Posts Tagged ‘James Jones’

With Love in the air, Cavs’ time is now


VIDEO: Relive Kevin Love’s top plays with the Timberwolves

Almost from the moment last month when LeBron James said in a Sports Illustrated essay that he was returning to Cleveland, the sports books in Las Vegas made the Cavaliers the favorites to win the 2015 NBA title.

With a roster then full of young, unproven talent in a city that took pride in being wanted again, that was largely about pure emotion.

Now it’s about (Kevin) Love.

With the official completion of the long-awaited deal that sent a package including No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins to the Timberwolves, the Cavaliers have vaulted to the top of the Eastern Conference, if not the entire league.

Oh, there will be plenty to be heard from out of Chicago, where former MVP Derrick Rose tries yet another comeback as he joins up with a formidable group of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic.

But the simple truth is that arrival of Love to Cleveland gives the Cavs with James and Kyrie Irving the best young All-Star threesome in the NBA.

James himself had cautioned everyone not rush to judgment and expect too much too soon. He said it would be a long road for the Cavaliers to reach a champion’s level and that was speaking from the experience in Miami.

That was also speaking from as the lone playoff-tested veteran on a team where the rookie Wiggins would have had to learn about the league and about himself. But all of a sudden, James and the Cavs have a shortcut.

Love, 26 in a couple of weeks, is a completely different animal, a top 10 level talent, who can produce double-doubles every night and has 3-point shooting range. Love is someone who changed his body and has changed his game to become one of the most consistent number producers in the league, the kind of front-line anchor right now that the Cavs could only have hoped they’d get from last year’s No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, who was included in the deal with Minnesota.

The critics will say that Love never got the Timberwolves to the playoffs in six seasons, point to a sometimes detached attitude and something less than a whole-hearted enthusiastic commitment to that franchise.

Yet the perpetual state of turmoil that has been a trademark of the Timberwolves certainly is responsible for much of that. He missed 64 games in the 2012-13 season due to a broken bone in his hand, but otherwise has been the guy who scored the ball and attacked the backboards equally with as much hunger as anyone in years. Love is the only player in the past 30 seasons to have a 30-point, 30-rebound game.

Maybe Love wasn’t a lead horse who could pull the weight of the entire wagon. Not everyone is. Now he doesn’t have to be.

There are sharp edges that will have to be honed in the playoffs, just as there are with the gifted and not-always-clued-in Irving. But those are edges for James to sharpen as he returns to his old neighborhood as the wise head who has been to the mountaintop and held the Larry O’Brien Trophy (twice).

Love had reached a crossroad in his career where he was simply going to pile up mountains of stats or make the transformation to being part of a contender’s foundation. It is no coincidence that in the weeks since the trade was agreed upon and had to wait for a 30-day embargo, the Cavs reeled in James Jones and Mike Miller from Miami, Shawn Marion from Dallas and could still add Ray Allen, if he chooses to play again next season. The role-playing veterans recognize the potency of the juiced up lineup and the immediate potential. With LeBron and his kiddie corps, the Cavs were still facing a long, hard slog to be able to truly compete with the Bulls in the East, not to mention the crop of contenders — Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies — in the A-list Western Conference.

The next task for Cleveland is to get Love to sign a contract extension that keeps him around past the end of the upcoming season. That shouldn’t be difficult. This is the situation he’s been searching for, the kind he’s needed, a place to learn and grow and win all at the same time.

When the oddsmakers tabbed the Cavs as the team to beat in the aftermath of James’ homecoming, that was as much about hope as anything. Now it’s about Love and reality.

NBPA can finally move forward with election of new executive director


VIDEO: Michele Roberts Interview

LAS VEGAS – Eighteen months after Billy Hunter was fired, the National Basketball Players Association elected a new executive director,

Amid chatter of unhappy agents and with former player Jerry Stackhouse speaking publicly against the process before it was done, the NBPA executive committee was unified in their approval of Michele Roberts, a Washington D.C. trial lawyer.

After a search process led by Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, three finalists — Roberts, Dallas Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery and tech industry CEO Dean Garfield — each gave 45-minute presentations to a group of 117 players in attendance at a Las Vegas hotel. Roberts then received 32 of a possible 36 votes from team reps and executive committee members.

“We’ve never had this amount of players here for a meeting, to give their input and feedback,” NBPA president Chris Paul said. “After all the hours and time our executive committee, along with an amazing search committee that helped throughout this process, it’s an unbelievable feeling to have the wonderful Michele Roberts now as a part of our team.”

“Anytime you get 90 percent of the vote or more and full participation from the entire body,” secretary-treasurer James Jones added, “it signals that guys understand that this is a very big deal. This is a big decision and we did not want our guys to take it lightly, to do as we’ve done in the past, which is rubber stamp a process. When you have discussions, you have emotions, but as you see with the result tonight, our players are unified. Outside influences, outside forces may look at what happens in our room differently than we do. But we all knew that our players want what’s best for the union and we showed it.”

Paul made it clear that Roberts was more than impressive in both her interviews and in her presentation on Monday.

“From Day 1 in interviews,” Paul said, “she tackled every question head first. She did it first with the executive committee and search committee, and then today with our players.”

The fact that she’s a woman, now the first woman to run a major North American sport’s players union, was not a factor.

“My sense was the only thing people cared about was my resolve,” Roberts said. “If I had been a man, who exuded less confidence in my ability to do the work, I don’t think I would’ve got the job.

“I’d like to believe, as I’ve believed for most of my career, that I’ve earned something because of who I am and what I do, not because I’m a woman.”

“Even though she’s a female,” Paul said, “she’s very relatable to a lot of our players.”

In a text to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, one committee member said simply, “She’s a beast.”

Stackhouse, a former NBPA vice president who wasn’t allowed to watch Monday’s presentations because he’s no longer an active player, didn’t seem all that impressed. Shortly before the vote was taken, he insinuated that the executive committee forced Roberts’ election upon the players, because the other two candidates didn’t come close to passing muster.

But Stackhouse admitted that he would have loved the job himself. And the members of the executive committee didn’t seem concerned about his agenda.

So now, they can finally move forward and begin preparing for the next round of collective bargaining, likely to take place in 2017. Roberts said that preparation for those negotiations began “yesterday.”

“We understand that this is a defining moment in sports,” NBPA vice president Roger Mason Jr. said. “A $2 billion sale [of the Clippers], a lot of good things going on in our league, some of the most recognizable faces around the globe. And we understand that next time we have a chance to go through collective bargaining, we have a whole lot more to talk about, and the discussion is going to be different.

“I think what we wanted to do is to make sure we had a leader in place who understood that vision, who realized that opportunity at hand and who could give us a vision on how we can get where we want to go.”

Though Roberts doesn’t have much of a basketball background — she’s a fan who watched a lot of hoops with two older brothers — she’s a leader. She’s also clearly a fan of the TV show “Scandal”, calling the team she intends to build “gladiators,” like the group of fixers from the hit ABC drama.

“What we’re talking about here is predating or allowing for a system that will empower these players to run their union,” Roberts said. “They’ve got their union back, and I’m going to make sure that they are empowered to take their union exactly where they want their union to go.”

 

Heat pushed to unfamiliar place


VIDEO: San Antonio puts Miami on the brink of elimination

MIAMI — In their most important game of the season, a game that Chris Bosh had referred to hours earlier as a “must-win” game, the Miami Heat lost, at home, to the San Antonio Spurs by 21 points, 107-86. This just two days after losing, at home, to the Spurs by 19 points, 111-92.

To be fair, calling these two games “losses” by the Heat may be selling the Spurs a bit short. In Games 3 and 4, the Spurs have systematically dismantled the Heat, exposing almost every flaw of the two-time defending champs while on the game’s biggest stage.

“I mean, they smashed us,” said LeBron James. “Two straight home games, got off to awful starts. They came in and were much better than us in these two games. It’s just that simple.”

“Well, I think they’re getting to their game a lot better than we are,” said Dwyane Wade. “They’re doing what they want to do better than we are. So right now they’re playing better than us, no question about it. We’ll see at the end of the series. Whoever wins is the better team. But the Spurs are playing better than us. They whipped our butt here at home, and you’ve got to give them credit for coming out, getting to their game plan, their game for 48 minutes, and we haven’t been able to do that. So if we want to get back into the series, we have to be better than them on Sunday. If not, then it will be over.”

For a team built around three superstars, during Games 3 and 4, the Heat have looked suspiciously like a team with one star who has been getting precious little support. While James finished Game 4 with 28 points, eight boards and eight assists, Bosh and Wade combined for just 22 points, six rebounds and four assists. The only other Heat player to score more than eight points was James Jones, who scored 11 once the game was out of reach.

As this series has played out, the Heat have looked like a tired team, a squad that has played every one of the 86 playoff games they’ve logged over the last four years. While the Heat players dismissed talk of exhaustion, the eye test has seemed to show a Heat team relying on making plays that haven’t always been there when needed.

Which isn’t to say this series has been all about the Heat’s failures. The Spurs have shown on possession after possession, on both sides of the ball, that simple things like ball movement, spacing, help defense and teamwork still hold ultimate value. According to James, the Spurs present a singular set of challenges, almost a perfect basketball storm.

“Man, they move the ball extremely well,” said James. “They put you in positions that no other team in this league does, and it’s tough because you have to cover the ball first, but also those guys on the weak side can do multiple things. They can shoot the ball from outside, they can also penetrate. So our defense is geared towards running guys off the three-point line, but at the same time those guys are getting full steam ahead and getting to the rim, too. The challenge is as well, with them, implementing [Boris] Diaw into the lineup has given them another point guard on the floor. So Manu [Ginobili], Tony [Parker], and Diaw and Patty Mills on the floor at once, they’ve got four point guards basically on the floor at once. So all of them are live and they all can make plays. So it’s a challenge for us all.”

This Heat core was assembled to win numerous titles, as James famously said at their introductory press conference: “Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven.” They’ve got two, but number three had looked more and more elusive as the 2014 Finals has played out. Yet for a Heat team that has put together four consecutive runs to the NBA Finals, perhaps their biggest test yet still awaits beginning with Sunday’s Game 5 in San Antonio, as the odds are stacked against Miami — no team in NBA history has come back from a 3-1 Finals deficit to win an NBA championship.

“I don’t care about odds,” noted Bosh. “Odds are for people that can’t do it.”

“Obviously, I do know the numbers,” said James. “It’s never been done before, but we’re still a confident bunch, even though our heads are lowered down right now. Of course, being down 3-1, and losing two straight games at home, that’s just human nature. But we’ve still got to go out and play on Sunday.”

Do Heat need to go deeper?


VIDEO: Press Conference: Erik Spoelstra

SAN ANTONIO – The Miami Heat went nine deep in Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday. Given the conditions, no Miami player logged 34 minutes or more. But a day later, Dwyane Wade suggested that they may need more minutes from their bench in Game 2 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC), so that they don’t suffer another late collapse. The Heat led by seven early in the fourth quarter on Thursday, but were outscored 31-9 in the final 9 1/2 minutes.

“Obviously we’re going to have to use our depth a little more,” Wade said. “We got to go a little deeper into our bench. This time of the year you can’t leave anything to chance. I look forward to us using more guys next game, keep guys fresher.

“I feel part of our downfall in that game was mental and physical fatigue down the stretch. You know, rotations and things that we normally do wasn’t done last night. It wasn’t from not having the will or the want to do it.

“So we got to be a little smarter, we got to go a little deeper into our depth so we are fresher and have the guys out on the floor at the end that we want and need out there.”

The air conditioning at the AT&T Center is working again, so we won’t have those same circumstances again. And unless the Heat are dealing with foul trouble, nine is typically as deep as they go in a playoff game. Either Wade or LeBron James is on the floor at all times, so there’s no room for a five-man second unit.

But Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is never afraid to make changes. He’s had 11 different guys in the rotation at one point or another in this postseason. That list includes James Jones and Udonis Haslem, who sat in Game 1, but who he could turn to on Sunday.

James is always lobbying for Jones to get more minutes. He even did so in his Facebook chat on Saturday. Jones obviously provides more floor spacing for James and Wade.

Spoelstra would turn to Haslem for defense. And given how well the Spurs shot in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and how well (and easily) Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter shot all night, defense is obviously a concern.

But the efficiency of the Spurs’ bigs wasn’t necessarily about how well the Heat’s bigs played defense. Those layups were more about a lack of pressure on the ball and slow rotations from the weak side. Neither Duncan nor Splitter were just punishing Miami in the post. They were catching the ball on the move and benefiting from the work of their teammates.

“There was a lot of defensive breakdowns,” Haslem said Saturday. “Not to say they can’t go one on one, but we had a lot of defensive breakdowns and we gave a lot of layups up. It wasn’t really them just throwing the ball in the paint and those guys just pounding on us.”

The Spurs did outrebound the Heat 39-29, but that was because Miami missed a lot more shots (41) than San Antonio did (28). The Spurs grabbed just five offensive rebounds. Nothing from that game really said that the Heat need to play bigger.

But, if Spoelstra wants to try it, he doesn’t necessarily have to turn to Haslem. He could just increase the minutes of Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen, who played just three minutes together on Thursday.

That pair has had some success at times in these playoffs. They were a plus-15 together in a three-point win in Game 2 of the Conference finals and are a plus-1 overall in 75 minutes together in the postseason. Bosh and Haslem, meanwhile, have been an awful combination. The Heat have been outscored by 57 points in 89 minutes with the two on the floor together.

Jones: Collective sacrifice fuels Heat


VIDEO: Ray Allen talks about how the Heat handled themselves in advance of another Finals trip

SAN ANTONIO — As much as the narrative of the Miami Heatles has centered on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh from the start, the four-year journey this team is still on is not strictly about those stars.

Yes, they sacrificed individual glory to be a part of what has become a movement, of sorts, in Miami and beyond. But they are not the only ones. Every man on the Heat roster has had to make some sort of sacrifice to be here, and that’s not lost on any of them.

The same “Heatles” t-shirts worn by Wade and Bosh after the Heat’s shootaround Thursday morning were like the ones worn by Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and James Jones.

The Big 3?

Sure.

But this Heat team is so much more than that, the connection goes so much deeper than that and the collective sacrifice is so much greater than it appears from the outside.

“This is just the continuation of our chemistry,” Jones said of the Heatles t-shirts and the energetic vibe surrounding the Heat as they head into Game 1 Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs. “We came into this thing, basically, all committed to an ideal and goal of winning a championship. And that meant we had to sacrifice on a lot of fronts. And until you get a chance to know these guys  … some people look at it financially, just the money [sacrificed] or the opportunity to win a championship. But for each guy, those ideals are different. So for each guy, as you get to know them better, you get a chance to help each other cope with those sacrifices. Because it’s not easy. And the better we can help each other manage it, the better our team becomes.”

For the role players, the sacrifice is more about playing time and prominence. A role player, a veteran shooter, like Jones might log major minutes depending on a matchup. Or he might not see the floor, for the exact same reason. Either way, he has to be ready on a Heat team where coach Erik Spoelstra will not hesitate to go outside of the box to get the desired results.

It’s an approach I’ve dubbed #ByAnyMeansNecessary, and one that Spoelstra and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich have utilized to the fullest last season when they led their teams to The Finals and again throughout this postseason to deliver us all the rematch.

It’s all born out of the same place, though, for the Heat and the Spurs … the collective sacrifice. No matter how you come together (be it for four years or 12), to reach this point in a season takes the ultimate sacrifice on the part of so many.

“Until you’re a champion no one can ever really imagine how difficult it is to get here [four years in a row or two straight year],” said Jones, who has been on the Heat roster longer than anyone except for Wade, Udonis Haslem and as long as Chalmers, who said, “It’s not all physical and it’s not all mental. It’s a mix. And when you throw expectations, your own expectations, on top of that, it’s a heavy load. And the champions find a way to manage that and overcome it.”

Allen, Andersen questionable for Game 5


VIDEO: Ray Allen sustains a hip injury in Game 4 of the Heat-Pacers series

INDIANAPOLIS – The Miami Heat may be down another man for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The Heat played without Chris Andersen in Game 4 on Monday, and may also be without Ray Allen for Game 5. Neither Allen nor Andersen participated in the team’s shootaround Wednesday morning.

Allen was clipped by a David West screen in the final minute of the third quarter on Monday, immediately grabbed his right hip, and was replaced. But he returned for the final possession of the period and played the entire fourth.

But as was the case with Andersen’s thigh bruise (suffered in Game 3), it’s a case of the injury being worse the next day.

Allen didn’t speak with the media Wednesday morning. Andersen spoke and said he was unsure of whether he’s be able to play in Game 5.

The Heat’s reserves have been a big part of their success in this series. Allen and Norris Cole have given the offense a big lift and the defense has been at its best with Andersen on the floor.

If Andersen is out again, we’ll see more of Rashard Lewis and less of two bigs on the floor together. And if Allen is out, James Jones will surely see some playing time.


VIDEO: Game 5 Preview: Heat vs. Pacers

Bench shooters giving Heat a lift

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Through the Lens: Heat vs. Pacers, Game 2

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Shooting is important in the game of basketball. (This is not breaking news, by the way.)

Not only do good shooters put the ball in the basket at a higher rate than bad shooters, but their presence on the floor typically provides spacing for their teammates looking to score in the paint.

To see the importance of shooting, you only need to see the Miami Heat’s numbers with Ray Allen and/or James Jones on the floor in the playoffs.

In 328 minutes with at least one of the two veteran bombers on the floor, the Heat have scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions. That’s 14 percent better than the the league average in the postseason (105.6).

In 200 minutes with neither on the floor, the Heat have scored fewer than 98 points per 100 possessions. That’s less efficient than the Charlotte Bobcats’ offense was as they got swept by the champs in the first round.

Somehow, the Heat defense has also been better with Allen and/or Jones on the floor. So, in those 200 minutes, they’ve been outscored by 50 points, the equivalent of losing a 48-minute game by 12. With at least one of the two on the floor, they’re a plus-16 per 48 minutes.

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Both Allen and Jones come off the bench, of course. So yeah, their starting lineups have not been very good. Their starting lineup with Shane Battier at the second forward spot is just a plus-1 in 83 minutes. Their starting lineup with Udonis Haslem in place of Battier is a minus-39 in just 65 minutes.

It should be noted that 64 of Jones’ 107 postseason minutes came against Charlotte and that he’s a plus-0 in his 43 minutes since.

But the importance of shooting is also illustrated in some SportVU numbers from the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals.

In Game 1, the Pacers shot 11-for-19 (58 percent) on uncontested jumpers, according to SportVU. The Heat shot 8-for-27 (30 percent).

In Game 2, the numbers were basically reversed. Indiana shot 10-for-28 (36 percent) on uncontested jumpers, while Miami shot 15-for-27 (56 percent).

It stands to reason that the team that knocks down their shots in Game 3 on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will be the team that takes a 2-1 lead. Again, this is not breaking news.

Business handled, Heat rest and refocus

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Heat finished off the Charlotte Bobcats

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — They’d have done anything to avoid the spotlight this time three or four years ago. It would have been a welcome relief for the Miami Heat back then, when they were in the formative stages of a championship quest that continues today in a business-like fashion that has become routine for LeBron James and the two-time defending champion Heat.

All of the hype and hoopla that marked their early time together has faded a bit for the Heat, the first team to break through to the next round of the playoffs courtesy of their sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats. The minutiae, the “process,” as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra loves to call it, has infected this team.

“It’s a process,” James said. “I think this was step one for us. I believe this is a great direction we’re going in right now. In four games we played championship-level basketball and we got tested … and the way we responded was a championship-type attitude. We have to continue to get better. We can’t play how we played in this round in the next round. We look forward to our next opponent.”

The Heat’s “process” is why reserves like James Jones and Norris Cole, bit and role players throughout the course of the regular season, can come seemingly out of nowhere to help close out the Bobcats. It’s why Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can work their way into playoff form instead of working under the extreme pressure that other All-Stars around the league are right now as they try to push their teams through to the next round.

The Heat simply handle their business and refocus on the next task. It’s not nearly as dramatic as the reality-TV life they lived in their first two seasons together. But it has benefits that the Heat will cash in down the road.

“Nothing is exactly the same,” Cole said. “So this does feel like a new year. We’re working the same way we always have and going about things in the same way we always have, the way that’s worked for us. But it’s about taking the right steps. And ultimately, winning is everything. And we know everybody on this team has to make certain sacrifices along the way. Sometimes you’re in that mix and sometime you’re not. But you stay ready … you have to on this team.”

With higher seeds around the league under siege and complete chaos ruling the day in almost every other series, the Heat have been strictly about the business at hand. They got a spirited effort from the Bobcats, a much more formidable foe than the Milwaukee Bucks team they toyed with in a first round sweep to kick off last season’s championship campaign.

Bobcats All-Star big man Al Jefferson injured his foot in Game 1 and was never able to test the Heat inside the way many expected. That didn’t stop the Bobcats from providing the stern test the Heat needed to prepare them for either Toronto or Brooklyn in the next round.

Sexy rematches from last year — the Heat went through the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and eventually the San Antonio Spurs after whipping the Bucks — are either not going to happen or so far off right now that they’re barely worth discussing.

The Bulls were eliminated Tuesday night by an upstart Washington Wizards team. The Pacers, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff field, are facing elimination Thursday night in Game 6 in Atlanta, down 3-2 to the Hawks. Even the mighty Spurs, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, are locked in a battle with the Dallas Mavericks, the series is tied at 2-2 with Game 5 on tap Wednesday in San Antonio.

The hopes of a Heat-Oklahoma City Thunder rematch from the 2012 Finals are on life support as well. The Thunder trail the Memphis Grizzlies 3-2 and have already lost on their home floor twice in that series.

Like I said, all of the sexy storylines are either useless right now or pure imagination right now, given the current state of affairs everywhere else but Miami.

And that’s fine with Spoelstra, who relishes the opportunity to prepare for and trade blows with each and every opponent in the same manner. Again, it’s that process he loves to talk about.

“We don’t take these wins for granted,” he said. “We’re very pleased to get to the next round. The Bobcats put up a lot of fight throughout and this was a much closer series than the 4-0 outcome would indicate.”

The tricky part for the Heat is making sure to manage the time off. When you are dealing with the oldest team in the league, rest can’t be a bad thing … can it?

“You know we haven’t had much rest like this before, so our rhythm and timing may be off,” Chris Bosh said. “That is the challenge coach and everyone will have. We have been here before, we have learned some lessons from last year, and that is the best part of it. I think we will handle it better this time.”


VIDEO: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra discusses his team’s quick work of the Bobcats

For Heat to succeed, Miami needs big performances from Little 12

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com


VIDEO: Erik Spoelstra speaks with the media after Heat practice (April 22)

MIAMI — You probably know all about the Big Three, Miami’s terrific trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Those three form the Heat’s power base. But for the Heat to three-peat as champs, they also need big performances from what Shane Battier says the players refer to as The Little 12.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has referred to his bench as a bullpen for a few years now, borrowing some baseball terminology. On Sunday, Spoelstra revived this trope when referring to James Jones, who made a somewhat surprising appearance off the bench in Game 1 against Charlotte and came up huge. After the Heat’s practice Tuesday, Spoelstra stressed that the bullpen parallel was simply a way to get players to understand what they were working toward.

“This year is different than years before,” Spoelstra said. “Look, it’s not an -ism or anything like that. It’s something they can wrap their minds around. It’s something that’s been done before. Because of the way the season went on and the makeup of this group, we have a lot of guys that can contribute, and we’ll need those contributions, but it might be different game to game, series to series, quarter to quarter, and it’s a little bit different than the way this team was before. And the quicker we’re able to wrap our minds around it and adapt to that, I think the more we can play to our strengths. Hopefully.”

Spoelstra has shown that he’s not afraid to make bold moves with Miami’s bench rotation. Last season, Battier didn’t play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, but in Game 7 he scored 18 points in 28 minutes. During those same Finals, Mike Miller went from the bench into the starting lineup, getting the nod in the final four games against San Antonio.

While Miller is the only one of Miami’s top 11 rotation players departed from last season’s team, this season Spoelstra has juggled minutes up and down the bench. In February, Udonis Haslem and Rashard Lewis combined to play 17 minutes for the month. Against Charlotte on Sunday, Haslem started, and he and Lewis combined to play 21 minutes.

Spoelstra said that having this loose collective of versatile players is something the Heat have been trying to compile for a few seasons, noting they’ve played 14 deep three straight years: “Our first year, we did not have enough depth. That wasn’t the reason why [we lost in the 2011 Finals] — Dallas beat us, fair and square. But we had injuries, and we got to that point and we were very flat. That was the first step of doing it, but it’s constant sacrifice. Constant acknowledgement of that sacrifice. It’s not easy. Everybody says, in life, in business, and in pro sports, ‘Yeah, I’ll sacrifice.’ But it’s always easy to sacrifice when you’re not the one sacrificing. As long as it’s somebody else sacrificing, everybody buys into the sacrifice.”

“Look, every player wants to play,” Battier said. “Once you get to this league, we’re all here for a reason. But you have to have to understand what we’re trying to accomplish. And although you don’t agree with it, for the betterment of the team, you suck it up, you cheer your guys on, and you produce when your number is called.”

According to Haslem, having other teammates go through similar journeys makes it more relatable for the rest of The Little 12.

“You never really know what a guy in that situation is going through until you go through it,” said Haslem. “But there’s other guys who are going through it with you. So what we did is we kind of formed a pact, the guys who weren’t playing. We made sure we kept each other encouraged, we kept each other ready, we played pick-up games with each other, three-on-three, four-on-four, whatever we could do. We got shots up together, we did conditioning together. You know, it’s a lot easier when you got guys that are in the same position going through it with you.”

On Sunday, with Miami up 35-34 with 4:19 to play in the second quarter, Spoelstra brought in Jones, earlier than he usually looks for him.

“I was a little surprised,” Jones said after the game. “Not surprised that he called my name. I was surprised he went to me early. But not so surprised that I wasn’t prepared. We’ve said all along, we have 15 guys who can play. Most nights we only play nine. Which nine play? We don’t know. But we don’t need to know. We just need to know that whichever nine go out there will commit and perform.”

Jones had announced he was “definitely thinking” about retiring … back in 2012. He did not, though this season he logged just a combined 70 minutes from November through January, and didn’t play a single second in February. He also didn’t play in any of Miami’s four regular season wins against the Bobcats. And yet Jones posted a plus-9 player rating in just over 4 minutes of action in the first half. By the time he’d totaled 12 minutes of court time, it was up to a plus-17. He finished with 14 minutes of action and a plus-18 rating, to go along with a dozen points.

“We learned this from early on, that he is a unique guy,” Spoelstra said of Jones following Game 1. “He is one of those unique players that you can pull out of your bullpen and not many guys have that type of mentality — patience to understand the big picture, willing to sacrifice, and don’t have an ego in that regard, yet having incredible confidence when they do play. That’s a tough balance to achieve and he understands the big picture. These are small opportunities but he makes the most of it.”

“We said it early in the year,” noted Wade. “If we want to win a championship this year, we’re going to have to do it a little different. Last year, Rashard Lewis didn’t play as much, or James Jones didn’t play as much. This year those guys are going to have to be a huge part of it.”

So if Spoelstra signals down the sideline during the rest of the postseason, he may well be calling for a lefty reliever or a groundball specialist from his tried and tested ‘pen, although Battier said the “bullpen” analogy is mostly reserved for Jones, who had an uncle who was a major league baseball player.

“He’s the Joe Nathan, the Rivera if you will,” Battier said. “When we can’t make a shot, he’s the guy who you signal for the righty, and bring him in. It’s a metaphor for the rest of us. We call it The Little 12. Bullpen, Little 12, call it what you will.”

Just so long as you call them.

NBPA’s Director Search Still In Process Stage

NEW ORLEANS – There were no figurative puffs of white smoke from the hotel ballroom where the NBA player-reps met Saturday. No resolution, then, to the union’s search to replace Billy Hunter – deposed a year ago at All-Star Weekend – as its executive director.

In contrast to that notable session in Houston last February, at which Hunter was fired amid conflict-of-interest and nepotism allegations, this year’s annual All-Star meeting was all about process. A process that is grinding on, with leadership of the National Basketball Players Association determined not to make a mistake.

Union president Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers informed reporters after the two-hour meeting that candidates for the job met Saturday with 30 player reps, along with interested All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Carmelo Anthony. Those who attended were filled in on the step-by-step procedure, from the search to identify the top prospects to the next step of disbursing a DVD of the meeting so the rank-and-file players can be briefed as well.

But the NBPA officers weren’t willing to provide candidates’ names, or their number, or any timeline for getting someone hired.

“To protect the integrity of the process and the privacy of our candidates,” Paul said before leaving with an All-Star obligation and turning the news conference over to first vice president Roger Mason Jr. and secretary-treasurer James Jones.

Mason said that more than 200 candidates were identified by Reilly Partners, the Chicago-based executive search firm hired by the NBPA in September. In the meantime, Attorney Ron Klempner is acting executive director.

A report this week by Yahoo! Sports cited anonymous sources when mentioning Screen Actors Guild executive director David White as “the frontrunner.” Previously, former Madison Square Garden chief Steve Mills was mentioned, until he signed on with the New York Knicks in September as president and general manager.

In lieu of specifics, the NBPA officers sketched out the qualities they’re seeking in whoever succeeds Hunter.

“First things first, we’re looking for a leader,” Mason said. “A leader with integrity, a leader who is bright and a leader who can manage talent. We’re not expecting someone to come in here and be a jack of all trades, be great at everything. We want someone who can come in and manage talent.

“Look there’s always a day for negotiations with the CBA. But for us now, it’s really about growing collectively the sport. Our union is a little different in that we should be thinking outside the box a little bit. So we definitely want a leader who can engage with [new NBA commissioner] Adam Silver. It’s not necessarily adversarial.”

Also on the short NBPA agenda Saturday was naming a replacement for San Antonio forward Matt Bonner, whose three-year term on the executive committee ended this weekend. That, too, is pending.

The union began its meeting with a video about the 1964 All-Star players who nearly boycotted the showcase game that year to get concessions from the owners and NBA hierarchy for the union. Their threat not to play that night, made from a locker room at Boston Garden, led to the players’ pension program and a real seat at the table in collective bargaining. Hall of Famer Bob Pettit, who lives in Baton Rouge, La., and was one of the participants in that protest, was introduced to today’s player reps.