Miami Heat Index: Mario Chalmers

Heat Reaction: Grading Heat-Blazers

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
1:39
AM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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Heat Temp Check: LeBron on Pistons

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
8:09
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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LeBron JamesIssac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesLeBron James likes what the Pistons did to improve during the offseason.
LeBron James' take
The Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets weren't the only teams that underwent major offseason upgrades in an effort to prevent the Miami Heat from winning a third consecutive title.

James was intrigued by an offseason makeover that saw the Detroit Pistons bring back championship guard Chauncey Billups as well as acquire former Atlanta Hawks star Josh Smith and high-scoring ex-Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings. Detroit also hired Maurice Cheeks as head coach.

The Heat get their first peek at the new-look Pistons in Detroit for Thursday's preseason game. With the Pistons expected to be in the mix for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, they could end up as a possible first-round postseason opponent for James and the Heat.

“I think only time will tell, but they definitely improved their roster bringing in Jennings and Josh, and Big Shot [Billups] as well,” James said after Wednesday's practice. “[On] paper, they look like they can be pretty good this year.”

James is familiar with the adjustment process teams like the Pistons face as they try to blend established veteran newcomers with a talented young frontcourt tandem of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

James said the first priority is buying into a team-first, winning mentality.

“No individual can do it by himself,” James said. “But they have a lot of talent. If they buy into what Mo Cheeks is trying to preach to them, then they're really going to be pretty good.”

Progress report
Michael Beasley said Wednesday he's available for game action and is no longer bothered by a bruised calf that was part of the reason he sat out of Sunday's scrimmage and Monday's preseason opener.

Apparently, the only thing now standing between Beasley and a shot at playing time in the next two preseason games is a nod from coach Erik Spoelstra.

“I practiced today -- full practice -- and it didn't give me one problem,” Beasley told ESPN.com. “I'm ready, physically.”

Beasley said he has not been told whether he's in the plans to play either Thursday against Detroit or Friday's neutral-site game in Kansas City against the Charlotte Bobcats. Beasley, a former Kansas State star, was a crowd favorite when he played a 2008 preseason game in Kansas City after the Heat drafted him with the second overall pick.

He was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2010 but signed a one-year contract last month to rejoin the Heat on a make-good deal. Beasley said he's still searching for a comfort level in camp and believes he's “just thinking too much out there” instead of simply making instinctive plays in practice.

“Finding a niche that hasn't been used yet -- that's been the tough part,” Beasley said. “Everything else has been the same, defensively, from when I was here the last time. I just have to let the game come to me. I'm excited, more than anything, for the home opener [Oct. 29 vs. Chicago ]. I'm just using these next 20 days to tune my machine up. And when my number is called, I'm going to be ready.”

Health watch
Greg Oden (knee rehab) and Chris "Birdman" Andersen (foot) were not seen in the gym during the final moments of practice that were open to the media. Udonis Haslem (offseason right knee surgery) said he's been cleared by doctors to play but is being cautious in the preseason. Mario Chalmers (hip) was limited in Wednesday's practice. Spoelstra said he'll wait until Thursday to decide who plays in Detroit.

Did you know?
Roger Mason Jr., an 11-year veteran, said Wednesday that it was a recruiting call from Ray Allen that convinced him to spurn other offers and sign a nonguaranteed deal with the Heat despite very few roster spots being available. Mason also played for the Heat's summer league team that was coached by Spoelstra 10 years ago.

Quote of the day
“Being with an organization that takes it very seriously is cool, because I've been some places where you have crappy videos. That's not a way to get the game started.”

- Chris Bosh, on the extravagant filming of the Heat's pregame introduction video.

Finals hinge on 'Tale of The Others'

June, 10, 2013
6/10/13
5:07
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- As the Miami Heat were in the midst of a dominant second-half run on the way to a Game 2 victory in the Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, point guard Mario Chalmers approached LeBron James near midcourt with a message.

“I felt like we had them on the ropes,” Chalmers said of the powerful and brief conversation with James. “I told [James], 'Let's go for the kill.' He said, 'I'm with you.'”

Actually, it probably should have been the other way around. With Chalmers leading a group of Heat role players who sparked a 33-5 run to put Sunday's game away, it was James' supporting cast that served notice its presence would be felt as the Heat tied the series 1-1.

While much of the focus in the Finals will be on the respective Big Three members of the Heat and Spurs, the outcome of the games will likely continue to hinge on which team gets the biggest boost from its supporting cast.

That developing trend continued in Game 2 of the Finals, when Chalmers and Miami's role players stepped up in the decisive moments of the game. James got off to a sluggish start and didn't get going until late in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 22 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a rather pedestrian, yet productive outing from Miami's Big Three unit.

But it was the next four players in the Heat's rotation that made the difference. Chalmers had 19 points and didn't commit a turnover; Ray Allen continued his shooting resurgence with 13 points off the bench; and Mike Miller and Chris Andersen combined to make all six of their shots for 18 points to spark Miami's 103-84 victory.

“Obviously, there are going to be certain games where guys will have to be special,” Wade said. “But we like to have games like this, where everyone is involved and the ball is moving around and guys are feeling like they're involved and they're comfortable and confident.”

The most impressive aspect of the Heat's 33-5 run was that the damage was done with Wade and Bosh enjoying all but a combined two minutes of it from the bench. Chalmers, Allen, Miller and Andersen scored 22 of the 33 points and made seven of eight shots during the run. James scored the other 11 points as Miami went from trailing 62-61 late in the third to leading 94-67 midway through the fourth.

“It's the key,” James said of role players swinging the series in either team's favor. “The Big Three on both sides, you know you can kind of rely on them at all times. But I think the supporting cast is really why both teams are here. They've been making an impact all year long. [The Spurs] feel like their supporting cast is better. We feel like our supporting cast is better. It's who goes out and does it each and every night to help seal the wins.”

Miami's answer Sunday came in response to big plays made by role players in support of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili in San Antonio's Game 1 win. Parker's miraculous bank shot in the final seconds provided the biggest highlight from Thursday's series opener. But it was Danny Green's 3-pointer with 2:29 left that gave the Spurs enough of a cushion to hold on for a 92-88 win.

Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal accounted for 36 points and 19 rebounds in Game 1 to help make the difference. The Heat had the edge in Game 2 as Chalmers, Miller, Allen and Andersen combined for 50 points on 65.3 percent shooting, along with nine rebounds.

“This series probably is defined by all the little things,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Small things will make a major difference because the talent level is pretty equivalent. So it's going to be loose balls, rebounds, execution, guys coming in with confidence, being aggressive and that type of thing. Everybody's fine with it.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said the outcome of Sunday's game was determined by the struggles of his future Hall of Famers and not a lack of support from others.

Parker, Duncan and Ginobili missed 23 of their 33 combined shots in Game 2 against a Heat defense that was more aggressive and disruptive than it was the previous game. After forcing just four turnovers in Game 1, the Heat scored 19 points off 17 San Antonio turnovers Sunday.

“Tony, Manu and Timmy were the ones that were 10 for 33,” Popovich said. “I'm not going to put that [responsibility for the loss] on the bench. That's when every team is at their best, when the perimeter is making shots, when the bench is playing well, when you have a lot of contributions. That helps you win basketball games.”

Despite the sloppy play, the Spurs got 14 rebounds from Leonard and a perfect shooting night from Green, who made all six of his shots, five of which were 3-pointers. But even with Leonard, Green, Splitter and Neal contributing 40 points and 18 rebounds Sunday, it wasn't nearly enough.

The Spurs expect to regroup as the series moves to San Antonio for the next three games, starting Tuesday night.

“We know one of the main reasons why we are here [in the Finals] is because they had a terrific season,” Ginobili said of the Spurs' role players. “Kawhi grabbing 14 rebounds, Danny shooting 5-for-5 [on 3-pointers], that really helped us. So Tim, Tony and me, we have to step up. We have basically no shot winning a game against [Miami] if none of us played good. So we definitely have to step up.”

Meanwhile, Chalmers looks for those he refers to as Miami's “others” to maintain their impact moving forward.

“It's very important,” Chalmers said. “Their second unit had a big game in Game 1. Our second unit had a big game [Sunday]. So it's going to be the tale of 'The Others.'"

Wade, Bosh aim for bounce-back Game 6

June, 1, 2013
6/01/13
1:29
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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One step away from a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, struggling Miami Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aim to regain enough of a stride to help LeBron James finish off the Indiana Pacers.

A sore right knee continues to limit Wade's effectiveness during the least-productive playoff series of his 10-year career, while a sprained right ankle has contributed to Bosh's scoring and rebounding woes the past two games.

Both Wade and Bosh hope to bounce back Saturday when the Heat carry their 3-2 series lead into Bankers Life Fieldhouse for Game 6 with a chance to close out the Pacers and advance to the Finals to face San Antonio.

“Nobody is 100 percent,” Bosh said Friday before the Heat's team flight to Indianapolis. “It's just really all mental. Just knowing you have to come in, you have to do your job better than the other guy and know that everyone is ailing a bit. But that's part of the game, especially this time of the year. Everybody has to rise to the challenge.”

That challenge grew steeper for Bosh when the NBA announced Friday that Heat reserve center Chris Andersen is suspended for Game 6 for his role in Thursday's altercation with Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough.

The absence of Andersen's interior scoring, defense, rebounding and energy will create a void for the Heat that demands more production from Bosh, Udonis Haslem and seldom-used center Joel Anthony against Indiana's physical and productive big men in Roy Hibbert and David West.

Bosh said the only choice is to embrace the opportunity.

“[You] have to love pain, love basketball, love the game,” Bosh said. “And love the position you're in.”

(Read full post)

The imminent return of the LeBron floater

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
6:56
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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LeBron James
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Don't be surprised if LeBron James breaks out his floater against Roy Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers.

MIAMI – For the past several weeks, LeBron James has finished up his daily routine at practice by shooting free throws with Ray Allen. Every practice, same thing.

But on Tuesday, things were different.

A day ahead of their Eastern Conference finals matchup against Roy Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers, James was at his normal basket at the Miami Heat’s practice court, but Allen was on another hoop, practicing his 3-point shot on his own. Instead of trading free throws with Allen, James was working with Heat assistant coach David Fizdale and point guard Mario Chalmers on a different shot:

The running floater in the lane.

Yes, the same one he unleashed out of nowhere against Hibbert last playoffs and used to help push the Heat over the top in six games.

James' goal on Tuesday was obvious: to polish his Hibbert arsenal.

“I just dust it off when I need it,” James said of his rarely-seen floater.

This was the first and only day that James has put in extra work on it this season. James started from the top of the key, barreled down the middle of the paint and launched in the air for a floater. He’d do that a few times and then switch angles. Starting from the baseline, James took a dribble on the move and then soared across the lane to drop a running hook. Over and over again.

The only thing that was missing was a 7-foot-2 cardboard cutout standing at the rim.

James knows he’ll need his full repertoire against the Pacers’ front line for this upcoming series. No, the thinking isn’t to only drop floaters in the lane. Rather, it’s to keep Hibbert honest. No more allowing Hibbert to camp out around the rim and wait for intruders. The Heat want Hibbert on the move and guessing.

“He won’t just have one look,” James said after Tuesday’s practice. “We have to be able to give him different looks to keep him off balance.”

James unveiled the crafty shot in the third quarter of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, just minutes after Chris Bosh left the game with an abdominal strain that sidelined him for weeks. James turned the corner after a high pick-and-roll with Udonis Haslem and made his way to the rim as Hibbert sidestepped off Ronny Turiaf to park himself underneath the basket.

That’s where Hibbert waited for James. But instead of trying to shoot through the 7-foot-2 giant, James hopped off two feet halfway into the lane, rose up and tossed the ball high into the air. Swish. From then on, James went to that shot without hesitation, and it proved to be a handy weapon against Hibbert's size.

Remember James' monster Game 4 against the Pacers when he registered 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists? James used his devastating floater on multiple occasions in that furious comeback alongside Dwyane Wade, but James also punished the Pacers with 16 free throws. James still attacked the rim and racked up fouls against Hibbert, but he needed the reliable floater to keep Hibbert from getting too comfortable in the paint.

Typically, James will use his otherworldly athleticism and strength to overwhelm his opponent like a wrecking ball. But there will be times when he'll need technique and grace to keep opposing big men on their toes. So for James in this series against Hibbert and the No. 1-ranked defense in the league this season, the key will be variety, not velocity.

James knows Hibbert doesn't want to be dragged away from the basket. He paid close attention to the Knicks-Pacers series and it resonated with him when Hibbert rose up for that iconic block on Carmelo Anthony at the rim in the decisive Game 6 (James called it "a very good block" on Tuesday). James watched every minute of the series during which the Knicks' percentage of shots in the restricted area plummeted from 39.5 percent with Hibbert on the bench to just 30.5 percent with him in the game, according to NBA.com/Stats.

This is the Hibbert effect, and James wants to neutralize it with as many weapons as he can. The floater, you can expect, will be one of them.

Shane Battier and the nuances of basketball

May, 10, 2013
5/10/13
11:31
AM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Joel
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images
Neutralizing Carlos Boozer is one of the many subtle "plus plays" from Shane Battier so far.

MIAMI – Every so often you’ll glance at the official box score after a game and see a number that is so extreme that you’ll feel the urge to report it as an error. After Game 2 between the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls, there was one of these such moments.

In particular, the stat line next to Shane Battier’s name. In 22 minutes on the floor, Battier scored a measly three points on 1-for-3 shooting from downtown. He collected one steal, one rebound, one assist and got whistled for one foul. He attempted no free throws, took zero 2-pointers and didn’t block at shot.

Pretty standard Shane Battier game. Except for one thing:

His plus-minus for the game was plus-42.

I repeat: plus-42. That means that the Heat outscored the Bulls by 42 points in Battier’s 22 minutes on the floor. Has to be a typo, right? Has to be.

Of course, it wasn’t. As hard as it is to believe, the Heat actually outscored the Bulls 68 -26 in those 22 minutes that Battier was on the floor. It does not seem possible that such a blowout could occur in less than a half of basketball, but that's what happened.

“I saw that,” Battier said at Thursday’s practice when asked about it. “Bizarre.”

It’s so bizarre that, according to NBA StatsCube, we haven’t seen a plus-minus that large in the playoffs in almost a decade. Not since 2005 when Jason Terry posted a plus-43 in 40 minutes of action in a win over the Houston Rockets.

But Battier’s plus-42 feels more impressive considering A) he only played 22 minutes and; B) he barely did anything in the box score.

Battier gets geeked up about these sort of things. The way he talks about it, it’s almost as if someone challenged Battier to game the system: try to win games without leaving a footprint in the box score.

“That’s all I try to do,” Battier said of his plus-minus. “That’s my mindset: I want my plus-minus to be up as high as possible. I take pride in that.”

The Heat’s coaching staff couldn’t believe it either when they saw it. But then they looked at the film. And there was Battier, making winning plays that the box score misses. Battier wasn’t responsible for all of that 42-point deficit, but it’s no coincidence that the Bulls have outscored the Heat by 17 points in this series when Battier’s on the bench, but lost by 47 with Battier on the floor.

At Thursday morning’s film session, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra pulled up video of Battier doing what he does best: rebound blockouts. He showed his team three clips in a row of Battier attempting to transform his 6-foor-8, 220 body into a human shield against Carlos Boozer (who weighs 50 pounds heavier than Battier) and Joakim Noah (who stands several inches taller). These were textbook blockouts that a man of Battier’s frame shouldn’t be able to accomplish.And Spoelstra wanted his team to take notes.

“He was making blockouts that 99 percent of the players in this league won’t do,” Spoelstra said. “The focus and the level of effort with no regard for his health.”

Battier doesn’t want the rebound as long as his man doesn’t get it. Part of that is because he usually can't get the rebound.

“I don’t rebound anymore, I’m too old for that,” Battier said. “But I blockout every time. If you look at our team rebounding percentage, it’s usually up when I’m in.”

He’s right. So far in the Eastern Conference semifinals matchup, the Heat have hauled in 52.9 percent of the available rebounds while Battier is on the court, according to NBA.com/stats. In other words, the Heat have won the rebounding battle with Battier in the game despite being woefully undersized against the Bulls frontline. And when Battier and his blockouts check out of the game, the Heat’s rebounding rate drops to 47.9 percent. The disparity is larger when you zoom out and look at the entire postseason.

Because of these essential blockouts, Battier allows the Heat to go small and space the floor against the stronger, bigger Bulls. So far, he’s been a difference-maker in this series.

“I’m beyond the point where I expect people to fully appreciate my game, unless you’re a basketball guy and really understand the nuances of the game,” Battier said. “My game is 100 percent nuance. The 3-point shot is the only thing that’s tangible that people talk about.”

Another thing: Boozer has shot 0-for-5 and has scored no points with Battier on the floor. That impact can’t be understated. Outside of Luol Deng (who has been out this series with spinal tap complications), Boozer was the Bulls’ leading scorer this season and Battier has completely neutralized that threat.

Of course, he receives none of the credit in the box score.

Another example of Battier’s subtle impact? How about when LeBron James stole a cross-court pass from Nate Robinson in the first quarter. How’d that happen? Because Robinson wanted to get the ball to Boozer in the post, but he became so frustrated that Battier was successfully fronting Boozer that he impatiently flung the ball across the court to Marco Belinelli in the corner. James picked off the pass and got the steal, but Battier probably should get the credit.

Then there’s the time Battier took a charge against Robinson in the second quarter. Or the 3-pointer that Mario Chalmers made after Battier freed him up with a screen. Or how the numerous times he dragged his defender to the corner, thereby taking away one help defender and opening it up for a teammate.

None of it in the box score.

“I bust my ass to the corner every single time to help flatten the defense out because I know if I do that, LeBron (James), Dwyane (Wade) and Mario (Chalmers) will have room to attack,” Battier said. “If I stop at the break of the arc, it makes the difference between them going for a layup and having to pull up for a jumper. “

For Game 3, most of the audience will probably be fixated on the potential return of Derrick Rose, the job of the referees or the growing animosity between these two teams. But beneath it all, Battier will probably be lurking, making all the difference.

Chris Andersen takes flight in Miami

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
2:45
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Andersen
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images
After just five games, the man they call "Birdman" is already paying dividends for the Heat.

MIAMI -- Chris Andersen is not your usual NBA player. Neither is his offseason conditioning regimen.

What was his secret to staying in shape after nine months away from the game?

Fried rice.

Seriously.

"It was mainly my future mother-in-law’s fried rice," Andersen said after Wednesday morning's shootaround.

"Listen, I’m telling you. She’s from Taiwan. She makes some legit fried rice. It’s not like the fried rice you can pick up from P.F. Chang’s or something like that. This is legitimate, healthy ..."

And then a long pause.

"Man, it’s awesome."

Whatever Andersen did in the offseason, it's working. The 34-year-old -- who is known as "Birdman" but introduces himself to others as simply "Bird" -- is already playing big-time minutes off the bench for the defending champions. It's a big change considering just three weeks ago Andersen was unemployed, gobbling up fried rice and looking for his next NBA opportunity.

If he wasn't in shape then, he is now.

"I was in 'around around the waist' shape, but now I'm in 'six-pack abs around the waist' shape," Andersen said. "My knee surgery didn’t allow me to run mountains or the basketball five-on-five thing at the rec center, or stuff like that."

Andersen underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in July, but you wouldn't be able to notice any rust from the time off. He logged a season-high 15 minutes in Miami's game against the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday and finished with four points and six rebounds. It took only five games before the new signee replaced Joel Anthony in the Heat's rotation. Already, Andersen looks like Miami's best big man outside of LeBron James or Chris Bosh.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra insists that he's not playing Andersen 12-15 minutes a night just to help get him into playing shape.

"I’m not trying to condition him," Spoelstra said. "I’m playing him because he’s helping us."

Spoelstra likes what he's seen so far. The hustle plays. The rebounds from out of nowhere. The coast-to-coast drives. That's not stuff that you're seeing from Udonis Haslem and Anthony. And you'll never see Andersen take a play off.

"He doesn’t save anything," Spoelstra said. "He doesn’t pace himself. He’ll play until his tank is absolutely empty. Or until he passes out."

Spoelstra admitted that he initially wasn't planning to play Andersen until after the All-Star break. The coach wasn't sure how long it would take for Andersen to get conditioned and comfortable in the Heat's schemes. Those concerns are obviously gone now, but Spoelstra expects Andersen to need another six to eight weeks before he's in top shape.

But the thing that has intrigued Spoelstra the most is what he calls the "vertical spacing" that Andersen brings. The idea: Throw the ball up in the air and let Andersen catch it for an easy bucket. Bosh is usually out on the perimeter. Haslem doesn't have the legs or the height to pull that off consistently. Anthony doesn't have the hands to make it worthwhile. But Andersen has that promise.

At Wednesday's shootaround, Spoelstra as well as James, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and even Ray Allen drilled the lob pass to Andersen over and over. It's what Spoelstra fears the most when playing against athletic big men like Tyson Chandler and Dwight Howard. Now, he's trying it out with Andersen.

“We haven’t had that element before other than Dwyane and LeBron in the fast break," Spoelstra said. "Guys are starting to see it now, but the play is there."

James unsuccessfully tried the pick-and-lob play with Andersen in Monday's game against the Bobcats. After Andersen screened James' man at the top of the key, the big man rolled toward the rim, watching James intently while James tossed the ball up toward the rim. Andersen went up to flush it home, only James' lob actually hit the back of the rim.

James, who was working on a near-perfect night from the floor, was credited with a turnover instead of a missed shot. Yes, they'll need some time to work out the kinks. That process started Wednesday morning.

"Working on it in practice and working on it in games is going to be completely different," Andersen said. "We tried one in the last game but it was off a little bit, but we’re trying to build that connection."

Andersen's still getting used to playing with a talent like James. One time in the first quarter against Charlotte, James drove baseline and threw an underhanded bullet-pass to Andersen who was barreling down the lane. Andersen didn't even get a hand on it; it came that quickly.

"I mean, that was a rocket," Andersen said, recalling the play. "I was coming to the ball almost full speed and I was like, ‘Holy smokes.’ He’s so capable of passing that you would not even expect some of these passes. It’s something that I have to get used to. Slowly but surely, we’ll get there."

In a little over a full game's worth of action (52 minutes), Andersen has registered 20 points, 19 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. If he keeps his fouls down to a manageable level (he's already been whistled a whopping 12 times), he'll be a big part of the Heat's quest to repeat. Andersen is still working on his second 10-day contract, but signing him for the rest of the season is a mere formality at this point.

If he keeps up his strong play, there might even be a starting job in his future. When Spoelstra was asked whether he could see Andersen eventually starting for the team down the road, the coach said he prefers Andersen coming off the bench.

At least for the time being.

"Right now," Spoelstra said," I like it."

3-on-3 preview: Heat at Nets

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
1:37
PM ET
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesAfter their White House trip, LeBron and the Heat head north to Brooklyn to face Joe Johnson's Nets.
In another installment of the Heat Index's 3-on-3 series, our writers give their takes on the storylines before the Heat face the Nets on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).


1. Fact or Fiction: Chris Bosh deserved an East All-Star spot.


Tom Haberstroh: Fact. He's shooting 54.3 percent this season despite taking jumpers more than ever. His per-game numbers (17.2 points, 7.5 rebounds) don't scream All-Star, but that's mostly because his minutes are down. Sure, the rebounds could be higher, but funny thing: You don't hear complaints about Kevin Garnett's 7.3 rebounds per game, and he's starting for the East.

Michael Wallace: Fact. While Bosh's scoring and rebounds are down this season, he's on pace to shoot the highest field goal percentage of his career. His rebounding totals should be much better, but league coaches are smart enough to know he's the biggest victim of a talented, top-heavy roster in Miami.

Brian Windhorst: Fact. I've seen where people have said Brook Lopez should've made it over Bosh, but they were not in competition. Bosh is a sure-fire All-Star. His play has been uneven, but there are few players in the league like him, and he's having the best shooting season of his career. Lopez's quibble should be that two Bulls (Luol Deng and Joakim Noah) made it.


2. Fact or Fiction: Mario Chalmers is a top-10 point guard.


Haberstroh: Fiction. But Chalmers probably has a top-10 confidence level regardless of position. He probably isn't where he is today without thinking that he's better than he is. Confidence can go a long way in a sport marked by failure. But let's be serious: He might not even be a top-10 point guard in the East; he's 25th among East point guards in Estimated Wins Added.

Wallace: Fiction. Let me say it again: absolute fiction. But supreme confidence is what makes Mario the player and person he is. I can quickly name five backup point guards in the league who are better: Kyle Lowry, Jarrett Jack, J.J. Barea, Eric Bledsoe and Andre Miller. And I probably could keep going.

Windhorst: Fact ... in his own mind. This is Chalmers' greatest attribute, his confidence. Without it, he couldn't take constant abuse from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and still be able to hit clutch shots. Of course he isn't in reality, but Mario is unburdened by such things.



3. Fact or Fiction: Deron Williams is a top-five point guard.


Haberstroh: Fact, if we only go by healthy point guards. Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and Rajon Rondo rank higher on my if-healthy list, along with Kyrie Irving, Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook. And you can probably throw Jrue Holiday in there, too. I'll say Williams sneaks in ahead of Damian Lillard and Mike Conley thanks to his strong play of late.

Wallace: Fact. Yes, he's having a down season, but the product of his entire career so far makes this an easy pick. If the list starts with Paul, Rondo and Westbrook, then Williams would slot into one of the next two spots along with Derrick Rose. But Irving, Holiday and Curry are nipping at the heels of that group.

Windhorst: Fiction. And I'm invested in "fact," too, because for years I argued I'd rather have him than Paul because of Williams' size. Then again, I also bet a friend once Ryan Leaf would have a better career than Peyton Manning. Williams actually has had a great month, but in the past three seasons, he has gone downhill offensively while Paul, Westbrook, Rose, Rondo and Parker have taken off.

The stats behind Heat's head-scratching win

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
12:54
AM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
MIAMI -- It really doesn't seem to add up.

The Heat were outrebounded by the Timberwolves 52 to 24. Heading into Tuesday's game, teams that registered a plus-28 in the rebounding margin were 106-3 since 1985-86, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

One hundred six wins. Three losses.

Here's a chronological visual, starting with the most recent:

WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW
WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWLWWWWLWWWWWWW
WWWWLWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

Now go ahead and add an "L" to the beginning of that string. Somehow, the Timberwolves managed to lose a game in which they were plus-28 in the rebounding margin. First time in 60 previous such instances.

And the Heat won by 11.

Rebounding margin has its flaws. Sometimes a positive rebounding margin means the other team just missed a lot of shots, because the defensive team usually recovers a missed shot. So rebounding margin is not the end-all, be-all. Even so, the Timberwolves shot 43 percent from the floor, which is a ton of available rebounds the Heat didn't gobble up. No two ways about it: The Heat got bludgeoned on the boards.

Yes, the Heat got crushed on the boards, but just as notable is who got dominated. Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem didn't collect a defensive rebound all night. That's happened to Bosh only one other time in his career while playing as much as he did on Tuesday (27 minutes).

Six hundred eighteen such games. Happened only once.

And Haslem? The Heat's all-time leading rebounder played 18 minutes on Tuesday and registered a goose egg in the defensive-rebounding column. Like Bosh, that's happened only one other time in his career. Five hundred seventy-three games. Happened only once.

On Tuesday, it happened to both Bosh and Haslem.

So how did the Heat win?

LeBron James had a big hand in it. He registered 22 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds to go along with 4 blocks on the defensive end. That's a complete game. How many players have matched that stat line in the past 15 years?

Here's the list dating back to 1985-86:

James (5 times).
Chris Mullin (once, in 1995)
Clyde Drexler (once, in 1988)
Charles Barkley (once, in 1986).

So, no one other than James had done it in the past 16 seasons. Impressive feat.

But here's the kicker: LeBron didn't turn the ball over even once.

How many players have accomplished at least 27-11-7-4-0?

No one -- until Tuesday night when James did it. To top it all off, he had a zero in the personal-foul column, too.

The game gets weirder. Joel Anthony had more assists (1) than starting point guard Mario Chalmers (0). Anthony had 9 assists in all of last season. Chalmers has registered more than 9 assists in two separate games this season. So there's that.

And then there's this: The Heat tallied 14 blocks to the Timberwolves' 1.

How often does that happen -- registering at least 14 blocks while the opponent gets just one? It's more rare than your birthday. Just 14 times in the past 28 seasons or once every two seasons.

"We just have to keep fighting and figuring out ways," James said.

Indeed.

James, Wade and Heat search for continuity

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
11:26
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive
LeBron/Wade/Spoelstra
AP Photo/Elise Amendola
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are getting more say in Erik Spoelstra's rotation shuffle these days.

MIAMI -- Erik Spoelstra hinted this was coming.

Two weeks ago, the Miami Heat coach essentially warned his players – and anyone who follows the team closely – to expect the unexpected.

He said to be prepared for opportunities to come one game, and flee the next. He cautioned to brace for sudden change.

“I don't know exactly how I'm going to go for the next 10 or so games, but I do want to look at some things,” Spoelstra said earlier this month. “It's not necessarily tinkering. But I'm trying to get our lineups consistent where it's a consistent wave of production and efficiency.”

That search for continuity continues as the Heat (14-6) try to smooth out a turbulent stretch that has included three losses in five games entering Saturday's visit from the Washington Wizards. In fact, it was a stunning loss to the then one-win Wizards on Dec. 4 in Washington that exposed the Heat for their inconsistent play this season.

But even before then, a combination of injuries, defensive lapses and sluggish starts has led Spoelstra to change his starting lineup five times in the past eight games and juggle his rotation as he patiently waits for the defending champs to rekindle the playoff chemistry of last season.

The Heat have 10 players averaging between 14 and 38 minutes this season. But none except LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh really knows what sort of role to expect – or how long it'll last – on a given night.

“We know who our top 11 or 12 [players] are,” Spoelstra said of trying to settle on a specific rotation. “Things could change. But that will really be based on how we're playing and what we like and don't like.”

In recent games, Spoelstra has liked a starting lineup that looks quite different than the one he prefers at the finish. Udonis Haslem has replaced Shane Battier as the starting power forward and Mario Chalmers continues to start at point guard despite his recent struggles on both ends of the floor.

But there has been a different set of closers on the floor alongside James, Wade and Bosh late in the fourth quarter. Battier, Ray Allen, Norris Cole and Joel Anthony have been among the finishing options lately.

A clear sign that Spoelstra is still searching was revealed late in Wednesday's 97-95 home loss to Golden State, when the Heat effectively used Cole instead of Chalmers in the second half to slow down Stephen Curry. But Spoelstra replaced Cole with Allen in the final minutes and curiously stayed with Allen after a timeout with 11 seconds left when the Heat needed a defensive stop. The Warriors scored on a backdoor layup with a second remaining after a defensive mix-up between Battier, Allen and Bosh.

After taking the day off Thursday, the Heat went back to work Friday to regroup. It's a continuous process, and Spoelstra has involved his star players in the process as he experiments with different lineup combinations.

“When things are going good, you don't need to voice your opinion that much,” James said. “When things out on the floor are going well and you see a rotation that looks good, you want to stick with that. When you're deep, you go through a couple of phases in the season where you try to find the best combination of lineups, offensively and defensively … and you just go from there.”

James said he's gradually become more vocal over his three seasons in Miami about which players work best around him during certain moments in games. He doesn't dictate the Heat's substitution patterns in games, but he does approach Spoelstra with recommendations in meetings.

“I take on a lot of roles,” James continued. “Hopefully, I'm in a lot of those combinations. I feel that my voice ... that my opinion means a lot. Being out there, it's a fine line. You want to be able to score, but you also want to be able to defend. There's going to be better lineups offensively. And there's going to be lineups that are better defensively. As a coach, you try to find the one that fits in the middle.”

Wade said his suggestions to Spoelstra during challenging times are a bit more personal. They discuss ways in which Wade can be used more effectively and efficiently, considering he's still working his way back to full strength following offseason knee surgery.

Wade's performances this season have been as sporadic as those of his team. His scoring average (19.8 ppg) is the lowest it's been since his rookie season, but his field goal percentage (50.4) is currently at a career-high level.

“So far in the early season, for me, it's been me suggesting what I feel I can give or how I can help myself to help the team,” Wade said. “We're still trying to figure out and find out the way we want to play. It's still early in the season for a lot of teams. This is the time of year where you pick up wins while you're still figuring your game out.”

For Spoelstra, it's also about finding combinations that fit. Last season, that search continued well into the playoffs until he developed a small-ball rotation dynamic that fueled the Heat's push to a championship.

So it's still way early in the process.

“You don't just want guys to say, 'Yeah, well, I'll just sit over here. I don't want to play,'” Spoelstra said. “But our guys understand the big picture. They understand we will need all the guys and it's a long season. It's a luxury that we have that versatility. If everybody has the right mindset, then we can use it to our benefit. If guys get sideways in the mind, there's no point in even having that versatility.”

Why the Heat could be back to square one

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
10:46
AM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
Shane Battier
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireIf Shane Battier misses time for the Heat, the injury will mean more than you think.

In the third quarter of the Heat's win over the Cavaliers on Saturday, Udonis Haslem fell after taking a charge on Alonzo Gee and slid backward into Shane Battier's right leg. After the awkward collision, Battier reflexively collapsed to the floor, grabbing his right knee and twisting around in pain. Battier left the game and watched the Heat's rally from the locker room.

The Heat diagnosed the injury as a strained MCL and Battier announced on Twitter that he would "be back in a few."

A few days, a few games, a few weeks -- we don't know (Update: LeBron James said at Monday's practice that Battier would be out a few games). A Battier injury could prove to be a significant blow to the Heat's game plan. Because if the foundation of Erik Spoelstra's "pace-and-space" attack is built on James, then Battier is the glue (please pardon the cliché).

In order to fully embrace the Heat's "small-ball" philosophy -- or "speed-ball" as Spoelstra prefers to call it -- the team needed a stretch-4 who could space the floor and guard opposing power forwards, which would allow Chris Bosh to exploit opposing 5s and James to occupy the paint offensively. Stretch-4s come at a hefty price on the open market (see: Ryan Anderson's deal), and the Heat couldn't afford to bring in that kind of talent if they also wanted to bring in Ray Allen. So they manufactured one from within.

The corner 3 is arguably the most efficient shot on the court, and no one has made more of them than Battier this season, according to NBA.com's stats tool. Battier makes it all work. He creates critical spacing for the offense and saves James the arduous task of guarding opposing power forwards for a full 82-game season. If Battier misses time, the Heat's starting lineup won't be the only thing impacted; the team's style of play will be jeopardized as well.

If Battier is out for significant time, here are the Heat's three likely options to replace Battier in the lineup and why the choice could signal how wedded they are to the "pace-and-space" program.

1. The easiest transition: Rashard Lewis.
So far, the Heat have struck gold with the Lewis contract. After basically taking off the last two seasons, Lewis signed for the veteran minimum, which is the same deal that Eddy Curry signed with the Heat last season. Evidently, sometimes they work out, sometimes they don't.

Lewis isn't the player he once was, but he doesn't need to be for the Heat. If he can be Battier's understudy as a stretch-4 on this team, then the Heat should be thrilled. Thus far, Lewis has shot a scorching 53.6 percent from downtown, but his battered knees have made him a legitimate liability on defense. He struggles to stay in front of his opponent, and his post-up defense has been lacking (his early numbers on Synergy are horrid).

The Heat can probably get away with using Lewis as Battier's replacement in the starting lineup, but Lewis isn't healthy. After a recent bout of the flu, Lewis' conditioning will be questionable at best, and it's important to note that Battier averages about 10 minutes more per game than Lewis. If Lewis starts in Battier's place on Thursday, it would demonstrate how serious Spoelstra is about playing unconventional. Should Lewis get his wind back, it's probably the most likely choice.

2. The safest route: Udonis Haslem.
If you remember, when Bosh returned from his abdominal injury in the playoffs, Battier took Haslem's spot in the starting lineup. The Heat won five of their first six playoff games last season with Haslem starting next to James, Bosh, Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade, so the Heat know it can be a successful blueprint.

But starting Haslem would indicate a departure from the Heat's game plan. The talents of the Big Three could temporarily hide the fact that Haslem's jumper has been off for two seasons now. To put it in perspective, on a per-40 minute basis, Haslem shot 5.8 jumpers from 16-to-23 feet and made 48 percent of them before hurting his foot in 2010-11, according to Hoopdata.com. This season? He's down to 2.3 jumpers per 40 minutes and a 31 percent conversion rate. Translation: He's taking fewer and making fewer.

Haslem brings leadership, above-average rebounding chops and solid defense to the table, which could give him the upper-hand over Lewis. But ultimately, he is not a proxy for Battier in the least and Spoelstra will probably put a premium on continuity. Haslem is a lot of things, but a floor-spacer, he is not.

3. The square-one choice: Joel Anthony.
Putting Anthony back into the starting lineup would mean one thing and one thing only: Spoelstra desperately wants to fix the defense. The Heat's defense currently ranks 23rd in the NBA, which is embarrassingly low for the Heat organization that prides itself on that end of the floor. Anthony makes Haslem look like Steve Kerr out there and his complete lack of range compromises the Heat's attack, but he detonates opposing pick-and-rolls better than anybody on the Heat, and that's no small thing.

The good news is this: the Heat's defense becomes 3.7 points per 100 possessions stingier when Anthony has played this season. The bad news? The offense is 14.2 points worse every 100 possessions. Much of that is due to the reserves that he plays with, but Anthony has joined a long list of Heat centers of the Big Three era that went from starter to benchwarmer seemingly overnight. Following in the footsteps of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Erick Dampier, Anthony has been nailed to the bench ever since his demotion in the playoffs and has essentially been reduced to an emergency defensive specialist.

To illustrate Miami's radical shift in philosophy this offseason, consider this: the Heat's most-used lineup by far last season featured Anthony as a starter, and it has played exactly once together so far this season. That only lasted three minutes. If Spoelstra chooses Anthony, he would effectively reset to a pre-championship edition of the Heat. Such a move might not sit well with Spoelstra. But neither does the 23rd ranking on defense.

The Heat and the hockey assist

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
3:40
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
LeBron James
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis have each hit 3-pointers thanks to LeBron James' hockey assists.

MIAMI -- People must be really getting antsy about the NHL lockout because all anyone could talk about in the Heat locker room Wednesday night was hockey.

Yes, hockey.

Well, maybe not hockey itself, but rather the hockey assist.

What's a hockey assist?

It's a stat tracked in hockey that credits a player who assists the player who assists the player who scores. In other words, it takes the assist one step further. Hockey assists are easily tracked in hockey because there are only a few scoring plays in a game. But basketball? Yeah, that takes some extra work.

But with this Heat team, that extra work might be worth it.

Watch Miami play for a few possessions and it's impossible to ignore the rapid ball movement. The team's "pace and space" brand of basketball is predicated on spreading the floor and quickly whipping the ball around the court. As a result, the Heat are piling up assists like never before. Their current average of 25.4 assists per game would break a franchise record.

The Heat pay attention to hockey assists internally, and that's good news for LeBron James because he was spared from public shaming for tallying only one assist in Monday's game against Phoenix. Believe it or not, it was just the eighth time in James' career that he failed to record more than one assist in a game.

But close observers probably noticed that James was setting up plenty of shots Monday; the key is that it took an extra pass to get there. After reviewing the tape, James tallied three hockey assists in Tuesday's game, including two that resulted in made 3-pointers.

In Wednesday's blowout win against the Nets, much was made of the fact that James was two assists shy of a triple-double. But James tallied two of the team's six hockey assists in the game, which would have given him the requisite assists needed to tally a triple-double.

"Very few players have an understanding what a hockey assist is," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "[LeBron] is able to read the situation and make the hockey assist knowing that it's going to take one or two passes for a wide-open shot. He can make those calculations as fast as any player I've been around."

In fact, a review of the game tape reveals that James has nine hockey assists in five games, which gives him more hockey assists than Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen combined. James' average of 1.8 hockey assists per game would tie Derrick Rose's league lead last season, according to games tracked by 3-D camera tracking by Stats LLC. This season's data was not made available by Stats LLC, but more and more teams are tracking it, by hand or by state-of-the-art technology.

Also interesting is that hockey assists tend to be more rewarding than regular assists. The 26 hockey assists the Heat have tallied this season have led to 16 3-pointers, with an average yield of 2.6 points. A regular assist? Just 2.2 points.

Chris Bosh has only seven regular assists this season, but he has more hockey assists (four) than any of his teammates not named LeBron James. That's part of a big man's job, to kick out to shooters and restart the offense if there's nothing there in the post.

The biggest recipient of hockey assists? That would be Allen, who has made six shots via the extra pass, all of which are 3-pointers.

James first heard about the hockey assist when he was a teenager at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, so it's no surprise that he's racking them up.

"We always talked about hockey assists back in high school," James said. "I just come from an unselfish brand of basketball; that's how my little league coaches taught me all the way up through high school."

Wade was introduced to the concept in college playing at Marquette for coach Tom Crean, now the coach of the Indiana Hoosiers. According to Wade, Crean actually placed greater importance on hockey assists than on regular assists because it promoted another level of ball movement. Crean was so big on hockey assists at Marquette that he left a little note on each locker with the player's hockey assist count after each game.

"If you didn’t have any hockey assists, you have would have a big doughnut on your locker," Wade said.

Shane Battier, who has been the recipient of four hockey assists this season, can't believe it's not tracked in the standard box score.

"I’m surprised they haven’t come up with a ‘saberstat’ for that yet," Battier said, alluding to the sabermetrics movement in basketball. "That’s the way basketball should be played."

Of course, there's a downside to all of this: the dreaded overpass. That's a temptation that often occurs with this Heat team that sometimes features four potential Hall of Famers on the same court. You have to be selfish at times, too.

"There's that gray area between overpassing and making the right pass," Bosh said. "We make sure we get on guys if somebody passes an open shot. That's the worst thing in the world because it kind of stops what we do."

It's taught at the early levels to make a pass to get a better shot. But how do you know if it's a better shot? That's the tricky part. If you ask Battier, you must channel, yes, "the Force."

"When the ball’s swinging, you have to have a Jedi sense to feel that next defender," Battier said. "Is he going to rush out at me? Is that passing lane open? It’s not something you’re taught; it’s a feel thing. There is a balance. You can overpass, but it’s a much better problem than underpassing."

A textbook hockey assist opportunity fell into the hands of Chalmers on Wednesday night. After making a post move to the middle of the paint, Bosh kicked it out to Chalmers on the left wing when the defense collapsed. Chalmers had a pretty open look, but you know who had a better look? Battier, who was nestled into the left corner. Wide open.

So what did Chalmers do? Touch pass to Battier. Battier shot an uncontested left corner 3, maybe the most efficient shot in the game, and drilled it.

Chalmers passed up a good shot for a better shot. That's the spirit of a hockey assist.

"It’s just good basketball," Battier said. "With the shooters and attackers we have, the ball should never be stagnant, it should always hop. Good things happen when that happens.”

Allen and Lewis set to make debut in Miami

October, 17, 2012
10/17/12
6:05
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive
Allen/Lewis
Icon SMI, AP Photo
Ray Allen is on a fast track to success in Miami, but the Heat will be patient with his fellow newcomer.

MIAMI -- Ray Allen admits he's struggling to adjust.

Sure, his shot has been slightly off through his first three preseason games with the Heat. But that's not what's eating away at Allen, the NBA's career leader in 3-point shooting.

Allen also has yet to establish any rhythm with other players projected to be on the Heat's second unit because of injuries. But he knows it's only a matter of time before Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers heal.

There's only one real obstacle complicating Allen's transition from Boston to Miami, where he'll make his home preseason debut Thursday against the Detroit Pistons: South Florida traffic.

“U.S. 1 is the pits,” Allen said of the oft-gridlocked route from his Coral Gables home to AmericanAirlines Arena downtown. “The toughest thing? Probably my commute. Just trying to figure out which way to go. It seems like there's traffic when there shouldn't be traffic. I'm sitting there trying to figure out why there's traffic. I was probably stuck there for 30 minutes and there was just one car pulled over and somebody left it there. So [traffic] was backed the whole way up to [Interstate] 95. Just ridiculous."

Other than that, both Allen and Rashard Lewis -- the Heat's two key free-agency acquisitions -- apparently are headed in the right direction in their new surroundings. But the two are progressing along vastly different paths in Miami.

Allen and Lewis are expected to play in front of the home crowd for the first time in Thursday's preseason game. While Allen continues to work out a few kinks and adapt to a likely sixth-man role with the Heat, Lewis is methodically trying to play his way back into NBA shape after battling injuries the past two seasons.

Allen, 37, has shown no signs of negative effects from offseason ankle surgery through the midway point of the preseason. Barring any setbacks, Allen is expected to seamlessly transition into a versatile role in Miami that already has seen him spend some time at point guard in bigger lineups.

For Lewis, however, each day he's able to complete a full practice and regain some rhythm and timing is essentially a success. His playing time has varied the first three preseason games and he has more turnovers than made baskets so far. For now, Lewis, 33, gauges his progress by the strides he makes in consecutive practices more so than he does his game performances.

“That's the whole goal … just to be out here every single day, when you have nagging injuries,” said Lewis, who has missed 62 games the past two seasons with knee and leg injuries. “My goal is to keep pushing forward and not take a step backwards. I feel like I'm getting there, starting to turn the corner a little bit, getting my legs up under me.”

While Allen is expected to make an immediate impact on the team starting with the highly charged Oct. 30 season opener against the Celtics, the Heat are taking a more cautious approach and a long view with Lewis. Allen will slide immediately into a perimeter rotation alongside Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Lewis could eventually help bolster a relatively thin Heat front line that starts career power forward Chris Bosh at center and natural small forward Shane Battier at power forward.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra believes both Allen and Lewis have been able to fit in at a faster pace because they've come from teams that have similar systems and philosophies as the Heat. In the past few seasons, Spoelstra has mimicked some of Boston's play calls and speaks highly of the Celtics' complex team defensive structure. Lewis spent four years in Orlando under Stan Van Gundy, who has been one of Spoelstra's best friends and mentors.

Spoelstra also said their championship-level experience and veteran leadership have made a potentially difficult adjustment process much easier for the two new additions. Allen won a title with Boston in 2008, and Lewis advanced to the Finals with Orlando the following season.

“They've both been in solid systems,” Spoelstra said. “It's not too much different defensively in terms of the expectations, the detail, the intensity on that side of the floor. Offensively, that will take time. Ray, I think, is ready to step in and he's already gotten a feel. Rashard, it's great to have him out here every day. He's missed two years of rhythm and timing. That takes time. But we'll be patient.”

The only thing Allen doesn't have patience for is the local traffic. As far as his rhythm, it's a work in progress. He's shot 44.8 percent overall from the field in three preseason games, but was just 4-of-14 from 3-point range. But he also had five assists and three steals in the Oct. 7 preseason opener against Atlanta and scored 15 points as the Heat's second-leading scorer in an Oct. 11 win against the Los Angeles Clippers in China. During that game overseas, Allen showed he's establishing chemistry with LeBron James, who assisted on two of Allen's four 3-pointers.

“I try to keep my mind in tune with whatever is happening for that moment. I try not to look too far ahead,” Allen said of his approach. “For me, it's just physically getting my body together and being healthy, and getting stronger and just trying to understand my new surroundings better. I think it will take a while.”

That process for Lewis involves an internal struggle. Mentally, he believes he still has the skill set of the All-Star player he was with the Magic. The challenge now is to get his body back to as close to its 2009 form as possible. Lewis has struggled with his shot and was a step or two slow defensively in adjusting to game speed. But he has benefited from extra minutes in practices and games because of injuries to Haslem and Joel Anthony.

“No doubt, I still know I've got a lot of basketball left in me," Lewis said. "I know I can go out and help this team win some ballgames. It's just, you can't do it overnight. There are a number of things you have to do to compete at the NBA level. I think sometimes I put too much pressure on myself because I know I can go out there and do better. But I've got to let it come and not rush it.”

Allen said “it's hard to say” when he'll feel completely comfortable and in his normal rhythm. But he likes the direction things are gradually heading with the Heat.

“What I see of all the guys as a whole, Coach doesn't have to manage the team,” Allen said. “It does make it easier on the veteran players. Look at myself, LeBron, D-Wade and Shane [Battier]. You figure all those guys are vets, with Mike and [James Jones] and Udonis. So there's not a lot that you have to say, because everybody knows how to do their job and come to work.”

Getting to and from work in Miami?

Well, that's the only drag for Allen.

Otherwise, he's on the fast track to having a major impact.

Progress Report: Heat return from China

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
11:33
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
LeBron James checked in with Yao Ming in Shanghai. Let's check in with Miami after its China trip.

MIAMI -- After splitting a pair of exhibition games against the Los Angeles Clippers in China and enduring a week of promotional appearances, the Miami Heat returned home Sunday night to cope with their biggest obstacle of the preseason: jet lag.

LeBron James and his teammates logged more than 35 hours of total flight time since they departed Miami for their Oct. 7 preseason opener in Atlanta, a trip that was immediately followed by a seven-day journey through Beijing and Shanghai.

On Monday, the Heat hit the midway point of their training camp and preseason preparation with a much-needed day of rest and recovery. Practice is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning, and the challenge for the Heat will be to get their body clocks reset and their legs restored in advance of home preseason games Thursday against Detroit and Saturday against San Antonio.

In our second installment of the Heat's Monday Progress Report, we break down Miami's primary roster as the team prepares for the Oct. 30 season opener against Boston.

PROJECTED STARTERS

PG: Mario Chalmers: There's still no real way to gauge where the Heat's returning starter stands because he has missed all three of their preseason games with a strained muscle in his leg. Because it's only the preseason, the Heat can afford to take their time to get him healthy. But it's safe to say this has been more than just a precaution; it seems to be a legit concern.

SG: Dwyane Wade: After suggesting he'd try to play in one of the two games in China, Wade pushed through both exhibitions -- and looked surprisingly active and athletic in both, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Wade missed 11 of the 16 shots he attempted in the two games, so his offense is rusty, which is understandable after offseason knee surgery. But he also had 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks in what amounted to about three quarters of total court time in two games. Wade certainly had a business incentive to perform in China after launching his new shoe deal with the Asia-based sportswear company Li-Ning. It will be interesting to see how he approaches this week's schedule.

SF: LeBron James: As expected, James put on a show, particularly in the first of the two games in China, when he dazzled the capacity crowd with ferocious dunks and highlight plays on the way to 20 points, 5 assists and 5 steals. In the second game, James basically had it on cruise control and still contributed across the stat sheet. For someone who's played so much the past 10 months, it has to be tough to get up for these preseason games. Complacency will set in for James at some point soon. It is against his nature to want to skip games to rest, so he's likely to play at least some this week. But the more rest coach Erik Spoelstra gives his catalyst now, the better off the Heat will be in the long run.

PF: Shane Battier: Through three preseason games, Battier is shooting an amazing 60 percent from 3-point range on limited attempts. He embodies the definition of hitting the ground running. And it appears Spoelstra will keep Battier in his role from the championship run as the starting power forward to maintain that unconventional look. But the Heat can't hide their struggles to defend and rebound in the lane forever. The Clippers outrebounded the Heat by 31 in two games, with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan combining to shoot 60 percent against Miami's front line. The good news for Battier: He won't have to see players like Griffin and Jordan every night.

C: Chris Bosh: If you're still waiting and hoping for Bosh to be a bruiser who hoards rebounds and forces the action inside the paint when he touches the ball, you should stop wasting your time. Bosh is what he is. Accept it. Just hope for the best -- a few key rebounds here and there and a big shot when James and Wade look his way in the clutch. What we saw from Bosh in China were a lot of fouls defensively and very few paint touches on the offensive end. The Heat should find a way in these preseason games to keep Bosh active and engaged. Otherwise, he's the floating, forgotten man.

KEY RESERVES

G: Ray Allen: It's just a matter of time before the most productive 3-point shooter in NBA history eventually works out the kinks in his transition from Boston. Allen is just 4-of-14 from beyond the arc this preseason. Battier had similar growing pains when he arrived in Miami. But the threat of Allen knocking down a big shot is almost as lethal as making one -- for now. The open looks and spacing are there for him to do his job. At some point, the ball and rim will cooperate.

F: Mike Miller: Perhaps Pat Riley wasn't joking after all. Maybe the Heat will find a way to simply keep Miller on ice until the playoffs and hope he can put together a few of those explosive shooting nights like he had in the Game 5 title clincher against Oklahoma City. In reality, Miller seems to be a charter member of this season's “maintenance” program. Spoelstra has vowed to bring Miller along gradually from offseason back rehab, so the 32-year-old forward was limited to sightseeing in China.

F/C: Udonis Haslem: Another member of the team's preseason M.A.S.H. unit. Haslem has yet to play because of a leg strain, which is a surprise considering he came into camp saying he was in the best shape he's been in three years. Haslem will have to play catch-up in the position-less system when he's healthy. But there should be a place in the rotation for the team's best rebounder.

ROTATION BUBBLE

PG: Norris Cole: Obviously, Cole brought back more into his second NBA season than the high-top fade and pork chop sideburns that have him looking like a young Artis Gilmore. He's also developed a solid stroke from 3-point range to better his chances of getting -- and staying -- on the court this season. Cole was perfect in China from 3-point range on his four attempts. But he has more than twice as many turnovers as assists this preseason starting in place of the injured Chalmers, which is a major problem.

F: Rashard Lewis: On the heels of the failed Eddy Curry experiment, the Heat seem determined to give Lewis every chance imaginable to make this latest reclamation project work in Miami. So far, the rust is overwhelming just about everything Lewis is trying to do on the court. Lewis' potential is promising, because of the skill set he's shown in his career. But it's going to require plenty of time and patience for this to work for the Heat.

LONG SHOT TO WATCH

F/C: Josh Harrellson: After lobbying for a shot with the Heat and landing two extensive offseason workouts, Harrellson finally got a chance to prove what he can do Sunday in Shanghai. In just more than 20 minutes off the bench, Harrellson had 9 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals -- and held his own against veterans Lamar Odom and Ryan Hollins. Harrellson, who spent last season with the Knicks, likely is competing with Mickell Gladness, Dexter Pittman and Robert Dozier for one of the Heat's final two roster spots. That potentially makes this a huge week for Harrellson.

Progress Report: Heat begin preseason

October, 8, 2012
10/08/12
11:07
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive
Ray Allen
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
In Sunday's preseason opener in Atlanta, Ray Allen showed that he's ready after training camp week.

MIAMI -- With their first preseason test behind them and a case of jet lag looming after a 14-hour flight, LeBron James and the Miami Heat arrived in China on Monday morning for a weeklong stay for two games against the Los Angeles Clippers.

A string of minor injuries to some, coupled with continued rehab for others from offseason procedures, has made it difficult for the defending NBA champions to establish much continuity so far. The Heat hope to jump-start that process overseas.

“Only thing that matters is we want to continue to get better,” James said before the preseason slate got underway. “A trip like this will definitely help. We're not going to waste the opportunity.”

So where do the Heat stand after a full week of camp? Let's break down the roster in Monday's Progress Report.

PROJECTED STARTERS
PG: Mario Chalmers: As hard is it might be to fathom, the fifth-year guard and returning starter absolutely should be considered an NBA veteran. Still, Chalmers hasn't been able to gain much traction in camp because of a thigh bruise he sustained during last week's initial workouts. Unless the injury is more serious than indicated, it's hard to imagine him missing both games in China. So he should be in the flow soon.

SG: Dwyane Wade: Still in the final, methodical stages of rehab from offseason arthroscopic knee surgery, Wade missed Sunday's game in Atlanta but is almost certain to get in at least one of the two games in China. It's a business trip for Wade on multiple fronts, as he is expected to launch his new shoe endorsement deal with a China-based brand this week after splitting from Nike's Jordan Brand. One sign that Wade is physically back to his explosive ways came last week during a post-practice workout, when he caught a ball in the paint, spun toward the basket and rose for a vicious dunk without much momentum.

SF: LeBron James: The league's reigning regular-season and Finals MVP hasn't missed a beat despite playing nonstop basketball since December, when the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season commenced on Christmas Day. LeBron was on his usual triple-double pace Sunday in Atlanta, when he had 10 points, six rebounds and six assists in a little more than 20 minutes. Chances are the trip to China might do more to bore than to buoy him as he awaits a more meaningful portion of the season.

PF: Shane Battier: After laboring through the lockout and free agency last offseason, Battier arrived to camp a year ago out of shape and rhythm. It led to a slow start to the season. That's far from the case this time around for Battier, who is the physical embodiment of coach Erik Spoelstra's “position-less basketball” scheme. Battier is back at the starting power forward spot, where he was most effective in the Finals victory against Oklahoma City. Much like James, Battier seems in midseason form.

C: Chris Bosh: Reluctant about the full-time move to center? Sure, that was the case initially. But is it a regrettable change for Bosh? That hardly seems to be the case so far. Just because Bosh is officially listed at center, it doesn't necessarily mean he'll be forced into the paint to bang bodies with opposing bigs. With a team-high 22 points, including 15 in the third quarter Sunday, Bosh showed the potential that he can work this assignment to his advantage on most nights. He seems as comfortable and confident now than he's been at any time since he arrived in Miami.

KEY RESERVES
G: Ray Allen: Maybe it's just me, but there's still something that just doesn't look right about Allen being in a Heat uniform. But Allen is already making the adjustment process appear as silky smooth as the stroke on his lethal jumper. The league's career leader in made 3-point baskets is setting out to prove at age 37 he's more than simply a long-range threat. He made his case in Atlanta when he only attempted one trey, but had five assists, three steals and three boards off the bench. If he stays healthy, this could be a Sixth Man of the Year situation.

F: Mike Miller: For the first time since he signed in the summer of 2010, Miller is visibly free of pain. No bandages. No braces. No bending over and laboring up and down the court. But it's still early. So Heat fans might want to search for the nearest wood structure and commence knocking on it. This might finally be the season the Heat get to unwrap all those intangible gifts they expected when he signed in the summer of 2010.

F/C: Udonis Haslem: The proverbial chip on the shoulder is still there with Haslem. Last season, the Heat added Battier and moved him to power forward. This season, Miami is hoping to resurrect the player formally known as All-Star Rashard Lewis. Presumably, there could be backup minutes at center, but Haslem, who sat out Sunday with minor soreness, is going to have to fight to remain relevant in the Heat's primary rotation. His rebounding will certainly be valuable.

ROTATION BUBBLE
PG: Norris Cole: There has been ample opportunity for Cole to showcase his improvement from last season, mainly because the quad injury has kept Chalmers off the court the past week. Cole spent the entire summer working to gain more control of the offense. Although he struggled with five turnovers and just two assists on Sunday, Spoelstra considers him the most improved player in camp so far.

F/C: Joel Anthony/Rashard Lewis: Anthony has been sidelined and Lewis has been laboring through the early stages of training camp while trying to regain his rhythm after two seasons of leg injuries. Ultimately, this could be a situational process for the Heat. They will lean on Anthony for shot-blocking and defensive needs and turn to Lewis for offense and floor-spacing purposes.

LONG SHOT TO WATCH
F: Robert Dozier: Stashed overseas for the two years since he was drafted in the second round by the Heat, Dozier is working his way into the good graces of the coaching staff. He can play up to three positions in the Heat's system and has enough length, athleticism and offensive skills to potentially separate himself from other camp hopefuls such as Jarvis Varnado and Josh Harrellson.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dwyane Wade
PTS AST STL MIN
23.3 5.5 1.1 33.0
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsC. Bosh 8.2
AssistsD. Wade 5.5
StealsM. Chalmers 1.7
BlocksC. Bosh 0.8