Posts Tagged ‘Udonis Haslem’

Wade, Haslem opting out, gives Heat a chance to get back in

VIDEO: Wade opts out of final two years with Heat

Is that a sigh of relief out of Miami? Or the winds of change that are blowing?

The decision by Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem to join LeBron James in opting out of their contracts to become free agents — Chris Bosh is still deciding — either cracks the door open for a return of the most star-studded team in the NBA or starts a line at the exit.

Nothing is settled yet. But like Pat Riley says, it’s time to get a grip.

According to ESPN, Wade will give up $41.8 million and the last two years of his deal, Bosh $42.6 million for two years and Haslem will not exercise his player option for $4.6 million.

Coming less than three days before the start of the free agency period, the move doesn’t yet mean the party continues in South Beach, but is the necessary first step.

“Today we were notified of Dwyane’s intention to opt-out of his contract and Udonis’ intention to not opt into his contract, making both players free agents,” Heat president Riley said in a statement issued by the club. “Dwyane has been the cornerstone of our organization for over a decade, and we hope he remains a part of the Heat family for life. Udonis has been the heartbeat of this team for 11 years. He has sacrificed countless times to make this organization successful, and he is the epitome of what this organization stands for. We look forward to meeting with Dwyane and Udonis and their agent in the coming days to discuss our future together.”

Following Miami’s dismal 4-1 loss to the Spurs in The Finals, it was clear that the Heat were not just outplayed, but overmatched in terms of strength in the starting lineup and depth on the bench. Veteran forward Shane Battier showed considerable wear on his game and announced his retirement following the series, while 38-year-old guard Ray Allen, who was inconsistent all year long, recently said he’d like to return for a 19th NBA season.

Point guard Mario Chalmers was particularly ineffective against San Antonio and the Heat are known to be interested in Raptors free agent Kyle Lowry.

Bosh has reportedly said he’d be willing to take a reduction in annual salary, playing for $15 million to $16 million per season, if he got a new five-year commitment. If James and Wade are also ready to play for less in annual salary, the Heat would be able to boost their overall talent level and get right back into the hunt as championship contenders in the Eastern Conference.

The knee-jerk reaction to defeat by the Spurs was that the glorious and brief Heat Era had come to an end after two championships and four straight trips to The Finals.

Teams from Cleveland to Houston to Los Angeles have been lining up to take their best shot at convincing James to make another jersey switch and relocation, and he might still listen to the sweet nothings they whisper into his ear before making a final decision.

But Riley threw down the challenge last week for all of his stars to stand their ground.

“I think everybody needs to get a grip,” Riley said. “This stuff is hard. You have to stay together and find the guts. You don’t find the door and run out of it.”

That door is now cracked open and that’s good news in Miami, if only the first step.

Game 5: Duncan close to one for the thumb

By Jeff Caplan,

VIDEO: Tim Duncan talks with Steve Smith about being on the cusp of a fifth title

SAN ANTONIO — The Miami Heat played their two best games of the NBA Finals on the Spurs’ home floor. If not for LeBron James exiting the final minutes of Game 1 with cramps, they might have headed home up 2-0. So much has changed since then. The Spurs embarrassed Miami, not once, but twice, to push the Heat to the brink. Miami’s only hope is to regain their form the last time they were here.

The Basics:

Game 5 tips off Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Prior to this year’s format change, the Heat would be playing this Game 5 on their home floor, but considering how lousy they played at the American Airlines Arena, they might feel more at home with their backs against the wall on the road.

They have little to fall back on now. Their 13-game streak of winning after losing is history. The last time they lost three in a row came back in the 2011 Finals to the Dallas Mavericks, the team that raised the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the Big Three’s first season together. Could a Spurs victory end that era?

It certainly sounded on Saturday as if a Spurs victory will extend that Big Three’s era at least another season. Tim Duncan, potentially headed for a fifth championship and a Finals MVP at age 38, as well as 36-year-old Manu Ginobili, playing so well this entire postseason, gave no indication on Saturday that they plan to call it a career, in fact just the opposite. Adding to that, coach Gregg Popovich, the NBA’s Coach of the Year, said he has no plan to walk into the sunset just yet. However, there’s still the matter or wrapping up a fourth championship with Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker.

The Narrative:

The best player in the world is getting clobbered by criticism and the best team in the NBA the last two seasons is suddenly being downgraded as a group of individuals that don’t play within a team concept. Both accounts are nonsense. Yes, the Heat was built on the backs of superstar talent, but they have always played as a team. James is one of the most unselfish players in the game, often criticized for passing to an open teammate instead of shooting in the final moments. It can’t go both ways.

The fact is the Heat are being beaten by a playing better than they are, by the best passing, most efficient offense the league has seen likely since the 1980s with Magic Johnson‘s Lakers and Larry Bird‘s Celtics. The true weakness at the moment for Miami is that it’s not getting as many solid performances from up and down the roster as are the Spurs. Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade have struggled in recent games and Miami’s role players aren’t delivering with the juice of Spurs players such as Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. (more…)

Morning Shootaround — June 8

VIDEO: The Heat and Spurs are all geared up for Game 2 of The Finals


LeBron should be fine for Game 2 | Spurs defend, don’t whack | Eyes on Heat, Spurs bench guys | A Love-Rondo package?

No. 1: LeBron should be fine for G2 — No matter is more pressing in The Association than LeBron James‘ fitness for Game 2 of the 2014 Finals. The extreme heat in San Antonio’s AT&T Center caused the Miami Heat superstar to lock up from painful cramping in the left side of his body, and he missed the decisive minutes at the end of the championship series’ opener, when the Spurs closed in a 16-3 rush. Monitoring James’ recovery has been top priority for the vast media mob covering these Finals, so know this: As much as the 72-hour layoff between games might have been a bummer for entertainment’s sake, it could end up being vital to James’ capabilities Sunday night. As our man Fran Blinebury chronicled off Friday’s availability:

There was no latest update on the bags of IV fluid taken in by LeBron James, no count on the bags of liquids he’s ingested and, thankfully, no longer a step-by-step total of the trips he’s made to the bathroom.
James appeared less tired, more confident, more chipper and even channeled the ghost of Allen Iverson when teammate Dwyane Wade chided him for spending too much time chatting with media.

The four-time MVP has been resting and working with the Miami medical staff since he was forced to sit out the last 3:59 of Game 1 on Thursday with severe cramps.

“I’m going to get some work done today,” James said before the Heat’s practice on Saturday afternoon. “But there is no way to test my body for what I went through. The conditions are nowhere near extreme as they was, unless I decide to run from here to the hotel, that’s the only way I would be able to test my body out.

“But I’m doing well, doing a lot better. The soreness is starting to get out. I’m feeling better than I did yesterday and with another day, I should feel much better (Sunday).”

James said he will not go into Game 2 with any mental burdens from the incident, won’t wonder if and when his body might give out again.

“Well, for me and the situation that happened in Game 1 is like you don’t know it’s going to happen,” he said. “Obviously I felt the extreme measures, but I wasn’t the only one out there on the floor. So you just play and you worry about the results later. You can’t think about what may happen in the third or fourth quarter, live in the moment. And for me, whatever I can give my teammates if it happens again, hopefully I can make an impact while I’m on the floor and that’s all that matters to me.

“I can live with the results. If I’m giving my all and playing as hard as I can, I’m putting my body and my mind on the line for us to win, you know, for that guy back there in the back, it’s all that matters.”



Game 2: AC and LeBron return

VIDEO: Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann preview Game 2 of The Finals

SAN ANTONIO — They’ve barely started and things are already hot, hot, hot between the Spurs and Heat heading into Game 2.

The basics:

Game 1 tips off Sunday night at 8 ET on ABC.

Bring the gallon jugs of water, lofts of cold towels and plenty of ice.

Stay hydrated.

You don’t want to cramp up in the fourth quarter when LeBron James just might exact his revenge on the faulty air conditioning system at the AT&T Center by adding to his legend.

The maintenance folks say everything has been repaired and temperature inside the arena won’t feel like a hot yoga class. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be sweaty moments as the Heat try to bounce back from the fourth quarter collapse in Game 1 that produced a 110-95 defeat.

The narrative:

LeBron has never won the opening game of a playoff series that was played on the road and that hasn’t exactly put a crimp in his career.

The Heat dropped the opener to the Spurs a year ago, but that was at home and made bouncing back a bit easier. Miami has been incredibly resilient over the past two post-seasons, following a playoff loss by winning a record 12 straight times.

But now out on the road, the stakes are highest, the situation most dire and opponent the toughest as Miami tries to avoid going down 2-0 in any series for the first time since the Heatles formed a band.

All eyes, of course, will be on James, who had to leave Game 1 on Thursday night with severe cramping and watch helplessly as teammates were rolled down the stretch by the Spurs.

James has been resting, getting monitored constantly by the Heat medical staff and promises to be at full throttle for tonight.

VIDEO: Rachel Nichols updates LeBron James’ condition as Game 2 nears

The subplots:

Danny Green made another big splash with his trio of 3-pointers to spark the Spurs’ big fourth quarter rally in Game 1. But kicking his feet like a duck below the water level was center Tiago Splitter. After being phased out of minutes in The 2013 Finals and coming off the bench in Games 5 and 6 in the 2014 Western Conference finals, Splitter started and came up big, hitting 5 of 6 shots for 14 points. His nine-point burst from late third to early fourth quarter was an example of how the Spurs must attack the smaller Heat in the low post.

Mario Chalmers is often the wild-card in the Heat lineup that can be an offensive weapon and some of the pressure off the Big Three. But Chalmers got into early foul trouble and wound up playing just 17 minutes, scoring only three points and having five turnovers against 1 assist. Chalmers has got to stay under control and stay on the floor, if only to help coach Erik Spoelstra manage minutes.

Xs and Os:

Just because Tim Duncan shot 9-for-10 in Game 1, don’t expect the Spurs to turn back the clock a decade or more and pump the ball inside to the Big Fundamental. Those days are gone and now Duncan gets his shots out of the flow of the passing game offense. It’s still all about keeping the ball moving and trusting that eventually enough open looks at the basket will produce the necessary points. One thing the Spurs cannot afford is another game with a glut of 23 turnovers. They’ll look to keep their passes simpler and take fewer chances.

Even putting talk of a faulty air conditioning system aside, it is likely necessary for Spoelstra to go deeper into his lineup to keep the likes of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh fresher down the stretch of games. With San Antonio’s bench so deep, the Spurs always have rested bodies on the floor and Spoelstra would benefit just from getting usable minutes from Udonis Haslem and Toney Douglas. The Heat also have to attack the basket and get to the line more. They shot just 11 free throws in Game 1.

VIDEO: Relive Tim Duncan’s monster Game 1 performance

Who’s hot?

Boris Diaw scored just two points in the series opener, but with his 10 rebounds, six assists and solid defensive work against James, finished with the highest plus/minus figure in the game at +30.

Bosh continues his evolution into one of the best 3-point shooting big men in the game. Spreading the floor was a necessary part in the Heat’s growth into two-time champions and Bosh nailed 3 of 4 from behind the arc in the opener.

Whatever happened to…

Chris “Birdman” Andersen continues to be MIA off the Miami bench. He played 17 1/2 minutes in Game 1, but was hardly the disruptive force that can change a game. He grabbed just three rebounds and had one bucket.

Bottom line:

The Heat habit is to follow a playoff loss with an inspired win. You’ve got to think LeBron won’t let anything cramp his style.

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.

Dislike? Nope, so Heat, Spurs will try to whip up extreme absence of like

VIDEO: Duncan discusses Finals clash with Heat

SAN ANTONIO – With all the yammering about shared respect and mutual dynasties heading into these 2014 Finals, you might expect to find the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, some night this week, strolling hand in hand along the Riverwalk on a moonlit night.

Veteran Miami forward Udonis Haslem made it clear Wednesday, that ain’t happening.

“Just because this series may not be as physical as the Indiana series or may not be as physical as a [past] Chicago series,” Haslem said, “does not mean we like these guys any more.”

An absence of like might not be the same thing as an active dislike, but it’s a reasonable starting point for a potentially long, best-of-seven series that might lend itself to emotions and subplots in ways the 2013 Finals did not. It would take some doing – the Spurs don’t typically seek out headlines, the Heat see no one on San Antonio’s roster who can play the Lance Stephenson knucklehead/pest role.

But if the series is low in vitriol, it still will be high in competition, both sides’ dials cranked hard to the right to take rather than give.

“Sometimes the game is played a little different between the lines,” Haslem said. “Sometimes it’s more physical. Sometimes it’s faster, sometimes it’s slower. Doesn’t change the mindset. We’re in the Finals. We can’t afford to be trying to make new friends right now.”

Again, not making friends isn’t quite the same as butting heads with rivals. Miami has been targeted for four years now, with East opponents such as Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn eager to topple them and, presumably, everything they stand for. Over time, fueled by hard knocks, strains of resentment and disdain began to show.

Not so with the Spurs, who happen to be catching the Heat in their more-established, less-shortcutting third and fourth postseasons.

“I don’t think it’s animosity,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “Indiana wants what we have – and you could tell, there was animosity on their part. We didn’t give much credence to that, and it wasn’t reciprocal. The Spurs are different. They’ve had serial success over a decade and a half. They want what’s out there and we want what’s out there. It’s not so much they want what we have or we want what they have.”

Last year’s Finals wasn’t exactly gentlemanly, but it didn’t deteriorate into barroom tactics. The Spurs set a Finals record for fewest fouls committed in a seven-game series (118). Correspondingly, the Heat shot the fewest free throws in a seven-game series of any Finals team in history (118). Read that again: LeBron James‘ team shot the fewest free throws in a seven-game series of any Finals team ever .

(The records for the most fouls and free throws? In the 1957 Finals, Boston fouled St. Louis players 221 times, resulting in 341 free throws. Scintillating to watch, no doubt.)

So this one will have to muddle through without bad blood, personal histories or old scores to settle (besides the outcome). Two teams, both driven and fiercely competitive, went at it for seven rounds last June and didn’t even merit a technical foul for defensive-three seconds after Game 4.

“I think that’s why this series was so great last year: It was about basketball,” Battier said. “It wasn’t about talk. it wasn’t about controversy. It was an awesomely officiated series last year – there were no refereeing controversies. There were no technical fouls, no flagrant fouls. It was about basketball.

“How novel for the NBA Finals to be about basketball. I expect the same sort of respect, and it being about the game, as it should be.”

VIDEO: Battier talks Spurs and Finals

Numbers preview: The Finals

VIDEO: GameTime: Finals Preview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Considering how dramatic last year’s Finals was, now’s the perfect time for the first rematch in 16 years. The last time two teams faced each other in The Finals in back-to-back years was the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz in 1997 and 1998.

We’re also returning to the 2-2-1-1-1 format for the first time since 1984. In the 29 years of the 2-3-2 format, the lower seed won all three games at home only three times (though the Heat did it in 2006 and 2012).

In these playoffs, the Spurs (9-1) and Heat (8-0) are a combined 17-1 at home, each scoring more than 116 points per 100 possessions. That’s ridiculously good offense, and we’re sure to see some more of it over the next 4-7 games.

These were two of the top six offensive teams in the regular season and have been the two best offensive teams in the playoffs. Comparing their offensive efficiency in each round with their opponents’ regular-season defensive numbers, both the Spurs and Heat have improved offensively during the playoffs.

The Heat (11th) are the first team since the 2006 Mavericks (11th) to make The Finals after not ranking in the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season. And they’re aiming to be the first team since the 2001 Lakers (19th) to win the title after not ranking in the top 10.

The Spurs ranked in the top four defensively for the second straight season after sliding out of the top 10 the previous two. That they played more consistently on that end of the floor over the last seven months could give them the edge, as the team that can most consistently slow down the other over the next two weeks will win the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

But postseason series are often about matchups, and the Heat have the ultimate trump card in LeBron James. If it seems like this series could be decided by a possession or two, you only have to look back at last year’s to confirm that it certainly could.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding these two teams’ paths to The Finals, their two regular season meetings, and last year’s scintillating series.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Stats and rankings are for the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs (62-20)

First round: Beat Dallas in 7 games.
West semifinals: Beat Portland in 5 games.
West finals: Beat Oklahoma City in 6 games.
Pace: 96.2 (4)
OffRtg: 111.2 (2)
DefRtg: 101.0 (2)
NetRtg: +10.1 (1)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Miami: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Spurs by round

Round Opp. OffRtg Rank AdjO DefRtg Rank AdjD
First round DAL 110.2 3 +4.3 106.8 9 -2.2
Conf. semis POR 112.3 2 +7.5 93.9 1 -14.3
Conf. finals OKC 111.4 2 +10.4 100.7 1 -7.4

AdjO = OffRtg – opponent’s regular-season DefRtg
AdjD = DefRtg – opponent’s regular-season OffRtg

Playoff notes:

  1. Opponents have attempted just 25 free throws per 100 shots, the lowest opponent FTA rate of the playoffs. But their opponent free-throw rate has increased in each round, from 0.217 against Dallas to 0.233 against Portland and 0.303 against Oklahoma City.
  2. Their defensive rebounding percentage has improved each round.
  3. Their rate of 9.7 turnovers per 100 possessions in the conference semifinals against Portland has been the lowest turnover rate for any team in any series so far.
  4. According to SportVU, they lead the postseason with an effective field-goal percentage of 59.5 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
  5. They’ve scored 124.0 points per 100 possessions in the second quarter, more than any other playoff team has scored in any quarter.
  6. The Spurs have outscored their opponents by 15.2 points per 100 possessions with Danny Green on the floor. That’s the best on-court NetRtg of any player that has logged at least 20 minutes per game in five or more playoff games.
  7. Kawhi Leonard has the best raw plus-minus of the playoffs at plus-111.
  8. Marco Belinelli is the only Spurs rotation player with a negative plus-minus. They’ve been outscored by 42 points in his 296 minutes on the floor and are a plus-186 in his 572 minutes on the bench. In the regular season, Belinelli had a better on-court NetRtg (plus-7.3) than Tim Duncan (plus-6.6) or Tony Parker (plus-6.7).
  9. Green has an effective field-goal percentage of 63.4 percent in the playoffs, a jump of 7.2 percent from his regular season mark (56.2). That’s the biggest EFG% jump of any player who has attempted at least 75 shots in the postseason.
  10. Duncan had 14 more rebounds than any other player in the conference finals.
  11. Manu Ginobili shot 15-for-30 (50 percent) from 3-point range in the conference finals after shooting 2-for-14 (14 percent) in the conference semifinals.
  12. The usage rates of Ginobili (28.9 percent, 25.9 percent, 23.8 percent) and Parker (31.8 percent, 30.4 percent, 25.0 percent) have decreased in each round. The usage rates of Duncan (19.9 percent, 20.2 percent, 25.4 percent), Boris Diaw (14.4 percent, 16.2 percent, 21.4 percent) and Green (11.7 percent, 17.1 percent, 17.8 percent) have increased in each round.
  13. Parker leads the postseason with 195 drives and 10.8 drives per game.
  14. The Spurs have outscored their opponents by 27.1 points per 100 possessions in 114 minutes with Ginobili, Leonard and Tiago Splitter on the floor together, the best three-man NetRtg among 194 trios that have logged at least 100 minutes.
  15. Patty Mills has traveled at the fastest average speed in the playoffs, 4.9 miles per hour.


Andersen injury has allowed Heat to find a new lineup that works

VIDEO: Pacers-Heat Game 6 Preview

MIAMI — Has another injury forced the Miami Heat into another lineup change that will help them win a championship?

It was two years ago when Chris Bosh suffered an abdominal injury in Game 1 of the conference semifinals against Indiana. His absence forced Shane Battier into the starting lineup and unlocked the Heat’s floor spacing around LeBron James, turning them into an offensive juggernaut and two-time champions.

Rashard Lewis (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Rashard Lewis (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

In Game 3 of this year’s Eastern Conference finals, Chris Andersen suffered a bruised left thigh. Andersen wasn’t starting, but his absence forced another lineup shuffle by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. Because the Heat needed a back-up center, Udonis Haslem went from starter to reserve, and Rashard Lewis — who hadn’t played in the first two games — was inserted into the starting lineup for Game 4.

Andersen could be back for Game 6 on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) — he’s a game-time decision — but it seems unlikely that Spoelstra would remove Lewis from the starting lineup either way.

Lewis is a series-high plus-35 in the conference finals. Though he shot 0-for-7 in Games 3 and 4, the Miami offense has been at its best with Lewis on the floor. His work (and “work” is the right word here) against David West has allowed the Heat to remain strong defensively without playing big.

With the best player in the world, Miami has a lot of combinations that work. But the one with Haslem wasn’t working that well. Haslem is a series-low minus-43. He has hurt Miami’s spacing offensively and hasn’t been able to make up for it with defense and rebounding. Even in the Charlotte series, which the Heat swept, he was a minus-17.

Going into the conference finals, the Heat just didn’t have many alternatives at the second forward spot. Battier’s minutes are limited as he approaches retirement. And Michael Beasley never earned a postseason role. Neither can really handle West defensively.

Lewis can. He’s listed as 15 pounds lighter than West, but he held his own against bigger power forwards when he played for the Orlando Magic. And now that he’s rediscovered his shot (he hit six of his nine threes in Game 5 on Wednesday), he can provide even more spacing for James offensively.

So with 25-30 minutes of Lewis, a dash of Battier and a fourth quarter that features their three-guard lineup, the Heat don’t have to play big, save for a few Bosh-Andersen minutes, in which they still have solid floor spacing. That floor spacing  has made Indiana’s No. 1 defense struggle to get stops.

“They spread you out,” West said Thursday. “We’re not matching up in transition as well as we should. They’re getting us cross-matched. We just got to get a man to a body in transition.”

If they can do that, there’s still the question of what they should try to take away.

“We expect LeBron to have a huge night and be able to play his game,” Paul George said. “But we can’t let Rashard Lewis go for 18 from the 3-point line. That’s an area that we feel like we can cut out, the whole team in general. We do a great job of being able to guard the paint as well as the 3-point line.”

West, the guy who’s responsible for defending Lewis, says it’s a balance.

“We’re not going to overreact,” West said. “A lot of it is the system stuff that we’re doing, just having some breakdowns, maybe putting too many guys in front of LeBron. But we got to take our chances. We have to load to LeBron, load to Wade, and force those other guys to make plays and beat us.”

Lewis hadn’t hit six threes since the 2009 Finals. He probably isn’t going to hit six again. But whether he’s making shots or not, his presence on the floor is working for the Heat.

Thirteen different players have started playoff games for the Heat over the last four years. Spoelstra isn’t afraid to make changes when needed. Don’t be surprised if Lewis, who played just 47 minutes in last year’s postseason, is starting in The Finals.

Allen in, Andersen out for Game 5

VIDEO: Game 5 Preview: Heat vs. Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS — Ray Allen will play for the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals  on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). But Chris Andersen will sit his second straight game with a left thigh bruise.

Allen went through his normal pregame shooting routine and then received treatment for a right hip injury suffered late in the third quarter of Monday’s Game 4 victory. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said that the full shooting routine wasn’t necessarily an indication that he would play.

“Ray is going to do that one way or another no matter what,” Spoelstra said. “Nothing is going to stop him from that routine.”

But Allen is good to go. Andersen is not. Rashard Lewis will start his second straight game, with Udonis Haslem backing up Chris Bosh at center.

“It’s mobility,” Spoelstra said of the concern for Andersen. “He doesn’t have much of it right now. It is getting a little bit better, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of mobility.”

Andersen out for Game 4, Lewis to start

By John Schuhmann,

VIDEO: GameTime: Rachel Nichols

MIAMI — The Miami Heat are down a man (or a bird) for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Chris Andersen is on the inactive list with a left thigh contusion.

This is not a minor note. The Heat have been at their best in this series with Andersen on the floor. He’s a plus-28 (tied with Ray Allen for the series-high) in 70 minutes.

“This is a big-muscle series,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before Game 3, “so we need what he brings to the table.”

In a related move, Rashard Lewis will get just his seventh start of the season in place of Udonis Haslem. That allows the Heat to use Haslem as the backup center behind Chris Bosh. But without Andersen, Miami loses its ability to play big much more than a few minutes, unless Spoelstra decides to dust off Greg Oden.

Bosh and Haslem are a minus-38 in just 34 minutes together in the series.