- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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KANSAS CITY -- Ray Allen, a future Hall of Famer, has played more than 1,200 games over a career that has spanned 18 seasons with four perennial playoff teams.
So from a historical perspective, he commands quite a bit of credibility when he makes statements that are as bold as any of the clutch shots he's hit to build his resume as the most prolific 3-point shooter the NBA has ever seen.
As the Miami Heat prepare to make a run at a third consecutive championship, Allen believes this latest version of the team has the potential to boast the most productive bench of any squad with which he's played.
“On paper right now, I can say it is,” Allen said after a group of Heat reserves helped boost Miami to an 86-75 preseason victory over the Charlotte Bobcats in a neutral-site game at the Sprint Center. “You'll definitely see it more when you see the production from points to rebounds to plus-minus and how we keep leads when games formulate themselves. But we definitely have a chance.”
And beyond that, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will definitely face a chore when he finally gets down to the tedious task of having roles develop on a supporting cast to complement LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh this season.
For now, Spoelstra is having so much fun mixing and matching potential combinations that the Heat are one of the few teams in the league that hasn’t trimmed any players from the original 20 who opened training camp.
With James gradually shaking off the offseason rust to lead the way with 20 points, the Heat also got a combined 36 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists Friday off the bench from Norris Cole, Michael Beasley and Rashard Lewis. Allen was also on the court with those three reserves during some of the more potent and cohesive moments of the game.
There was only one problem. That second unit for the Heat didn't even include Shane Battier and Chris Andersen, who sat out Friday after playing in Thursday's win in Detroit and will be vital members of the rotation in much the same fashion they were during last season's championship run.
Add in the luxury of 11-year veteran Roger Mason Jr. and the possibilities that even a slightly effective Greg Oden can bring to the equation, and Spoelstra could be looking at the deepest and most challenging-to-manage rotation he's had since Miami began its run of three straight Finals trips.
Spoelstra recounted Friday how the Heat ultimately didn't have enough quality depth when they were eventually overwhelmed in six games by Dallas in the 2011 Finals. With James having slipped into a slump, the Heat had few reliable or healthy options beyond Wade and Bosh. That was a Miami team that relied at times during the season on the likes of Mike Bibby, Erick Dampier and Eddie House.
It's that memory that has driven the Heat the past two seasons to overstock the roster in some facets despite economic challenges presented by an increasingly punitive luxury tax assessed to teams that are over the salary cap.
“That's been our focus ever since the 2011 Finals,” Spoelstra said Friday. “We were beat up going into that last round, and we didn't feel we had the necessary depth to be able to survive the unpredictable injuries. So we've tried to build up our roster every single year, knowing that you have to get the right kind of pro, the right kind of guy to buy into the sacrifice … and that hasn't been easy.”
But it has been effective. And that recent success of getting players to buy in and sacrifice playing time and salary to round out the roster has led the confident Heat to take some of their biggest roster gambles of the Big Three era.
Much like Allen, James also sees the potential payoff if this team remains on the path it charted when a defensive-dominated camp opened two weeks ago in the Bahamas.
Since then, James has seen Beasley gradually progress from frustrated and apprehensive to shooting 50 percent from the field in a back-to-back set against Detroit and Charlotte while scoring at almost a point-per-minute clip.
James also sees Cole emerging as a point guard who can confidently run the second unit and Lewis opening the preseason with rejuvenated legs after finally getting past the aftereffects of knee problems the past two seasons.
And James already knows what he'll get from Allen, Battier and Andersen off the Heat's bench. Should Beasley continue to progress into a sparkplug off the bench who can create his own offense efficiently off the dribble, it could reduce some of the burden on James to consistently anchor both the starting group and the second-unit reserves.
“I prepare myself to be a starter and to work with that second lineup,” James said. “But to have that ability to go five -- we can bring in five guys off the bench and sit the whole starting lineup if we need to, because we have that type of talent. Guys are learning, getting better. That's definitely a luxury. We can do some really special things.”
That should be enough motivation to keep Beasley from self-destructing and squandering his opportunity as he tries to find his niche while on a non-guaranteed contract. The team went into Friday's game having to clarify that Beasley didn't actually require medical treatment after Thursday's game for punching himself in the head in frustration.
Although Beasley did strike himself in the third quarter against the Pistons for a series of mistakes he made, he claimed Friday that it was an errant elbow from Detroit forward Jonas Jerebko that caused the swelling and bruise on his forehead that required treatment from trainers.
Still, Beasley knows that those episodes aren't the kind of silly distractions he can afford if he wants a lasting and productive role in his second stint with the Heat.
“I'm coming into a delicate situation,” Beasley said. “I'm on a team that's really fighting for something, fighting for a spot in history. So it's not pressure, but it is a little more to think about. I definitely don't want to mess up. I definitely don't want to be the reason that the ship falls. I'm definitely taking it way more serious than my first two years. I'm just trying to work hard and gain the trust of my teammates.”
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