Posts Tagged ‘Udonis Haslem’

24 — Second thoughts — May 24

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen helped the Heat carve up the Pacers in Game 3

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The first man in the building helps the Miami Heat erase an early 15-point deficit and break the spirit of the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.

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They call him Jesus … SHUTTLESWORTH! Four, count ’em 4, fourth quarter daggers from deep for Ray Allen. They were back-breaking buckets for the Heat as they rebounded from that sluggish start to mash the Pacers.

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The Big 3? Not so much. The Heat lead this series 2-1 thanks to the work of their bench mob!

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Pacers paying no penalty for leaving Bosh open in series

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime: Pacers-Heat Talk Game 3

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Miami Heat started small, with Shane Battier and LeBron James at forward. In Game 2, they started big, replacing Battier with Udonis Haslem.

The Heat won Game 2, but the bigger lineup didn’t really work. They were outscored by 18 points in 17 minutes with Haslem and Chris Bosh on the floor together. Add that to the combination’s Game 1 numbers and Miami is a minus-28 in 25 minutes with Bosh and Haslem both in the game.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Heat are better off playing small, because they’ve played well when Bosh has shared the floor with Chris Andersen. That pair is a plus-15 in 22 minutes together.

Still, that’s a minus-13 in 47 minutes with two bigs on the floor vs. a plus-7 in 49 minutes with just one big on the floor.

These small sample sizes, though, could be swung by one stretch of 5-6 minutes where James takes over (as he tends to do sometimes), where the Heat defense takes a rest (as it tends to do) or where the Pacers go ice cold (as they tend to do).

But all you have in a playoff series are small sample sizes. And they don’t get much bigger if you add in regular season meetings when one or both teams could have been playing the second night of a back-to-back. You sometimes have to make decisions and adjustments based on what’s happened in portions of games here and there. And it has to be a combination of what the numbers say and what your eyes are seeing.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will continue to mix small lineups with big lineups, in part because Battier can’t give Miami what he used to. When this version of the Heat won its first title in 2012, Battier was the guy – as a small-ball four who could shoot and defend – that really unlocked their floor-spacing identity.

He averaged more than 33 minutes per game in that postseason, but has played less than half that in all but three games in these playoffs. And neither Rashard Lewis nor Michael Beasley has been able to take over that role (or has seen the floor in the conference finals thus far).

“We’ve balanced [big and small] as much as we have in the three years this year,” Spoelstra said before Game 2. “And that was what this season required. So we’ve played a lot of different lineups. We have enough experience, different rotations to be able to play different styles of basketball without compromising what we do best.

“That might be what this series requires, but we have great versatility. We have confidence in our versatility. If we have to utilize all of it, whatever’s necessary.”

Not only has Lewis been removed from the rotation in this series, but so has James Jones, whose on-court numbers have been ridiculously good in the playoffs. So it would help if Bosh could make some shots.

Haslem is a decent mid-range shooter, but decent mid-range shooting doesn’t hurt the opposing defense. Andersen is a strong finisher and his well-timed dives to the rim have been successful against the Pacers in the past, but his range doesn’t extend beyond three feet.

It’s Bosh’s shooting that can really take Pacers center Roy Hibbert away from the basket or punish him for staying there. He did the latter on the one 3-pointer he’s hit in this series (which sparked Miami’s Game 2 comeback), but Bosh has missed the other eight threes he’s taken. And according to SportVU, six of the eight misses have been uncontested, including the very first shot of the series.

In six games against Indiana this season, Bosh is 4-for-20 (20 percent) on uncontested threes. Against other teams, he’s shot 37 percent. In the first two rounds of the playoffs, he shot 15-for-33 (45 percent) on uncontested threes. Then he went to Indiana and hit the side of the backboard.

For the most part, Hibbert has remained in the paint against the Heat. And for the most part, Bosh hasn’t been able to do anything about it. It’s become clear that this is not a good matchup for him, but open shots are open shots and they’ll continue to be there if he’s being defended by Hibbert. But whether the Heat are playing big or small, he’s going to have to start making some.

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.

Improving Wade leads Heat to Game 2 win

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade and LeBron James talk about the Game 2 win

INDIANAPOLIS — Sometimes, Dwyane Wade is back to being the best player on the Miami Heat.

In the biggest game of the Heat’s season to date, Wade picked up the slack for his two struggling co-stars, leading the Heat to an 87-83 victory in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, tying the series at one game apiece as it heads to Miami after a three-day layoff.

This was a high-leverage game. There’s a huge difference between a 2-0 Indiana lead and Miami taking away home-court advantage.

But LeBron James did not look to take over offensively as we’ve come to expect when his team is desperate for a win. And he didn’t improve on his poor defensive performance in Game 1 either, looking slow and disinterested on that end of the floor for most of the night.

Chris Bosh‘s struggles against the Pacers continued. This was the seventh time in his last 10 games against the Pacers that he scored fewer than 10 points.

A lineup change — starting Udonis Haslem instead of Shane Battier — didn’t really work. Haslem was a minus-20 in less than 19 minutes and Roy Hibbert destroyed the Heat on the offensive glass.

But the Pacers came back to earth offensively, shooting 5-for-22 from outside the paint in the first half. And Wade’s postseason revival continued.

Wade scored 13 of the Heat’s 41 points in the first half, more than twice as many as any of his teammates. He scored five of those 13 as the Heat took the lead with James on the bench early in the second quarter.

He was stuck on that 13 until the fourth, when he and James took the game over and put the Pacers away. Going back to the last three minutes of the third, James and Wade scored or assisted on Miami’s final 33 points of the game. After a sluggish first 33 minutes, the Heat scored those 33 points on just 24 possessions, turning a six-point deficit into a four-point win.

“Tonight was one of those nights,” James said, “where we were making plays, finding guys, and finding each other, finding a good rhythm with the ball in our hands.”

Wade shot 5-for-5 in the fourth, finishing off the Pacers with a personal 8-3 run in the final minutes. James woke up from his slumber just in time, but his co-star helped him, on both ends of the floor, get to those closing moments.

Not only did Wade carry the offense early, but he defended Paul George for most of the fourth quarter, with the Pacers’ star attempting only one shot (a contested, pull-up 3 late in the shot clock) and two free throws in the final 11 minutes. Once again, the Heat turned up the defense once they absolutely needed to, and it was Wade who took on the toughest assignment.

“He understands that as well as anybody that you can impact a win on both sides of the court,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade. “So that wasn’t only creating the offense for us on the other end, it’s taking a challenge on one of the best scorers in the league. And just trying to be there. That is all you can do. It’s trying to be there in front of him so he doesn’t get open looks and free throws at the rim.”

Wade doesn’t have the explosion he used to. He still, amazingly, does not have 3-point range. But he’s crafty. He finds ways to get the space he needs to get off a shot, and he has a remarkably soft touch.

Most importantly, Wade is fresh and strong at the right time. He played just 54 games this season in order to leave some gas in the tank and some lift in his legs for the playoffs. And the rest is paying off.

Wade has shot 50 percent or better in each of his last five games. And he has averaged 26.0 points on 32-for-52 (62 percent) shooting in his last three. He played his best game in a long time in Game 5 against Brooklyn, and that performance has carried over into the conference finals.

“I just want to continue to keep going,” Wade said, “continue to keep getting better. There’s a lot of basketball left, but I feel good.”

Though the Heat are now 9-2 in the postseason, their last four wins have come down to fourth-quarter execution. They haven’t been as dominant as they’ve been in the past and their defense has been inconsistent, to put it nicely.

But it could be that they’ve yet to play their best basketball, because Wade is looking stronger every time he takes the floor. And on nights when James doesn’t look like the best player in the world, it helps that he has a pretty good wingman with plenty of experience in being option No. 1.

24–Second thoughts — May 20

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade has LeBron’s back at crunch time … they’re not done yet, folks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Born Ready?

Not yet.

Not Lance Stephenson and the Indiana Pacers, who made it interesting until the very end of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.

Born Ready?

Not ready. Not yet.

Not when LeBron James (12 points) and Dwyane Wade (10) own the floor at crunch time in the fourth quarter.

The Heat have never trailed 2-0 in a series since they joined forces. They still haven’t. James and Wade 22 in the fourth quarter, Pacers 20!

Game 3 is Saturday in Miami.

The Heat are taking their talents and that always crucial 1-1 series split back to South Beach!

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LeBron and Wade either scored or assisted on every single basket in the fourth quarter for the two-time defending champs. Real Champs wore black!

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LeBron with the sick bounce pass to Wade for the reverse baseline jam and essentially the game!

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Play big? Heat need to play better

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime: Heat-Pacers Game 2 Preview

INDIANAPOLIS — The Miami Heat got beat up in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday. David West and Roy Hibbert combined for 38 points and 17 free-throw attempts. West was able to get most of his shots in the paint instead of having to settle for mid-range attempts.

LeBron James doesn’t like playing the four and was downright awful in defending pick-and-rolls on Sunday. Chris Bosh doesn’t like playing the five and has averaged 9.1 points on 34 percent shooting in his last nine games against the Pacers.

All that might call for a lineup change, or at least more minutes with two Miami big men on the floor together in Game 2 on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). But the Heat should just try to play better before they admit that they need to make adjustments.

No one was hinting at any lineup changes after shootaround Tuesday morning. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra won’t even disclose his lineup when he meets with the media at 7 p.m. But Pacers coach Frank Vogel said he expects to see more of Udonis Haslem, who hopes to be on the floor more in Game 2.

“We all know Indiana is a physical team,” Haslem said, “so hopefully I get the opportunity to bring a little more physicality to our lineup.”

“We’re all for whatever works,” Bosh added.

Haslem sparked one of the Heat’s best defensive possessions upon entering Game 1 late in the second quarter. And he replaced Shane Battier in the lineup to start the second half, pushing James to small forward.

But the Heat weren’t any better with Haslem on the floor on Sunday. He was a minus-8 in less than 11 minutes. And in about 13 minutes with two bigs on the floor (Bosh and Chris Andersen or Bosh and Haslem), the Heat got outscored 32-22.

So, it’s hard to say that the answer is to play big. The answer is to play better.

“You always have to get back to the basics first,” Spoelstra said Tuesday morning, “and then make your evaluations. It was so tough to evaluate whether we need to do what we do better, do what we do differently, or just do what we do. We didn’t even do what we normally do first. And then we can get to the next layers of it. But we start with that, and then you make adjustments as necessary.”

Defense top job for LeBron in Game 2

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: NBA TV’s crew looks ahead to Game 2 of the East finals

INDIANAPOLIS – LeBron James wasn’t defensive about the way he and his Miami Heat club played in dropping Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday to the Indiana Pacers.

But it seemed pretty clear from conversations with him in the aftermath that James intends to get defensive about Game 2. Very defensive.

Anyone who expects the Miami star to double his points total and rain 50 on the Pacers Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse could come away awfully disappointed, because points weren’t the problem in the opener. The Heat scored 96, got 54 in the paint, ran to a 21-6 advantage in fast-break scoring and doubled up in the battle of the benches, 26-13. If there’s an offensive priority for the two-time defending champs as the series goes forward, it is getting forward Chris Bosh more involved and productive, and maybe a little more punch from guard Mario Chalmers.

Where the Heat overall, and James in particular, feel pressure to improve is at the other end. Indiana was way too comfortable all afternoon Sunday against the Heat’s muted pick-and-roll defense. And James looked almost out of his element, turning in what frequent observers considered one of this worst defensive performances.

First things first: this has not been the best of James’ 11 NBA seasons as a defender. It might not have been among his Top 5, despite his Erik Spoelstra-given nickname of “1 Through 5,” so dubbed for his ability to guard all five positions. James has lobbied in the past for consideration as NBA Defensive Player of the Year but even some of the Miami loyalists in the media who vote for such awards didn’t make much of a case for him this season. It wasn’t just that the flashy, chase-down-from-behind blocks were in shorter supply – James’ overall defensive impact was lower profile.

Some of that might come from the load he has lugged this season, with Dwyane Wade shifting into part-time status, role players such as Ray Allen and Shane Battier working the back nine of their careers and no fresh blood emerging to help on a consistent basis.

When asked Monday how he was holding up compared to past postseasons, given the increased load, James laughed and said: “Again, right? So that hasn’t changed. About the same. It’s about the same.”

Some of James’ defensive ineffectiveness in Game 1, specifically, came from his assignment guarding Pacers power forward David West. West is a throwback at that position — he’s a low-post bruiser with the ability to step out and hit mid-range (or deeper) shots, rather than a face-the-basket type like LaMarcus Aldridge now or Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace and others who took the power forward position farther from the rim in recent years.

James is built like a power forward — actually, he’s built like a linebacker who could play PF — but the outrageous physical advantage he enjoys over most opponents isn’t there against West. That’s why you saw him “fronting” West, trying to stay between him and the basketball while pinning him against the lane (and possible 3-second calls).

Playing behind West didn’t work out so well – it didn’t even work out well when Lance Stephenson backed James down for one bucket – so James tried to stay high.

“I always do against bigger, stronger guys. There’s not that many but West is one of ’em,” James said. “I don’t want him to catch the ball … If you can limit someone’s catches, if you’re stopping someone from catching the ball, then they can’t score.”

About those bigger, stronger guys, LeBron – not a lengthy list? “Nah, it’s like David West. Shaq. Zeus. And my two boys, and that’s it.”

There were times when James did slip down between West and the basket, and the Indiana player was able to unseat and back him down even more, a rarity. Because Spoelstra chose to start Battier and match him up with Paul George, rather than the bigger Udonis Haslem, James’ size was needed down low.

“It’s a huge adjustment, starting the game off that way,” he said. “Able to go spot minutes at the four, I can do pretty effectively. It was definitely a challenge for me. I don’t think personally I was in the right spots at the right time.”

He’d rather not be there any of the time. Defending power players vs. roaming and working defensively farther from the rim is basically the difference between painting a barn and painting a masterpiece. At least, that’s how James sees it. Unshackled from the paint and the banging, he can gamble, switch, help on pick-and-rolls and freelance — things that turn defense into offense.

He obviously missed that freedom in Game 1.

“I’m a perimeter guy,” he told a crush of reporters. “I could do a lot of things, but I made my money being a perimeter guy. Obviously, with the circumstances of our team, we’re not the biggest team in the world. So I have to play big at times, I have to guard the bigger guys and try to do a number on that. So it’s challenging. But I’ve got to do it. At this point. I’m trying to get a trip to The Finals, so whatever it takes.”

On many, many occasions in James’ career, that pledge – “whatever it takes” – often has meant an exponential increase in scoring, a push past 40 points, even toward 50. But the distinct impression he left with those around him as Game 2 approached was that, it will be when Indiana has the ball that we’ll see the greatest adjustment from LeBron James.

Heat must stop the Indiana roll

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Fratello On Miami’s Defensive Breakdowns

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers played one of their best offensive games of the season on Sunday. It was uncharacteristic and, in part, unsustainable.

But the Miami Heat can’t count on the Pacers to just play worse in Game 2 on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). The champs can defend a lot better.

The Heat got burned by the Pacers’ pick-and-roll in Game 1. In some cases, it was about a simple failure to contain the ball-handler. But often, the roll man caught the ball too close to the basket.

Here’s an example from the second quarter, where LeBron James hedged hard on a Lance StephensonDavid West pick-and-roll, and then lingered too long well above the 3-point line.

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James is in no-man’s land, where he’s neither pressuring the ball nor defending his own man. So Stephenson is able to make a pretty easy pass to West in the middle of the floor.

If West just makes the catch at the foul line, the Pacers have a four-on-three situation. But what happens is worse.

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West makes the catch at the dotted circle. Rather than meeting West at the free-throw line, Chris Bosh – the help defender – has his feet inside the restricted circle on the catch. And he allows West to turn into an easy four-foot hook shot (video).

So James’ mistake in defending the pick-and-roll was compounded by Bosh’s late help.

Far too often on Sunday, the Heat’s weak-side help defender did not meet the roll man far enough from the basket. And West’s shot distances are all the evidence you need.

In the regular season, 21 (45 percent) of West’s 47 shots against the Heat were from outside the paint. In last year’s conference finals, 43 (44 percent) of of his 98 shots came from outside the paint. But in Game 1 on Sunday, only two of his 11 shots were from outside the paint, and none were from farther than 14 feet.

West wasn’t the only beneficiary of the Heat’s slow rotations. Miami held its own against Roy Hibbert in the low post. If he caught the ball outside the paint, he struggled to score, even one-on-one against smaller defenders.

But when Hibbert caught the ball in the paint, the Heat were in trouble …

  • Late in the first quarter, he fumbled a pick-and-roll pass, but still caught it in the paint, with only James Jones between him and the basket (video).
  • Midway through the second, Norris Cole was the only help on a Stephenson/Hibbert pick-and-roll in transition, and he got there late (video).
  • Midway through the fourth, Hibbert made a roll catch at the dotted circle, with James late to help. When he got there, Dwyane Wade was late to rotate to West (video).

There were a couple of possessions here and there when the Heat defense was on point. In fact, their first defensive possession after Udonis Haslem entered the game for the first time may have been their best. And it started with Haslem’s help.

West set a side screen for Paul George, with Haslem defending Roy Hibbert on the weak side.

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When West rolled to the low block, Haslem was there to meet him.

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Mario Chalmers sank in from the weak side to prevent an interior pass to Hibbert, and then recovered back out to George Hill in the corner (video).

Having a point guard rotate to a seven-footer is not ideal. But this is what the Heat do defensively. And when they do it well, they’re quick to rotate, they disrupt passes, they challenge shots, and they shut down the opposing offense.

The question has always been consistency on that end of the floor. This season, in particular, Miami hasn’t been able to put two good defensive games together very often.

The problems on Sunday went well beyond the weak-side help.

“It’s all of it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after practice Monday. “Really, I don’t know if we’ve been that poor, certainly in the way we’ve graded it, since we put this team together. Across the board, that was about as poor as we’ve played defensively. And all aspects of it. It was the ball pressure. It was the commitment on the ball. It was the weak side. It was finishing possessions. It was doing it without fouling. It has to be much better, a much more committed effort, across the board.”

The Heat’s defensive system is not easy on its personnel. And when the opponent has big bodies like West and Hibbert, it’s even tougher.

“That’s what winning championships is about,” Bosh said. “You have to be uncomfortable. Playing a good team where you really have to trust your back-side defense is like, ‘Man, this is what people feel like playing against us.’ It’s not a good feeling to have to help and close out. It’s not cool. I don’t like it. Nobody likes it.

“But it’s a part of the game. That’s where that trust comes in. We’re going to have to be a little more solid as far as our discipline is concerned, and just rely on each other as a team.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said he expects the heat to be “more aggressive and more sharp” defensively on Tuesday.

If the Heat do that, you’ll see it in where help defense meets the Indiana roll man. If that meeting takes place farther from the basket than it did on Sunday, the Pacers won’t be able to get so many good looks.

“They’ve got a great team scheme, a great team approach,” Vogel said. “It’s not about one guy that they’re going to throw out there that’s an answer for [the Pacers’ bigs]. They play defense as a team, and they’ve won championships doing so. We just got to stay ahead of the curve.”

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.

Can Leftovers Make A Free-Agent Dish?

HANG TIME, Texas — OK, let’s say it’s the middle of August, we just won the entire Powerball lottery and, in a grand farewell gesture, outgoing commissioner David Stern says he’ll let us buy a new NBA franchise.

We can play our home games on Maui or Mars. We can have our team wear those tight-fitting jerseys with sleeves, just like the Golden State Warriors or even sprint up and down the court wearing Capri pants, if we choose.

There’s just one catch. The only players available to fill out our roster are those still dangling on the list of unsigned free agents. Now that Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Andre Iguodala, Andrei Kirilenko and even Greg Oden are long gone, is it too late to put together a respectable team? Or even one that could outperform the infamous 9-73 record of the 1972-73 Sixers or the 7-59 mark of the 2011-12 Bobcats?

So for all those last-minute bargain hunters who don’t start their holiday shopping until Christmas Eve, here are the Leftovers:

Antawn Jamison, Forward — The 37-year-old veteran is coming out of the lost season with the Lakers where he played 21.5 minutes per game and showed that he can still shoot enough from the wings to score in double figures. After 15 years in the league, he’s still a reliable enough producer and ranks higher in efficiency rating than even two regular members of the starting lineup for the two-time champion Heat (Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier). The Leftovers will have to put points on the board somehow.

Lamar Odom, Forward — You’ve got to have faith that Odom hasn’t simply lost the spark and lost interest after his past two dismal years. Following the horrible flameout in Dallas, last season was supposed to be a shot at redemption as a key role player and solid influence in the locker room with the Clippers. Odom was particularly ineffective in the first-round playoff loss to Memphis. The birth certificate says he won’t turn 34 until the start of next season, but the odometer has racked up more miles than an old pickup truck. The Leftovers will keep believing that you don’t simply forget how to pass, rebound and do the little things and give Odom another chance.

Cole Aldrich, Center — After being taken with the 11th pick by New Orleans in 2010 and traded to OKC on draft night, Aldrich has never been able to establish himself as anything more than a space eater at the end of the bench for the Thunder, Rockets and most recently the Kings. Aldrich finally got onto the floor for 15 games in Sacramento at the end of last season and pulled down a respectable four rebounds in 11 minutes of playing time per night. He’s the epitome of the old adage: “You can’t teach height.” That’s why he’ll keep getting chances and the Leftovers are hoping that this is the one that will pay off.

Mikael Pietrus, Guard — We’re going to plug the swingman into our lineup in the backcourt and hope to ride that streaky outside shooting and penchant for playing in-your-face defense for production at both ends of the court. He played just 19 games last season with the Raptors before tendinitis in his knee forced him to the sidelines for good in the middle of March. But he’s too young (31), too athletic, too active, too disruptive on defense and potentially still too good not to have him on our side.

Sebastian Telfair, Guard — In a league where it has become increasingly critical to have an elite level point guard running the offense, you don’t simply find them in the discount bin. There’s a reason why the Clippers have gone from pretender to contender and his name is Chris Paul. From a free agent list that ranges from 35-year-old Jamaal Tinsley to 25-year-old Rodrigue Beaubois, we’ll split the difference and take the 28-year-old Telfair. He’s never lived up to the advance hype because though he’s quick and small, he can’t finish at the rim and has only recently become dependable as a mid-range shooter. His size hurts on defense, but he puts out the effort and when you’re a Leftover that’s good enough.