Chris Bosh has added a whole other third dimension to his seeming ever-expanding and awe-inspiring game. He is now a lethal three-point marksman. It's not too often that you find a 6-foot-11 post player leading his team in both three-point field goals made and three-point field goal percentage through two rounds and nine games of NBA Playoff action. And on a veteran-laden, title-defending team loaded with proven long-range shooters – including the NBA's most prolific three-point shooter of all-time – what Bosh has done so far in the 2014 NBA Playoffs is even more remarkable. After dispatching the Charlotte Bobcats in four games in the first round and finishing off the Brooklyn Nets in five hard-fought Eastern Conference Semifinals contests, the long, lanky, left-handed Bosh leads the entire sweet-shooting HEAT team with 17 three-point field goals made. His 17 hits from long-range have come on 35 attempts, giving Bosh a sizzling 48.6-percent mark from behind the three-point arc that also leads the club. Those numbers are spectacular on their own. But they loom even larger when put into proper perspective within the HEAT's whole. Ray Allen, the NBA's all-time leader in both regular-season and playoff three-point field goals, has connected on 12-of-36 shots from behind the three-point arc this postseason (33.3 percent). LeBron James, the reigning NBA Finals MVP, has drilled 15-of-41 long-range attempts (36.6 percent). Miami native and renowned three-point specialist James Jones has converted 11-of-23 long-distance looks (47.8 percent). As a whole, the HEAT are shooting an exceptional 38.7-percent from long-range in the playoffs. And Bosh, a player once known for averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, is leading the charge – and proving to be a major factor in the HEAT's 8-1 postseason start. But even more impressive than the quantity of Bosh's long-range daggers has been their quality. Of those 17 strikes from behind the three-point arc, it seems like nearly every one has either keyed a comeback, sustained a run, or flat-out saved or won a game. In two of the HEAT's nine playoff games, Bosh has drilled four three-pointers – tying a career-high each time. In both those games, every one of those shots ended up making every bit of the difference. In the second game of the HEAT's first-round series against Charlotte, Bosh scored a postseason-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting to help the HEAT notch a 101-97 win. Bosh was a near-flawless 4-of-5 from behind the three-point arc, and scored four consecutive points (on non-three-pointers) in a key stretch of the fourth quarter of the tight game. In the fifth and final game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Brooklyn, Bosh netted 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-6 from long-distance. Bosh scored six of those 16 points during a game- and series-ending 21-14 run that secured a thrilling 96-94 comeback win for the HEAT, and each of his two three-pointers was vital to the victory. Bosh drilled his first fourth-quarter three-pointer to pull the HEAT within 82-78 with 7:26 remaining in the game, and his second long-range hit quelled a 7-2 Nets run and brought the HEAT within 89-83 with 5:13 left to play. That corner three-pointer sent the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd in a fevered frenzy, and sparked a game-closing 16-5 run that allowed the HEAT to improve to a perfect 5-0 on their home floor this postseason. Bosh also snared two defensive rebounds during that sensational stretch run, including a crucial board off a Shaun Livingston miss with 22 seconds left to play and the HEAT protecting a 93-91 lead. Bosh has customarily done a little bit of everything to help the HEAT consistently win big games, elevating his game to an even more efficient level in the postseason. A primary reason for the HEAT's sparkling 8-1 postseason record, Bosh not only leads the HEAT in three-point field goals and shooting percentage, but is averaging 14.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.0 assists and 0.8 steals in 34.3 minutes per game. Bosh leads all HEAT players in blocks – and has blocked two or more shots in four of the nine games – and ranks second in rebounding, second in minutes, third in scoring and fourth in steals. He's also shot 51.0 percent overall from the field, which ranks third on the club, and 74.0 percent from the free-throw line. Bosh was particularly exceptional in the series against the veteran-laden Nets, averaging 14.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 0.8 steals. He blocked 10 shots and drilled eight three-pointers in that five-game series, showcasing an electric and rare blend of ability both near the rim and on the far edges of the perimeter. In the series-opening 107-86 win, Bosh helped set a dominant tone by scoring 15 points, grabbing a playoff-high 11 rebounds and dishing three assists. But it's Bosh's success from long-range that has generated the most conversation around league circles. After all, this is the same player who averaged at least 22 points and 10 rebounds three times during a four-season stretch while serving as the perennial Eastern Conference All-Star center and franchise face of the Toronto Raptors. And the same player who made a combined 50 three-pointers during his full seven-season stint in Toronto. While anyone on the outside might be anything from perplexed to dumbfounded to witness the 30-year-old Bosh's postseason success as a long-range sniper, HEAT fans, coaches and teammates aren't the least bit surprised at his continued evolution. In his 11th NBA season – and fourth with the HEAT – Bosh set regular-season career bests in both three-point field goal attempts (218) and makes (74), and his 33.9-percent mark from behind the arc was better than his career average of 31.0 percent. Only Allen, James and Mario Chalmers attempted and made more three-pointers for the HEAT, with Bosh even ranking ahead of veteran marksman Shane Battier (73-for-210) in both categories. Bosh also averaged 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals in 32.0 minutes per game. He ranked second in rebounding, second in blocks, third in scoring and third in minutes on the HEAT. As durable and reliable as ever, Bosh played in 79 games, missing only three contests all season. Only Norris Cole (82 games) played in more games for the HEAT than Bosh, who also shot 51.6 percent overall from the field – fifth-best on the club – and an exceptional 82.0 percent from the free-throw line, which ranked second to only Allen on the HEAT. Bosh's evolution from post power player to post-perimeter dual-threat didn't just happen overnight, of course. Bosh has put in a serious amount of work in practices and games to hone his burgeoning long-range shooting touch, and that effort and enthusiasm continues to pay dividends – for both him and the HEAT. After making those 50 three-pointers – in 168 attempts – over seven seasons with the Raptors, Bosh has drilled 111 long-range shots in 352 attempts during four seasons in a HEAT uniform. That's an increase in three-point shooting percentage from 29.8 percent to 31.5 percent since Bosh joined the HEAT, and he has attempted more than twice as many shots from behind the arc since his free-agent arrival – in three less seasons. Still, this season has seen a dramatic increase in Bosh's long-distance attempts. The previous season, Bosh set then-career highs with 74 attempts and 21 makes. A year later, and his number of makes matches his previous high for overall attempts. Bosh iced a few HEAT wins in December, 2013 with clutch fourth-quarter shooting from long-range, and was particularly effective from distance during the 2014 months of January (15 makes at a 38.5-percent clip) and February (13 hits at a 36.4-percent clip) – the latter of which saw the HEAT post a near-perfect 10-1 record. That success certainly has carried over to the postseason, which has seen Bosh nail three-pointers with previously unprecedented success. He was extremely effective in the first-round series sweep of Charlotte, canning 9-of-13 for a spectacular 69.2-percent success rate. While he attempted the long-ball with less frequency or fanfare, Bosh was also quite dangerous from behind the three-point arc during the past two postseasons – each of which culminated in an NBA Championship for the HEAT. Bosh drilled 7-of-13 three-point attempts for a blistering 53.8-percent success rate as he helped lead the HEAT to the franchise's second title – and his first as a professional – during the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Then, last postseason, he nailed 15-of-37 (40.5 percent) shots from long-range as the HEAT captured their second consecutive championship. In 67 playoff games in a HEAT uniform, Bosh has now shot 39-for-89 from behind the three-point arc. That equates to an exceptional 43.8-percent success rate, and is above his impressive 40.6-percent career playoff mark. Of course, at a rangy 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Bosh has a marked advantage over any would-be defender when he rises up for a long-range shot attempt. Factor in the attacking, driving, slashing styles and abilities of James, Wade, Chalmers and Norris Cole, and Bosh certainly gets his share of open looks during the course of a game. But Bosh still has to knock down those looks. When he does, it changes the entire complexion of the game, pressuring opposing big men to drift further away from the basket and out towards the perimeter – thus opening driving lanes for other HEAT players, not to mention potentially leaving other long-range snipers like Allen and Battier open at other spots on the floor. Many times, Bosh will drill one of his long-range daggers after the HEAT have swung the ball around the perimeter in a virtuoso display of quick-strike passing. Simply put, Bosh was already a major factor in the HEAT's masterfully and creatively designed "positionless" offense. As he's continued to develop his sweet stroke from behind the three-point arc – and developed the much-needed confidence to accompany it – the savvy, super-skilled veteran has emerged as an even more influential and multi-dimensional element within Erik Spoelstra's playing rotation. When it's all said and done this postseason, the HEAT and their fans are hoping it all adds up to another big-time three: A third consecutive NBA Championship.
  5. By Dylan Barmmer Every now and then, an athlete comes along who not only amazes with his play, but inspires with his ability to sustain that exceptional level of play for several seasons. Ray Allen is one such player. In fact, he might even set the template. Or take it to a whole new level. Now in the homestretch of his 18th overall NBA season, and his second with the HEAT, the 38-year-old Allen ranks fifth on the club in scoring, averaging 9.0 points per game in his well-defined, well-executed and much-needed role as the team's primary bench scorer and shooter. Like a basketball version of a baseball "closer," Allen continues to come up big in big-time, late-game situations. And like a true veteran and "utility player," he's also served as the HEAT's starting shooting guard several times this season. In other words, Allen may rank as the oldest and most experienced player on the HEAT roster. But he remains one of the most vital and invaluable cogs in the well-oiled and efficient HEAT machine – a machine that has churned out a 109-30 regular-season record since Allen joined the fold prior to the 2012-13 season. Long-time HEAT fans and NBA observers are not surprised by this, although they may still stand in awe of Allen, if for no other reason than his endurance. Over the course of his transcendent career, Allen has won games, set records and capitalized the "shooting" in shooting guard – not only in the sheer number of long-range and big-time shots made, but in the pure beauty and flawless form of his high-arching and often back-breaking jumper. Naturally, Allen is near the top of the HEAT charts in three-pointers made and attempted this season. Only reigning NBA MVP LeBron James has attempted and made more than Allen's 74 hits in 207 attempts from long-range, and he's not too far ahead at 83 and 216, respectively. Allen also ranks sixth on the club in rebounds, fifth in assists and sixth in steals, averaging 3.0 boards, 2.1 assists and 0.8 steals. His 90.4-percent shooting from the free throw line leads the HEAT, and is on par with his truly remarkable 89.4-percent career mark from the line. Perhaps most impressively, Allen remains a model of durability and consistency after 18 seasons of high-energy and big-minute NBA action, playing in 53 of the HEAT's 57 games and averaging 26.4 minutes per game off the bench. That 26.4-minute-per-game average leads all HEAT reserves, and ranks fifth overall on the club. Allen has also started nine games for the HEAT this season, averaging 12.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 0.7 steals over 32.3 minutes in those nine starts. Allen has shot an even 50 percent overall from the field, 36.8 percent from behind the three-point arc and 87.0 percent from the free-throw line in those games, providing a rock-solid fill-in for fellow veteran Dwyane Wade. And not content to be viewed solely as a long-distance or free-throw shooting specialist, Allen has also flashed his brilliant all-around skill set and sky-high basketball IQ by beating opposing defenders off the dribble and finishing with everything from twisting reverse layups to hanging short jumpers to the occasional slam dunk. Put simply, the man who once starred in Spike Lee's "He Got Game" still has game. Lots of game. Long renowned for his tireless work ethic, supreme conditioning, dead-eye shooting and overall intelligence, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Allen continues to produce in the twilight hours of his remarkable career. Whenever that career will come to an end remains a mystery, but what is absolutely certain is that it will culminate with Allen's enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame – and put him in possession of a made three-point field goal record that will possibly never be broken. Allen has hit at least 74 3-pointers in each of his 18 seasons, drilling 100 or more in 15 of those seasons and at least 200 in five separate seasons. It all adds up to a mind-boggling total of 2,931 career hits from long-range. If that sounds like a lot, it's because it certainly is. Historically so. In fact, that closing-in-on-3,000 total puts Allen nearly 1,000 makes ahead of the NBA's next most prolific long-range shooter, Sacramento Kings guard Jason Terry – whose 1,950 career three-pointers rank fourth all-time in league history. In fact, the only player to ever even come close to Allen's totals is current TNT broadcaster and former Indiana Pacers sharpshooter Reggie Miller, who canned 2,560 long-range shots over his own 18-year Hall of Fame career. Miller used to hold the all-time NBA record for made three-pointers. Allen passed him up in February 2011 – and has drilled nearly 400 more long-range shots in the three calendar years since. It appears to be only a matter of time before Allen becomes the NBA's first-ever Mr. 3,000. And as Allen continues to show, time doesn't seem to affect him like it does other players. The prolific three-pointer records don't end there, however. Allen has also drained eight or more three-pointers in a single game an NBA-record nine times. This season, he's hit at least three three-pointers in 10 different games, including four in three of those games. Allen's career success rate from long-range, an even 40 percent, is also exceptional. He's shot 40 percent or better from behind the three-point arc in 8 different seasons, including a team-leading 41.9 percent in the HEAT's franchise-record-setting and NBA Championship-winning drive last season. And better yet, his prolific presence seemed to be contagious. With Allen in the HEAT fold for the first time in 2012-13, the club set a new franchise record with 717 made three-pointers. Allen, naturally, led the way with 139 of them. Bolstered by Allen's sweet stroke from behind the three-point arc, the HEAT also led the Eastern Conference – and finished second to only Golden State in the entire NBA – with a blistering 39.6-percent success rate from long-range, and routinely put games out of reach with the long-ball en route to a franchise-record and NBA-best 66 wins. The three-pointer continued to be a vital component of the HEAT's arsenal in the postseason, keying a drive to the franchise's second consecutive and third overall NBA Championship. Of course, none of those playoff three-pointers was bigger than Allen's game-tying, season-saving, step-back shot to force overtime in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. It's amazing enough to play 18 seasons at the game's highest level. It's even more amazing to average 10 points or more in each of those seasons – something Allen will have accomplished if he can up his current average of 9.0 points by one point over the season's final 25 games. He's scored 10 or more points in 23 games this season, including at least 15 points seven times. Allen's most prolific scoring game this season came in a December 23, 2013 overtime win over division rival Atlanta, with each one of his 19 points proving crucial in a 121-119 victory. Allen started in place of Wade in that game, and went on to hit 7-of-10 shots from the field and 4-of-5 free throws, also pulling down six rebounds in 34 minutes of action. Allen was exceptional throughout the month of December, averaging 10.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals and 25.6 minutes in 14 games. Allen connected on 51 percent of his field goal attempts in those 14 games, and drained 92.3 percent of his free throws. Allen has also flashed his patented late-game "closing" skills once again this season. In the aforementioned Dec. 23 overtime win over the visiting Atlanta Hawks, Allen was fouled on a three-point shot attempt with the HEAT trailing 111-108 with 8 seconds remaining in regulation. Allen calmly swished all three free throws, and the game went to overtime. The HEAT went on to earn a 121-119 win, with fellow bench spark plug Chris Andersen scoring three of their final five points. In a Dec. 30, 2013 road game in Denver, Allen scored six of his 13 points over the final 5:08 of the game, helping the HEAT earn a hard-fought 97-94 win on James' 29th birthday – and without the services of Andersen, who was held out with a sore back. In a Feb. 5 road game in Los Angeles, Allen silenced the Staples Center crowd and helped the HEAT top the surging Clippers by scoring 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. Allen was also the lone HEAT player to go all 12 minutes of that decisive final quarter, and a primary reason the HEAT escaped with a 116-112 win. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who coached Allen for five seasons when both men were with the Boston Celtics, said after the game that Allen can "run forever." Of course, Allen has also worked his long-range and late-game magic in several crucial, compelling postseason performances. Twice in his storied career, he's nailed a NBA Playoffs-record nine three-pointers in a single game – dropping 41 points to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a 110-100 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on June 1, 2001 and scoring a playoff career-high 51 points as his Boston Celtics dropped a 128-127 thriller to the Chicago Bulls on April 30, 2009. Allen also stands as the only man to drain eight three-pointers in a single NBA Finals game, and his 32 points in Game 2 of the 2010 NBA Finals helped the Celtics beat the host Lakers 103-94 to knot the series at 1-1. The Lakers would go on to win that thrilling series 4-3, avenging a loss to Allen and the Celtics a few seasons earlier. But what HEAT fans – and Allen himself – will remember and cherish most was Allen's game- and season-saving three-pointer in the waning moments of regulation during Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. With the HEAT trailing the San Antonio Spurs 95-92 and just seconds away from their season coming to an end in front of their loyal fans, Allen took a perfect pass from Chris Bosh, floated back to a spot just behind the three-point arc in the right corner, and rose up to nail a season-saving, game-tying and momentum-shifting shot that he would later call "the shot that I'm going to remember for a long time." The shot knotted the game at 95-95 with 5.2 seconds left on the clock, and sent the white-clad AmericanAirlines Arena crowd into delirium. It also seemed to stun the Spurs, who would go on to lose the game 103-100 in overtime. The HEAT would go on to win Game 7 and claim back-to-back World Champion status, clawing back from a 3-2 NBA Finals hole to emerge on top of the basketball world. But that shot, in the closing moments of Game 6, stands as the defining moment of a brilliant NBA Finals series. Not only was it massive in magnitude, but Allen's deft footwork and uncanny sense of time and space amidst the chaos of those closing seconds ensured that it will always be remembered and related in league lore. "You can't put it into words," said Bosh afterwards. "He's the best three-point shooter of all time. And the fact that he was open is just unbelievable. He kept our season alive." Allen would finish his most recent postseason run with his second NBA Championship ring and sole possession of the all-time NBA Playoffs three-pointer mark. He passed Reggie Miller up for that distinction in the HEAT's first-round win over his old Bucks team, and will enter the 2014 NBA Playoffs with 352 career postseason three-pointers – none bigger than that last one. Until the next one, that is. Because when it comes to Allen, there's always more in store. There's always another game to be played. There's always another big shot waiting in the wings. Or atop the arc. Allen turns 39 on July 20, and he would love nothing more than to celebrate his second NBA Championship in a HEAT uniform shortly before that birthday. Whether he reaches that goal or not remains to be seen. But one thing is beyond a shadow of a doubt: He'll give it his very best shot.
  6. By Dylan Barmmer Chris Bosh has been and done and seen and played a lot during his 11-year NBA career. There's the 8 All-Star Game appearances. The 5 consecutive seasons averaging at least 22.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. The 3 seasons averaging "20 and 10" a game. And the 3 NBA Finals appearances in his first 3 seasons with the HEAT – with each of the last 2 culminating in NBA Championships. The HEAT's decorated 29-year-old center also stands 6-foot-11, with a long wingspan and an often passionate, demonstrative approach to the game of basketball, which he clearly loves. He's averaged over 30 minutes per game in each of his 11 NBA seasons, has been a starter in all but 12 games during his rookie season, and rarely misses a game – despite banging with big, bruising bodies in the low post for many of those 30-plus minutes. Yet on a team loaded with stars and decorated veterans, and headlined by reigning NBA MVP LeBron James, Bosh can at times be overlooked. Even in the biggest moments of the biggest games on the biggest stages. While Ray Allen's game-saving, step-back 3-pointer late in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals rightfully received the lion's share of attention while recapping that historic game in that historic series, if not for Bosh's heady offensive rebound and instant, accurate pass to Allen, the shot never even goes off, yet alone goes down. Bosh secured that board, then whipped the ball perfectly out to Allen, whose now-legendary shot knotted the score at 95-95 with just 5.2 seconds left on the regulation game clock. The HEAT went on to claim a 103-100 win in Game 6 and force a Game 7, which they won 95-88 to capture their second consecutive NBA Championship. Bosh finished that thrilling Game 6 with 10 points, a HEAT-high 11 rebounds, 2 assists and a game-high 2 blocks – a strong stat line that was lost in the brilliant flash of Allen's game- and season-saving long ball and James' 32-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound NBA Finals triple-double. In the 2013 NBA Finals as a whole, Bosh averaged 11.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.6 blocks. He scored 12 or more points in 5 of the 7 games, and pulled down 10 or more rebounds against the towering Spurs in 4 games. Not coincidentally, the HEAT won 3 of those 4 games, including that now-legendary Game 6 that kept their now-legendary season alive. Bosh didn't get a whole lot of outside acclaim for his role in the thrilling Finals win, but with the do-everything-and-do-it-all-at-another-level James on the floor, it's awfully easy to overlook anybody and everybody else in a HEAT uniform. The ability of other established stars like Bosh, Allen and Dwyane Wade to sacrifice egos, shot attempts, highlights and headlines for the greater glory of the team has been instrumental in a remarkable run of success that has seen the HEAT capture back-to-back NBA Championships and begin the 2013-14 season with a 27-11 record. Bosh has gladly sacrificed some superstar status since he joined the HEAT fold, and has equally demonstrated an ability to come up bigger than his 6-foot-11 frame when his number is called. On the rare occasion when James does miss a game, HEAT fans, players, coaches and anyone else watching are often vividly reminded of just how talented, versatile and brilliant a basketball player Bosh is. Take, for example, a riveting 108-107 HEAT victory over the red-hot Trail Blazers in Portland in the final days of the 2013 portion of this season's schedule. Maybe no game in his HEAT tenure truly encapsulated Bosh's extensive skill set, unique versatility and undeniable value quite like that roaring comeback win on Dec. 28, 2013. With James out with a strained right groin and reserve sparkplug Chris Andersen sidelined with a sore back – and Wade and Allen both playing after sitting out the previous game – Bosh absolutely took over, scoring a season- and game-high 37 points, grabbing a HEAT-high 10 rebounds and drilling 15-of-26 field goals – including a game-winning 3-pointer with just 0.5 seconds remaining on the game clock, and the HEAT down 107-105 at the time. Bosh was 3-for-3 from long-range in the game, with all of his 3-point hits coming in the fourth quarter. Bosh's first long-range dagger knotted the game at 96-96, the second put the HEAT up 101-98 with 2:03 left to play, and the last and biggest one gave the HEAT their 23rd win in their first 30 games – while handing the Trail Blazers just their sixth loss in 30 games, and only their third in 15 games on their homecourt. Bosh also did an admirable job defending talented Trail Blazers center LaMarcus Aldridge, limiting the versatile big man to 22 points (on 9-of-20 shooting) and 7 rebounds. Afterward, HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra had high praise for Bosh, who seems to be getting better and better as the 2013-14 season progresses. "He was terrific tonight, a true two-way player," said Spoelstra. "He took the challenge for the majority of his minutes on one of the premier players in this league, and then had to shoulder a big-time offensive load. That takes incredible stamina but also the skill set that he put on display tonight on both ends of the court." Bosh has been displaying more and more of that stamina and skill as his fourth season in a HEAT uniform unfolds, with his performances in December games particularly impressive. The HEAT went 11-4 in a tough December slate that included 8 games on the road and 5 games without the services of Wade, and Bosh scored 20 or more points in 6 of those 11 HEAT victories. Bosh also hauled down at least 8 rebounds in 8 of those 11 wins, and logged 5 overall games in December with at least 2 blocks. Bosh's overall December numbers were stellar: 18.0 points per game, 7.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 1.1 assists, 1.1 steals and a 54.4-percent shooting mark from the field. Perhaps most importantly for the HEAT, he played in all 15 December games, averaging 31.3 minutes per game. Of course, Bosh's ultimate value to the HEAT goes well beyond mere statistics, as HEAT fans, coaches and teammates know by now. The long, lanky, smart, savvy veteran is capable of playing either the center or power forward position, and his left-handed shooting stroke is at times so effective, efficient, lethal and beautiful, he resembles something more like a shooting guard in Spoelstra's exciting, innovative and "positionless" offense. Bosh has always been an incredibly effective shooter, as his career 49.7-percent mark from the field attests. But during his time in a HEAT uniform, Bosh has been remarkably efficient, especially over the past few seasons. He shot a career-high 53.5 percent from the field over 74 regular-season games in 2012-13, and through 37 games played this season, he's connecting at a 52.2-percent clip. Bosh just keeps getting better as a shooter as his NBA career evolves, and last season, he easily eclipsed his previous career-highs for 3-pointers attempted (74) and made (21) in a single season. He's already set a new personal best for made 3-pointers with 23 long-distance hits this season, and is well on pace to eclipse his own record for 3-point attempts, with 66 so far. Bosh's 23-for-66 shooting from behind the 3-point arc equates to a 34.8-percent clip. That's impressive for an NBA guard, and something closer to incredible for a big man. The win at Portland – which Wade termed "a signature win" afterward – wasn't the first time Bosh's budding long-range acumen resulted in a thrilling late-game victory for the HEAT this season. In fact, it was the second time in December that Bosh bailed out the HEAT with his 3-point sharpshooting. During a 99-98 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Dec. 1, Bosh drilled 3 straight 3-pointers during a blistering 79-second stretch of the fourth quarter, sparking a 38-point fourth quarter that erased a Bobcats lead that had stood for over 23 minutes. All told, Bosh scored 13 consecutive points for the HEAT, and finished with 22 points and 9 rebounds. His 22 points came on an incredibly efficient 8-of-13 shooting from the field, including 3-of-4 from long-distance. Overall this season, Bosh has averaged 15.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 0.8 steals and 1.1 assists over 30.8 minutes per game to help key the HEAT to a 27-11 start. He is tied with James for the HEAT lead in rebounding per games, is just a shade behind Andersen for the lead in blocks per game, and is third in both points and minutes per game behind James and Wade. His 52.2-percent shooting mark from the field is fifth-best on the sweet-shooting HEAT, and he ranks seventh on the club with 23 3-point field goals made. Whether he's pulling down a key rebound, throwing down a monster dunk, swishing a clutch fourth-quarter three-pointer, or stifling the other team's big man on the defensive end, Chris Bosh can be counted on to do and be a little bit of everything for the HEAT. That's the kind of value you can't ever really quantify. And in Bosh, that's what the HEAT have.
  7. By Dylan Barmmer He brings an instant infusion of speed, toughness and aggression every time he hits the floor. His football background translates into a physical, intriguing and exciting style of play. His youth and enthusiasm seem to often inspire his veteran HEAT teammates. And 24-year-old reserve point guard Norris Cole not only understands his role in his second year in the HEAT system -- he relishes it. "I bring a lot of energy," said Cole when asked to define his role. "I’m the young guy out there. I’m the speed demon out there so I bring a lot of energy." The energy, speed and youth the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Cole injects into the game when he takes the floor can't be quantified statistically, but many of his other contributions can. After playing in 17 of the HEAT's first 19 games, Cole currently ranks fourth on the HEAT with 2.3 assists per game and fifth on the club with 0.7 steals per game. Cole also ranks eighth on the HEAT in scoring, with 5.1 points per game, and seventh in 3-point field goals made, with 6. But maybe most importantly for the second-year (and HEAT's second-youngest) player, Cole ranks seventh on the HEAT with 19.9 minutes per game over the 17 games he's appeared in this season. That's already half a minute more than the 19.4 minutes he averaged over 65 games as a rookie last season. HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra seems to be entrusting Cole with more and more playing time and responsibilities in his second season. Cole has logged 20 minutes or more eight times this season, and 23 minutes or more in three of his past four games. It's easy to see why. Cole has been especially efficient and productive over his past five games, a stretch that has also seen the HEAT go 4-1. He's averaged 7.2 points, 2.0 assists, 1.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals over 22.4 minutes, hitting 16 of 33 shots (48.5%), including 3 of 6 3-pointers. Cole has scored 8 or more points in three of those five games, including a season-high 12 in a 102-89 win over Brooklyn on Dec. 1 and 10 in a 101-92 win over Atlanta on Dec. 10. Cole also grabbed 2 rebounds and a season-high 3 steals in the win over Brooklyn, and he drilled all four of his field goal attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers, in the Atlanta game. His second 3-pointer came with 4:44 left to play and gave the HEAT their largest lead of the game at 95-82. There's also the less-easily quantifiable or measurable contributions brought by the smart, tenacious, physical Cole, who was ready to head to Walsh University on a football scholarship before Gary Waters and Cleveland State persuaded him to dedicate his talents and passion to the hardwood. His cousin, Trent Cole, is a decorated NFL veteran defensive end, and Cole himself flexed his muscle on the gridiron as the star quarterback at Dayton, Ohio's Dunbar High when he wasn't starring on the court or in the classroom (Cole was a member of the National Honor Society and served as his class' salutatorian). Cole became known for his tireless work ethic and willingness to sacrifice statistics for team success at Cleveland State, moving from shooting guard to point guard during his final two college seasons. That same drive and intelligence impressed Spoelstra and the HEAT staff during his first (albeit abbreviated) training camp and preseason, which saw Cole average 9.5 points and 4.5 assists and earn a serious, valuable role with a HEAT team that would go on to win the NBA title. Cole said he put in a lot of time and hard work during his first full NBA offseason this past summer, and his familiarity with the HEAT system, coaches and teammates increased exponentially as a result. "A lot of things are different," said Cole. "I’ve had a full training camp, which is more repetition with the coaching staff, more practices. So I’m a little more comfortable out there on the court. My first 11 games last year were actually pretty good for being a rookie. But, I think I’m more comfortable out there. I’m more poised as a point guard." When asked to pinpoint just what area of his game has improved the most, Cole's answer was as quick as his first step. "My decision making as a playmaker," said Cole. "I know what I’m looking for out there now. There’s no guessing. I know what the other team is doing. I know what we’re supposed to be doing. I think that’s the biggest key, being comfortable with that." Cole may not have always known what he was doing or looking for during his rookie season, but as he said, he certainly made a quick impression after joining the HEAT as a late first-round pick from Cleveland State, where he became the first man in Horizon League history to earn both Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors -- and was a finalist for the Wooden Award. In just his second NBA game, Cole exploded for 20 points in 29 minutes against the gritty, veteran Boston Celtics (including 14 in pivotal fourth quarter), helping key a 115-107 win in the HEAT's home opener. That total remains a career high (he matched it in a 105-90 win at Indiana on Feb. 14, 2012), but Cole did manage to score 10 points or more in 20 more games, and finished his rookie season averaging 6.8 points per game. Cole also dished 4 assists or more 14 times, including a career-high 9 (to go along with 16 points) in a 129-90 win over Charlotte in just his fifth NBA game. Cole finished the season averaging an even 2.0 assists per game. Like any rookie, Cole's scoring, along with his overall play, tended to fluctuate from game to game, opponent to opponent. That hasn't been as much of an issue this season, which has seen veteran Ray Allen take over much of the second-unit scoring load, but Cole still sees room for improvement. "Being consistent," said Cole when asked where he needs to improve his game the most. "Not just playing one or two or three good games. Putting consecutive games together where you’re playing solid. Where you’re playing productive." Cole has certainly been playing solid and productive lately. And HEAT fans hope to see more of the same from this exciting, aggressive, athletic and energetic young player.
  8. By Dylan Barmmer It's not often that a 6-foot-11 man overflowing with talent and passion gets overlooked. Yet somehow, this seems to happen from time to time with Chris Bosh. Maybe it's because he plays alongside reigning NBA MVP and NBA Finals MVP LeBron James and high-flying franchise face Dwyane Wade. Perhaps it's because the league's all-time 3-point marksman, Ray Allen, has been making headlines and clutch shots since he joined the HEAT after five seasons with the rival Boston Celtics this offseason. Or maybe it's because Bosh is as humble, unassuming and down-to-earth as a towering, uber-athletic seven-time All-Star and former No. 4 overall draft pick is capable of being. It's probably a bit of all these things. And it's almost certainly no big deal to Bosh, who prefers to let his play do the talking. And through the first four games of the 2012-13 season, the 28-year-old Bosh has been playing at such a high volume, nobody can ignore the sweet sounds. Thriving in his new role as the starting center on a title-defending team, the one-time HEAT power forward is leading the club in field-goal percentage (58.3%) and blocks (1.5 blocks per game), and is second to only James in scoring (22.3 points per game), rebounding (8.0 rebounds per game) and field-goal attempts (60). Bosh is also second to only Wade in free-throw attempts with 20, and ranks third in free-throw percentage (hitting 18 of his 20 attempts from the line for an even 90%) as the HEAT have raced out to a 3-1 start. Bosh opened the season with back-to-back double-doubles in his new role, scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a 120-107 win over Boston in the season opener and chipping in 12 points and 11 rebounds in a 104-84 loss at New York three nights later. Then, the following night, Bosh turned in an absolutely electric performance in a thrilling 119-116 win over Denver with a game-high 40 points and 7 rebounds. The 40 points marked a HEAT high for Bosh, who hit 15 of 22 field goals in his breakout game, including 1 of 3 3-pointers, and was 9 of 10 from the free-throw line. He also had 2 assists and a steal in the win, which saw him score 20 points in each half and reach the 30-point mark with 7:28 remaining in the third quarter. HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra said later that he called only "two or three plays" for Bosh in that game, if that many. Bosh himself talked about being in the flow during the game...and boy, was he ever. Two nights later, Bosh scored a HEAT-high 18 points in the first half of a rousing 124-99 win over Phoenix, closing with 18 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks in just 25 minutes on the floor. Bosh drained 7 of 10 field goals and was a perfect 4 for 4 from the free-throw line. He also picked up the 700th block of his highlight-laden career. The 38 combined points marked the most Bosh had scored in the first half of back-to-back games since he racked up 38 from January 19-20, 2010. While the abundance of offensive options up and down the HEAT roster means that Bosh doesn't always explode for big scoring games, good things seem to happen with the HEAT whenever Bosh does go on a scoring spree. Bosh scored 20 or more points 22 times during the truncated 2011-2012 season, in which he made 57 starts, and the HEAT went 19-3 in those games. When Bosh scored 30 or more points, the HEAT were a flawless 5-0. As HEAT fans know, Bosh was highly instrumental in the club's Championship run last season, averaging 18.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.8 blocks in the regular season and 14.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.0 block and 0.6 assists in 14 postseason games (he suffered an abdominal strain in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals series against Indiana that caused him to miss 9 playoff games). Bosh fought back from the injury and returned just in time to help the HEAT vanquish the rival Boston Celtics in a grueling 7-game Eastern Conference Finals series, capped by a strong 19-point, 8-rebound performance in the HEAT's 101-88 Game 7 victory. Displaying toughness and talent alike, Bosh shone even brighter in the HEAT's 4-1 NBA Finals win over Oklahoma City, averaging 14.6 points and 9.4 rebounds and grabbing 9 or more rebounds in 3 of the 5 games. Bosh was huge in the closeout game, scoring 24 points, grabbing 7 rebounds and blocking 2 shots as the HEAT clinched their second NBA title with a 121-106 win at AmericanAirlines Arena. But perhaps the most telling stat was the HEAT's 5-4 record when Bosh was not in uniform last postseason. Without the versatile big man in the mix, the Pacers and Celtics were able to assign extra attention and defenders to James and Wade, and the HEAT had to work much harder on the boards, both offensively and defensively. All these numbers tell the tale of a player who is incredibly valuable to the HEAT, whether he's jumping center or manning the power forward position. But while the talented Texan's many contributions for the HEAT often jump out of box scores the way he sometimes explodes for a thunderous, screaming dunk in a manner that recalls the days of Alonzo Mourning, numbers don't often tell the full story about this unique player. Bosh's energy and enthusiasm seem to set the tone for the HEAT at times, and when he's really in the flow of the offense, the team becomes nearly unstoppable. Few players who stand almost seven feet tall can even begin to display the array of skills that Bosh embodies, and watching the 6-foot-11, 235 pound Bosh splash silky smooth jumpers, deliver pinpoint bounce passes into the paint and soar for emphatic two-hand slams is truly a joy for basketball fans -- especially HEAT fans. In addition to his lifetime 49.3% shooting from the floor, Bosh is a superior free-throw shooter, carrying an even 80.0% career average from the charity stripe. And over the past few seasons, Bosh has added the 3-point shot to his arsenal, draining 10 of 35 long-range daggers (28.6%) last regular season and a sizzling 7 of 13 (53.8%) in the HEAT's championship playoff run. So far this season, he's canned 1 of 6 from long-range, and with so many lethal long-range shooters now in the HEAT rotation, it's not a shot that Bosh will likely launch too often. It's clear that Bosh is a unique, efficient and energetic asset to the HEAT, and his continued evolution can only mean more good things to come for the club -- and all the HEAT fans.