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Found 8 results

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. By Dylan Barmmer One is in his sixth NBA season, including his fourth as the full-time starting point guard for the HEAT. The other just kicked off his third professional season, and has served as the second-team point guard for back-to-back NBA Championship HEAT teams. The former is an expert at the art of the steal, a consistently lethal long-range shooter and a player long renowned for his performance in the clutch. The latter is a tenacious man-to-man defender, an up-tempo and aggressive all-around player and an increasingly accomplished shooter in his own right. Taken apart, both Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole possess plenty of talents that give opponents fits. And when combined, the HEAT's point guard duo packs a 1-2 punch that often proves to be downright devastating. The tandem was absolutely vital to the sensational success of last season's record-setting HEAT team. Each man played a pivotal role as the HEAT posted an NBA-best and franchise-record 66-16 regular-season record that included a remarkable 27-game winning streak, then capped a pulse-quickening playoff run with a victory over the veteran-laden San Antonio Spurs in an unforgettable 2013 NBA Finals that went a full 7 games. A few weeks into the third season of the Chalmers-Cole pairing, things are looking even better for the HEAT's point guard pair. Each player appears sleeker and quicker than a year ago, and both men are performing and producing at a high level. Through the first 8 games of the 2013-14 season, Chalmers and Cole rank sixth and seventh, respectively, among HEAT players in scoring, with each man averaging above his career scoring average. Both players are also averaging just a fraction under 3 rebounds and at least 3 assists per game, with Chalmers' 5.3-assist-per-game average ranking behind only reigning NBA MVP LeBron James on the HEAT. Both Chalmers and Cole were also shooting at a 42-percent or better clip from behind the 3-point arc, with Chalmers drilling a team-high 15 of his first 26 attempts for a blistering 57.7-percent average – fourth best in the entire NBA. Chalmers also leads the HEAT in steals – and ranks sixth in the entire NBA – averaging a robust 2.25 steals per game. Chalmers' sweet shooting from long-distance is nothing new, of course. The confident 27-year-old veteran has drilled 100 or more 3-point field goals in all three of his seasons as the HEAT's starting point guard, including each of the past two seasons. Last season, Chalmers buried a career-high 123 3-pointers, connecting at a 40.9-percent clip that was also a career best – and ranked fourth on the sharp-shooting HEAT, who set a franchise record with 717 hits from long-range. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Chalmers also averaged 8.6 points, 3.5 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals – all in just 26.9 minutes per game. The steals and assists averages ranked third and the scoring average was good for fifth-best on the HEAT. Chalmers continued his strong all-around play in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, averaging 9.4 points, 3.1 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 0.9 steals while shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from behind the 3-point arc as the HEAT completed a challenging, thrilling and successful NBA Title defense during a thrilling 23-game run. Chalmers once again came up big when the HEAT needed him most, scoring 19 points in a 103-84 HEAT win over the Spurs in Game 2 of the 2013 NBA Finals and draining a 30-foot, buzzer-beating, bank 3-pointer that put the HEAT up 72-71 going into the fourth quarter of a tight Game 7. Chalmers would finish that game with 14 points, 2 assists and 2 steals, and the HEAT would post a thrilling 95-88 win that capped a comeback from a 3-2 series deficit and a second consecutive NBA Championship. He was also instrumental in a legendary 103-100 overtime win in Game 6, pouring in 20 points, grabbing 4 rebounds and dishing 2 assists while logging a playoff-career-high 43 minutes on the court. Chalmers knocked down 7-of-11 shots in that game, including a near-perfect 4-of-5 from long-range. With the HEAT facing do-or-die scenarios against a deep, experienced and hungry Spurs squad in the last 2 Finals games, Chalmers opted to "do"...and then did even more, racking up 34 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in back-to-back big-time performances. HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra trusted Chalmers with 83 out of a possible 101 minutes of court time over the final 2 games of the HEAT's storybook season, and he responded by outscoring his point guard counterpoint and perennial All-Star Tony Parker 34 to 29. Chalmers' aggressive defense helped hold the normally prolific Parker to those 29 points on just 9-of-35 shooting from the field (a mere 25.7 percent), and he drained an efficient 13-of-26 shots himself, including 5-of-12 from behind the 3-point arc. The HEAT have now won NBA Titles in two of the three seasons where Chalmers served as the starter at point guard. Along with teammate Shane Battier and a handful of other men in basketball history, the former Kansas star is also a proud member a super-select club of players who have won championships at both the NCAA and NBA levels. While Chalmers was providing his customary clutch shooting and often disruptive defensive play, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Cole continued to evolve into a versatile, all-around point guard that any NBA team would be proud to feature as its starter, yet alone backup. Cole, who turned 25 just before the start of his third NBA season, improved his production and performance in just about every category across the board, raising his averages in assists (2.1), rebounds (1.6), steals (0.7) and minutes per game (19.9), and improving his overall field goal shooting from 39.3 percent to 42.1 percent and his 3-point field goal shooting from 27.6 percent to 35.7 percent. Cole also averaged 5.6 points per game, good enough for seventh on the entire HEAT roster and second to Battier among reserves, and performed incredibly well down the season's stretch, averaging 10.3 points, 3.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 46.8 percent from the field – including a blistering 47.6 percent from long range – in nine games in April. The former Cleveland State star and Horizon League Player of the Year even started four games in his second NBA season, averaging 13.0 points, 5.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting 43.5 percent from the field. In a thrilling 96-95 HEAT win at Cleveland on April 15, Cole just missed a triple-double, scoring a season-high 16 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, dishing 9 assists and making a game-saving block-and-steal on Cavaliers star point guard Kyrie Irving in the closing seconds. In the playoffs, Cole took his game to a whole other level, especially on offense. Relegated to a minor role that saw him average 1.8 points, 0.6 assists, 0.5 rebounds and 0.4 steals in just 8.9 minutes a game during his first professional postseason, Cole boosted his averages to 6.1 points, 2.0 assists, 1.9 rebounds and 0.7 steals in just a shade under 20 minutes per game as the HEAT survived a grueling playoff gauntlet to secure a second consecutive Championship. He connected on 48 percent of his shot attempts during his second playoff run, including a sizzling 53.1 percent (17-of-32) from 3-point range. Cole appeared in all but 2 of the HEAT's 23 postseason games, and was especially impactful in the HEAT's Eastern Conference Semifinals series win over the gritty Chicago Bulls, scoring 7 or more points in 4 of the series' 5 games, including a playoff-career-high 18 points in back-to-back HEAT wins in Games 2 and 3. Cole hit an astounding 20-of-29 shots from the field in that series, including 9-of-11 from long-range, and averaged 11.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists. This season, as the HEAT work to join an uber-elite collection of teams who have won three consecutive NBA Championships, the team's point guard duo has been arguably even more dynamic. Chalmers opened the season in scorer mode, racking up 12 or more points in each of the HEAT's first 3 games, then moved into more of a distributor role, dishing out at least 7 assists in back-to-back HEAT wins. Through those first 5 games, Chalmers' lightning-quick hands were as active as ever, as he snared at least 2 steals in each game – including 5 in the season opener – and was averaging a team-high 3.3 steals, second in the entire NBA to Ricky Rubio's 4.0-steal average. Chalmers' 3-point shooting was equally impressive, as he drained 11-of-20 long-range shots, or an eye-popping 55 percent. Chalmers enjoyed his finest all-around game of the young season in the HEAT's eighth game, scoring 15 points, handing out 7 assists, grabbing 4 rebounds and snaring 2 steals in a 118-95 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 12. Chalmers was absolutely brilliant in the first quarter of that game, racking up 10 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals to lead the HEAT to a 32-23 edge after the opening quarter. Cole also opened this season with a strong scoring flourish, netting 9 or more points off the bench in 3 of the HEAT's first 4 games, and hitting a remarkable 16-of-26 shots – including 4-of-9 from behind the 3-point arc – during that 4-game flourish. Cole scored 11 points, pulled down 7 rebounds, dished 3 assists and snared 1 steal in 21 electric minutes of the HEAT's season-opening 107-95 win over the Chicago Bulls, continuing right where he left off against the Bulls last postseason. Cole followed that brilliant debut with a second consecutive game with at least 10 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists, and logged a 9-point, 2-assist, 2-steal outing in a 103-93 HEAT win at Washington two games later. Perhaps the finest example of Chalmers and Cole teaming up to frustrate an opponent on defense came in a 102-97 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 7. The dynamic duo combined to limit Clippers point guard Chris Paul to just 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting in that game – more than 10 points below Paul's per-game scoring average – and pressured the perennial All-Star into 5 turnovers. With Chalmers and Cole rotating running the point, the HEAT have opened the season averaging 106.8 points through their first 8 games, racking up at least 100 points in each of those games. That 106.8 points-per-game average ranks behind only the Clippers' 109.9 points-per-game pace in the 30-team NBA, and is tops in the Eastern Conference, where points always seem to come at more of a premium. The HEAT are also leading the entire NBA in field goal percentage (52.5 percent), 3-point field goal percentage (44.5 percent) and assists per game (28.1). No matter where the driven HEAT go this season, one thing is for sure: They can count on each of the men in charge of steering the offense to guide them to success. Especially when the road starts to get a bit bumpy.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. By Dylan Barmmer Imagine you are playing for your third NBA team in two seasons. Imagine you are in your 12th season overall, and 5 months away from your 34th birthday. Imagine you had hardly any time to familiarize yourself with your new coaches, teammates, city or surroundings before being thrust into a prominent, multi-dimensional role as the bench leader of a deep, talented team. Imagine much of this was happening while you battled lingering quadriceps and calf injuries. Imagine you are Shane Battier. The prize acquisition of the HEAT's offseason, the versatile, veteran Battier is averaging a respectable 4.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks in 22.5 minutes per game. He's played in all 52 of the HEAT's games, starting 7 of them. And he's compiled those numbers while battling the aforementioned litany of obstacles to smooth, sudden sailing in new waters. In the 12 games that fellow veteran swingman Mike Miller has missed due to an ankle sprain over the past three weeks, Battier has picked up his production, scoring 5 points or more in 6 of those 12 games, including 11 points twice. And he's pulled down 4 rebounds or more 6 times. He's also drained 11 of 40 3-point attempts during that stretch. Battier has also had a few monster games during this tough, truncated season. During a nailbiting 99-98 loss at Utah on March 2, he scored a season-high 18 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, handed out 3 assists and blocked a season-high 4 shots in 32 high-energy minutes. Battier drained 6 of 7 shots in that game, all from behind the 3-point arc. Battier was also brilliant in a 106-89 win at Washington on Feb. 10, scoring 15 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) and grabbing 5 rebounds in just 23 minutes. He also had a steal, block and assist in that game, showcasing his impressive all-around talent. For the season, Battier is shooting 38.3 percent from the floor, below his career average of 44.1 percent. But he's drained 34.9 percent of his shots from behind the 3-point arc, not far off his career average of 38.3 percent. And his 53 3-pointers made ranks second on the HEAT, behind only Mario Chalmers' 90. “I want to play well," said Battier in early February. "I grade myself harder than anybody else. At this point, I’m not worried about the numbers. Even if I go on a tear, I’m pretty far below my averages. I’m not going to be playing to those." But offense has always been a bit of a bonus for the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Battier, who carries a career average of 9.3 points per game over those 12 NBA seasons. Of course, the high-octane HEAT haven't needed Battier to score too much, allowing him to do the many other things he does so well -- many of which don't show up in box scores. In fact, of the 7 games Battier has scored 10 or more points in this season, only 4 have been HEAT wins. The quintessential "glue guy", the rugged, rangy and resilient veteran has always been more revered for his myriad defensive abilities. And it's on that side of the ball that Battier's skill set, savvy and energy really jump out at even the most casual observer. Battier willingly and creatively defends a number of players and positions, and does so with an energy and aggression that appears almost maniacal at times. When you consider that Battier is in his 12th NBA season and closing in on 34 years old, his defensive play is even more impressive. And while hustle plays, dives and jump balls don't show up in the box scores, things like blocks and steals do. Battier's 32 blocks are fifth-best on the team, just behind Chris Bosh's 36. And his 45 steals are fourth-best on the HEAT, one ahead of Bosh. Not bad for a reserve player who also happens to be the HEAT's second-oldest player. According to The Sporting News, Battier may also be the HEAT's smartest player. The esteemed publication recently tabbed him as the seventh-smartest athlete in all of professional sports. Graduating from Duke with honors while leading his team to two Final Fours and winning a National Title might have something to do with that. As might the effusive praise that seemingly every NBA analyst, especially former coaches like Hubie Brown and Jeff Van Gundy, regularly direct his way during telecasts. Van Gundy, who coached Battier in Houston and doesn't exactly hand out compliments like candy, has called Battier "the finest competitor I ever coached." "I have so much admiration for how Battier approaches his job, and his commitment to winning," Van Gundy said a few years back. "He comes ready to play every single day. He plays for the team, he plays for his teammates. If there is any NBA player that is egoless, it is Shane Battier. Battier is winning-driven." Add all of it up, and you're left with the portrait of a player whose value transcends mere numbers. And you see why Battier was the sixth player selected in the 2001 NBA Draft after a decorated career at Duke, where he won a National Championship and swept the major National Player of the Year awards as a senior. And why he was later selected as part of the U.S. National Team, helping them to a bronze medal in the 2006 FIBA World Championship. And you see why the HEAT coveted Battier long before signing him as a free agent this offseason. Because, as Van Gundy said, Shane Battier is "winning-driven." And the HEAT are winning with him.
  8. By Dylan Barmmer It looked bad. Possibly very, very bad. And later, after the dust had settled on the Denver Nuggets' 117-104 win over the HEAT, Dwyane Wade said his right ankle sprain suffered in the fourth quarter felt about as bad as it looked. "It never hurt that bad before," Wade told the media. "I've sprained my ankle plenty of times but I've never sprained it like that before." This was back on Jan. 13, when the HEAT were closing out a tough road trip and sported an 8-4 record. This was when Wade was already dealing with a sore left foot that had caused him to miss three games and play at less-than-his-usual-blinding speed in at least three others. So Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra and Wade decided to do something that has never, ever come naturally to the nine-year veteran guard. Slow down. And sit out. Wade eased into a sharply-dressed spectator's role for the HEAT's next six games, and even took the time to celebrate his 30th birthday in style during that two-week stretch. While not taking the floor was painful for the aggressive, athletic, ultra-competitive Wade, watching his teammates rack up a 5-1 record felt great. And when Wade was ready to return, it was immediately clear to everyone who was watching: Things were about to start hurting a lot more for HEAT opponents. Wade made his triumphant return to the court at AmericanAirlines Arena, exactly two weeks after his ankle injury in Denver, and inflicted all sorts of pain on the visiting New York Knicks. The 28 points in 32 minutes were brilliant enough on their own, as were the wide variety of ways in which they came -- including a few monster dunks, twisting jumpers and a perfect 6 for 6 from the free-throw line. But so were the 4 assists, 2 blocks and, especially, the game- and season-high 5 steals. They all played a huge role in a 99-89 win over the HEAT's longtime nemesis. And they all helped create an especially electric atmosphere at the Arena. With so much talent flowing up and down the HEAT roster this season, it's easy to forget just how valuable, explosive and rare a player the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Wade is. Then, you watch him pick off a pass and race down the floor for an effortless dunk. Or crossover a helpless defender before dishing a perfect no-look pass to a teammate. Or close suddenly on a much larger opponent, and rise up to violently reject his shot attempt. And you remember. Dwyane Wade is special. Very, very special. Of course, a look at Wade's statistics always bears out his immense value too. While his 22.2-point average in 19 games this season is his lowest since his rookie season, he's averaged 24.5 in the 10 games since his return from that ugly ankle injury. And with fellow All-Star LeBron James carrying the scoring load with a 27.9-point average, Wade is doing a lot of other things besides scoring. Like dishing out 5.0 assists a game, second only to James' 6.9 average. Or leading the HEAT with 1.8 steals and a career-high 1.4 blocks per game -- the latter being especially remarkable when you consider he's a full 8 inches shy of 7 feet. The versatile Wade has been especially across-the-board brilliant since his return from that ankle injury, getting his 24.5 points on 52.3% shooting from the field and a blistering 87.5% from the line while also averaging 4.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks a game. The HEAT are 8-2 in that 10-game stretch, and in one of those losses, Wade scored a game-high 33 points (on 15 of 24 shooting) and blocked 3 shots. Wade's return has greatly impacted both the HEAT's team offense and defense too. HEAT opponents have scored more than 95 points just twice in those games (both HEAT losses), while the HEAT have scored 95 or more in all but one of them -- including 106 or more in four games. Wade's penetrating, slashing, probing offensive game opens up the floor for other HEAT shooters, and his relentless energy on defense disrupts opponents' offensive flow, often resulting in turnovers and easy transition points for the HEAT. Last night, Wade brutally dissected the Southeast Division rival Hawks in Atlanta, scoring all 21 of his points by halftime as the HEAT built a comfortable 63-41 lead. If he hadn't sat after playing just 24 minutes -- literally half a game -- Wade very likely could have finished with his first 40-point game this season. This year's deep, versatile roster assures that Wade won't have to score 30 or 40 every night for the HEAT to win, as was the case when he averaged a NBA-high 30.2 points in 2008-09. In fact, he doesn't even have to think about hitting the 3-point shot -- he's attempted only 9 all season, and has yet to sink one. The overall stat-stuffing brilliance and sheer athletic majesty of Wade's game are big reasons why he will play in his eighth All-Star Game in nine seasons as a professional a few weekends from now. Wade hit the game-winning basket in the 2006 All-Star Game, and his eight appearances and seven starts are both franchise highs. "Thinking about eight years out of nine being looked at as an All-Star, it's an honor," Wade told the media recently. "You never want to look at it and take it for granted." HEAT fans would say the same thing about Wade.