Miami Heat Index: Michael Wallace


In a battle of division leaders, the Heat travel to Toronto to take on the Raptors. Yup, the Raptors lead the Atlantic Division with a record of 6-8.

1. Can Miami keep streaking until the Indy game (Dec. 10)?


Israel Gutierrez: Sure, why not? It'll only add to the narrative of that budding rivalry between the two best teams in the East. It won't be easy, though. That Pacers game will be the last of a four-game road trip for Miami, so getting there on a win streak would first mean victories at Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit.

Michael Wallace: No. Playing with that level of consistency and energy for six more games, with four of them on the road, is a bit much to ask. Heat streaks tend to die in Chicago, which looms next week. And if not there, two nights later in Minnesota could be dangerous.

Brian Windhorst: They have a great chance. They will be the heavy favorite in each game, and there's only one back-to-back, next week in Detroit, where there's a good chance Wade will sit. Of course, there's a game in Chicago in that stretch, and the Bulls are always a challenge. They're probably privately hoping they get a chance to end another Heat streak.



2. What are the chances Haslem's rotation removal is permanent?


Gutierrez: Very low. It's unlikely Shane Battier will go the rest of the way at power forward without wearing down at some point. If that happens, Erik Spoelstra will likely turn back to Haslem as a starter. But it has become clear that if he's not starting, Haslem's not playing.

Wallace: Slim. Coach Erik Spoelstra's rotation is known to go away from folks for extended periods, but they always seem to come back around at some point via injury or the ineffective play of someone else. That said, it will be difficult to overtake a healthy Shane Battier, a productive Michael Beasley or a consistent Rashard Lewis at this point.

Windhorst: Nothing at the back of the rotation is permanent. The Heat have a deep team, and they use it. The rotation will continue to change all season.



3. Can the Raptors actually win the Atlantic Division?


Gutierrez: No, the Raptors won't win this division, regardless of what's going on in New York and Brooklyn right now. The funny part is, if this talent (DeMar Derozan, Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas) were on another one of these Atlantic teams, we would have pretty high expectations for them. But there's something about Toronto over the past several years that brings down expectations.

Wallace: It's possible, but I seriously doubt it. There's still faith to some degree that the Knicks will right the ship when Tyson Chandler returns from injury. And there's still plenty of time for the Nets to stop making a mess of themselves. It's way too soon to rely on the Raptors to get this done. Still, a .500 record may be all that's required to do it at the pace.

Windhorst: Probably not. The Raptors are the only team in the division that are performing at the level that most expected. Everything else has been a surprise. You would think the Nets talent would give them traction when they get healthy, especially since the Raps aren't putting much space between them.


The Suns (7-6) have been one of the biggest surprises in the early part of the season. Can they keep pace with the defending champs on Monday night?

1. Your biggest concern about the Heat right now is ...


Israel Gutierrez: That LeBron’s celebration dance is getting ripped off in the NFL (Cam Newton, Julian Edelman). Seriously, look at the calendar, look at the Heat’s history, look at the Heat’s roster and look at the rest of the Eastern Conference. If you’re still concerned about anything concerning the Heat, it might be time to seek medication.

Michael Wallace: Complacency. This is hardly a new challenge for Miami. But after all of the hype entering the season about all the potential threats to the Heat in the East, only the Indiana Pacers have lived up to expectations. Miami has needed about eight minutes of great play to win games this season. The biggest challenge is getting motivated to play a full game.

Brian Windhorst: Dwyane Wade's health. This has been the team's No. 1 concern for three seasons now. They are doing the absolute right thing by giving him games off every time he experiences issues, which is a luxury they can afford.




2. Fact or fiction: LeBron has been a better facilitator than scorer.


Gutierrez: Fact, because it is always a fact. Even when he does score in bunches, it doesn't come as consistently as his ability to distribute. Plus, if you look at his attempts, they’re at a career low, by far. So you realize that he’s being especially selective, therefore shooting near 60 percent from the field and 49 from three. It’s not as if he’s on some scoring tear.

Wallace: Fact. Now that he's added the cross-court, one-handed breaking ball to his arsenal, it's safe to say LeBron has the complete pitching package when it comes to creative ways to distribute the rock. I've seen him score 30-plus and shoot 60 percent quite often. But I'm just waiting to see him truly channel his inner Magic Johnson and average 10 assists for a season.

Windhorst: Fact. LeBron is averaging just 15 shots a game -- more than two fewer than the least number of shots in his career -- yet his scoring is steady. Being more efficient as a shooter has freed him up to focus on setting up teammates even more than usual.




3. Fact or Fiction: Michael Beasley should be behind Rashard Lewis.


Gutierrez: Fiction. Erik Spoelstra is trying to get the most out of them, wherever he can. Long term, there’s still no telling if either can be trusted for extended minutes against elite teams. But for now, it’s hard to complain about how each is being used when Beasley’s shooting 59 percent and giving you 26.2 points per 36 minutes, and Lewis’ plus-minus numbers have been great.

Wallace: Fact. Sure, we see the dynamic scoring at a point-per-minute pace for Beasley. The Heat need his punch and energy off the bench. But Lewis has gained the coaching staff's trust because of his unselfish ball movement and comfort level with the team's defensive concepts. Still, both have recently enjoyed a rotation promotion of sorts, having moved ahead of Udonis Haslem.

Windhorst: Fact. Lewis has a longer history with this group and has been playing his role well. For all the attention the ninth man in the rotation seems to get because of Beasley, though, if this is ever really an issue than it means the team is having much bigger problems.

Lewis still has a lot of basketball left to play

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
5:50
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive
Rashard LewisIssac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesRashard Lewis is averaging 5.2 points and 2.5 rebounds per game off the bench.
MIAMI -- Rashard Lewis stands nearly seven feet tall, especially now that he's rediscovered health and the healing powers of a place in the Miami Heat's playing rotation.

But at his lowest point, when bouts with debilitating, acute tendinitis literally buckled Lewis to his knees two years ago, the 6-10 veteran forward took inventory of his career as he was on the verge of retiring from the game.

At that time, Lewis had played 13 seasons in the NBA, had earned one of the most lucrative contracts in league history and had once reached the Finals with the Orlando Magic before he was dealt to the rebuilding Washington Wizards.

The Wizards traded Lewis in 2012 to New Orleans, which bought him out of the final year of a $118-million contract he signed as a free agent to go to Orlando in 2007. Even with the hefty paycheck in his account, Lewis was out of work and ailing. This was virtually his rock bottom.

“It was to a point where we didn't know what was going on,” Lewis said of a tumultuous two-year period when knee pain essentially halted his career. “We talked about having surgery, got different opinions from doctors in New York and doctors in Houston. It just came to a point where if it continued to feel like this and gets worse and worse, then maybe it might be time for me to hang it up.”

After preparing relatives and friends for that possibility, something inside Lewis just wouldn't allow it to happen.

“I wanted to retire on my terms and not because of an injury,” Lewis said. “I knew for some reason I had a lot of basketball left in me. I kept saying in the back of my mind that there's got to be light at the end of the tunnel.”

That light has been rekindled this season in Miami for Lewis, who is the healthiest he's been in three years after spending last season and the summer working to improve his condition. Now in his second season with the Heat, Lewis is among a group of reserves providing a needed spark at a time when injuries, illnesses and a suspension have forced nightly tweaks to coach Erik Spoelstra's lineup.

Lewis has seen his career come full circle this week, with the Heat in the midst of a home-and-home set against the Magic. He played his 1,000th career game during the Heat's 120-92 victory in Orlando on Wednesday and will try to help extend a five-game winning streak when the team's meet again Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Lewis jokes that years of knee soreness no longer allow him to dunk much, but he can still deliver shooting and versatility when his number is called. He is shooting a career-high 41.7 percent on 3-pointers this season and averages 5.2 points and 2.5 rebounds in 19 minutes.

A recent increase in playing time has resulted in Lewis contributing in a variety of ways during the Heat's winning streak. He made all three of his shots and had two steals against Milwaukee at the start of the streak. Lewis then made three 3-pointers and scored 11 points in the win over Dallas. There were his nine points and nine rebounds to help get the Heat past Charlotte, his five steals Tuesday against Atlanta and three assists Wednesday in Orlando.

Heat forward LeBron James said Lewis is showing why the team had so much faith to sign him last summer at a time when it appeared he didn't have much game left.

“When we signed him, I thought it was a steal,” James said. “I thought he would have a bigger role last year. But he was still recovering from the injuries he had. He just waited his turn, and the time is now. He's showing how productive he can be, how important he is to our team. We love him out on the floor. He's back to playing the game like he did when he was wearing a Magic uniform.”

Conventional wisdom might suggest that Lewis wants nothing more than to forget about that frustrating stretch of his career between Orlando's loss to the Lakers in the 2009 Finals and his signing with the Heat in 2012. But Lewis said those dark years reminded him how to persevere through a level of adversity he hadn't experienced since he was passed over in the 1998 lottery out of high school and was taken by Seattle in the second round of the draft.

“I wasn't guaranteed nothing in Seattle,” Lewis said as he reflected on his early years in the league. “I made the team, and it pretty much kind of took off from there when I started getting confidence in myself. It was an uphill climb. I most definitely worked for everything -- to get minutes, to get contracts. It's something I had to work for. It wasn't given to me when I first got in. It's not given to me now.”

Lewis, 34, is determined to make up for the time knee pain robbed from him along his recent turbulent path to Miami.

“When I was in D.C., I went from going to the Finals to a team that can't even make the playoffs,” Lewis said. “For some reason, those were the hardest times of my career, just not happy. Basketball is supposed to be fun, and I just wasn't happy. Playing unhealthy is not good. If anything, it made it worse off for me and I kept injuring myself.”

To get to this point, Lewis committed himself to a workout regimen over the summer that including losing 10 pounds to relieve some of the pressure on his knees. Spoelstra noticed the difference from the start of training camp. Actually, Spoelstra said the turnaround began midway through last season, but the Heat already had an established rotation on the way to their second straight title.

Lewis is now benefiting from the extra playing time that initially resulted from the Heat's decision to amnesty Mike Miller's contract. Back spasms that kept Udonis Haslem out of action for a week and Dwyane Wade missing the past two games with knee soreness also created opportunities.

“It's been a long time,” Spoelstra said of Lewis' progress. “Last year was about getting him back on the court, feeling good about his body and joining an organization he felt comfortable with that was playing for something significant. This summer was about taking the next step. He can into camp in excellent shape and basketball ready, so he's been able to really perform much better.”

Lewis played 55 games for the Heat last season, which included nine starts, but wasn't a factor in the playoff rotation. So in some ways, he feels like his first championship ring was a gift. He was with the right team at an opportune time. Now, a return to health means a return to helping as a consistently contributing rotation player.

“I'm just happy the Heat, their staff, pretty much knew what they could do for me as soon as I came here,” Lewis said. “This is the best I've felt since Orlando. I feel great. I can dunk, but I won't give you nothing freaky now. It's icing on the cake, especially if we win that championship.”


The surprising Atlanta Hawks are flying to Miami to take on the Heat, who are riding a three-game winning streak.


1. Can LeBron sustain his 60-plus shooting percentage?


Israel Gutierrez: As long as the players around LeBron James allow him to be this selective for most of the season, yes. With Dwyane Wade relatively healthy, Michael Beasley contributing at an efficient level, and the Heat shooters taking and making good shots, LeBron doesn't have to force much at all. And it's clear he wants to do better than last year's 56.5 percent. Getting to 60 is quite a leap, but it's also a heckuva milestone achievement for a "perimeter" player.

Tom Haberstroh: Can he? Yes. Is it likely? No. That would represent the biggest year-to-year jump of his career. Yes, LeBron has raised his field goal percentage in each of his past seven seasons, but that becomes tougher the higher you go. But it's possible.

Brian Windhorst: Probably not. We've never seen a wing-based player or a scorer like LeBron shoot 60 percent in a season in the modern era. The closest was Bernard King, who shot 59 percent in 1980-81. I was 3 years old at the time so I have no idea how he did it. That said, LeBron did shoot 57 percent last season, so it's not a huge stretch. Erik Spoelstra always says never to put a ceiling on him.


2. Is Rashard Lewis a fixture in the Heat rotation now?


Gutierrez: He should be, at least until he shows signs of regression. He's shooting 50 percent from the floor (nearly 48 percent on 3s), he's not a liability defensively, and he's moving the ball quickly when his shot isn't available. He's not a major factor on the boards, and if that comes back to hurt the Heat, maybe his minutes will slowly diminish.

Haberstroh: Sure, but don't count on his being part of it come playoff time. The Heat are just too deep, and at this rate, it's only a matter of time before Michael Beasley takes Lewis' minutes. Most imagined that James Jones would be the biggest beneficiary of Mike Miller's departure, but Jones has played four more minutes this season than I have.

Windhorst: The Heat have eight players they steadily play when healthy, and Lewis is not one of them. The ninth is constantly changing, and sometimes there isn't a 10th. Spoelstra has been going to Lewis in that role rather often, but some of that is because of the health of a few of the top eight. Lewis has played well and probably will continue to get chances when there are injuries, or as that ninth or 10th guy when warranted.


3. Are the Hawks with Millsap and Horford a top-three East frontcourt?


Gutierrez: The Pacers' frontcourt is the class of the East. After that, a handful of teams have a good case. When it comes to matching up with Miami, the Hawks' frontcourt is troublesome. But, when healthy, the Knicks' frontcourt is a matchup problem, and when the Bulls' Joakim Noah and Luol Deng are right, they're equally, if not more, of a problem. If DeMarre Carroll were more productive, it would put the Hawks up there. But right now, no.

Haberstroh: Yes, if we're talking frontcourt tandems, but I'm an unabashed Paul Millsap-Al Horford fanatic. Assuming we're not counting LeBron as a power forward, I'll probably take the Pacers and the Pistons to round out the top-three. I just can't get on board with Kevin Garnett yet for Brooklyn to be included.

Windhorst: According to the PER standings, they are the top frontcourt in the East at the moment. Of course, in current PER, Michael Beasley is seventh overall. Horford and Millsap are two of the more underrated bigs in the league, so their tandem is naturally going to be underrated. Where they rank will fluctuate depending on health elsewhere, but they're formidable.

Time for the Miami Heat to get defensive

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
4:23
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive
LeBron's take

Heat forward LeBron James believes that a lack of continuity might be a factor contributing to the team's defensive struggles to start the season.

The Heat spent the bulk of Monday's practice searching for answers to their 4-3 start to the season that has them ranked 25th among the league's 30 teams in defensive efficiency. But the contrast between Miami's top-ranked offense and its defensive lapses is staggering.

James pointed to several issues that have led to the Heat's inconsistency.

“I don't know if it's because we've had guys out of the lineup, guys dealing with injuries, whatever it's been,” James said Monday. “Whatever it is, we need to fix it.”

James said Saturday's 111-110 loss to Boston on Jeff Green's buzzer-beating 3-pointer should serve as a wake-up call for the Heat. Had Green missed the desperation dagger from the corner, James said there's a chance Miami would have left the game with a false sense of security.

Instead, James and his teammates are dealing with the defensive miscues head on.

“Our offense is as good as it's ever been,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “So it's all defense with our team. It's defensively where we need to have more focus. First you have to understand what the problem is, then you have to own the problem, then you have to go out and fix the problem consistently. Not just for one game but for [several] games.”

Wade essentially said the Heat were embarrassed by their effort against the Celtics. Miami allowed Boston to shoot 52 percent from the field, 48 percent from 3-point range and overcome a four-point deficit in the final 3.6 seconds of the game. For the season, Miami is allowing opponents to shoot 47.3 percent from the field and score 100.9 points per game.

“Right now, we have something that this team needs, and it's something to get better at, something to pique our interest, as well,” Wade said. “Looking at the film, looking at the team that was on the court the other night, it's not the team we like to represent for our organization, for our fans, for ourselves.”

Progress report

Heat forward Michael Beasley certainly doesn't like to be yelled at on most occasions. But those instances don't include the moment Saturday night when LeBron shouted at him to keep shooting.

Beasley said Monday he was initially hesitant to look for his shot when he entered the game against the Celtics, but that he gained confidence after his exchange with James on the court. Beasley obliged and put up seven shots in eight minutes to finish with 10 points in the loss to Boston.

“It would have felt better with a win, but it feels good to get minutes,” Beasley said. “L.J., he yelled at me. It was two times when Mario [Chalmers] drove baseline, and I had a wide-open shot. And I passed it to [LeBron]. He yelled at me. He said, 'Do what you do. You're not here to pass the ball.' Once he told me that, I just kind of focused my attention on the rim.”

Health watch

While James (back soreness) declared Monday he would be in the lineup for Tuesday's game against Milwaukee, Heat forward Udonis Haslem didn't sound as certain. Haslem missed Saturday's game against Boston with back spasms, and has been dealing with soreness for about two weeks.

“It started a day or two before the Chicago game ... it just wasn't getting any better, and actually it was getting worse,” Haslem said Monday. “I just got to the point where I was unable to move and run and jump and do what I wanted to do. I needed to give it a little more attention and take care of it.”

Haslem said Monday was the best he's felt in weeks and that he hopes to play Tuesday. But ultimately, he doesn't want to come back too soon and have another setback.

“I'll continue to work with it, be patient and be smart,” Haslem said. “It's not something I want to deal with all season. It'll be up to the trainers. I don't want to take one step forward and two steps back.”

Did you know?

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whose mother is from the Philippines, is contributing to the relief efforts as the nation recovers from last week's devastating typhoon. Spoelstra said Monday that the majority of his relatives there live in the capital of Manila and were directly impacted.

Quote of the day

“I'm active. Y'all going to stop trying to treat me like D-Wade around here.”

- LeBron James, joking to reporters when asked about his ailing back and status for Tuesday's game against Milwaukee.

Back from baby duty, Bosh ready for Clips

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
5:19
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive


MIAMI -- Chris Bosh insisted he felt 10 feet tall as he held his newborn daughter earlier this week and skipped a game in Toronto to remain in Miami with his family.

Bosh could certainly use the additional length when he returns to the lineup for Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers and face their explosively athletic front line anchored by Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

The Heat get their first crack at the new-look Lob City crew, which added coach Doc Rivers and a revamped supporting cast around Griffin, Jordan and catalyst Chris Paul to push them to the front of the Western Conference.

And Bosh is back just in time to get a close-up view of the high-scoring, highlight-making Clippers as they look to rebound from Wednesday's 98-80 setback in Orlando.

“I'm glad I didn't look at the game last night,” Bosh said of the Clippers' stunning loss to the Magic. “You could see they were a little sluggish yesterday, and Orlando caught them off guard. But we know we're going to get their 'A' game, because we get everybody's 'A' game.”

It's already been an emotional week with little sleep for Bosh, who had his most complete game of the season with 24 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and two assists in Sunday night's victory against the Washington Wizards. A few hours later, Bosh's wife, Adrienne, went into labor and delivered baby girl Dylan Skye Bosh at 5:55 a.m. ET on Monday.

Bosh missed Monday's practice and didn't travel with the team later that afternoon for Tuesday's game in Toronto. The Heat had the day off Wednesday, so Bosh said he's ready to get back to work and pick up where he left off.

“I'm able to just get out of the house for a little bit, play a game and then go back home,” Bosh said after Thursday's team shootaround as he sarcastically poked fun at his wife and youngest daughter. “I've got two women, you know, yelling at me now. So, it's a lot of fun [at home].”

Bosh doesn't expect to catch many breaks on the court from the Clippers, who average a league-high 112.3 points per game. Paul also leads the NBA with 12.6 assists a game. Bosh said he's already seeing a difference Rivers has had on the team during his initial weeks as coach after leaving the Boston Celtics following a successful nine-year tenure that included two Finals appearances and a 2008 title.

“Doc is going to continue to give them a lot of confidence, because he's coached at a championship level,” Bosh said. “He's going to motivate those guys to elevate their game.”

Of course, elevation has always been a vital part of the Clippers game, with Paul tossing lob passes that routinely result in crushing dunks by Jordan and Griffin. Rivers' main challenge is to improve their defense, particularly in late stretches of games against playoff-caliber teams.

“They didn't get the name Lob City by just rolling the ball out there,” Bosh said. “They have a specific scheme. We're going to have to meet those guys early. They have a huge upside in athleticism, they can really jump up there and go get it. So our ground game is going to have to be pretty good. But that's what we do -- we take [on] the challenges.”

The Heat also want to continue their efficient and aggressive offensive play from the past two games. The Heat regrouped from consecutive losses last week with wins over Washington and Toronto. Miami had 30 assists in back-to-back games for the first time since 1995.

Bosh said some of the keys to Thursday's game including playing at comfortable tempo that gets the Heat out in transition but without turning the game into a track meet. Miami is trying to kick a habit of getting off to slow starts. Defensively, Bosh said, the goal is to keep the Clippers as grounded as possible by forcing them to settle for jumpers.

Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have enjoyed their share of Clippers highlights the past few seasons. But the goal is to prevent Paul, Griffin and Jordan from creating too many new ones at the expense of the Heat's defense.

“We've got guys who make highlights too,” Bosh said. “With the SportsCenter generation, we know what's going to be shown most. But if they do make a great play, we take the ball out and we move on. We don't want to give up a lot of dunks because that gets guys going. If we keep them from doing that, it'll kind of take them out of their rhythm.”

Heat ride streak into Sunday showdown

March, 9, 2013
3/09/13
2:52
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- Seventeen down.

One to go.

Actually, the Miami Heat have 22 regular-season games left after running their winning streak to 17 in a row with Friday's 102-93 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

But there's essentially one game that garners more attention than any of the rest – or, for that matter, any of the previous ones the Heat have played over the past five weeks.

Friday's win allowed Miami to match the NBA's longest winning streak of the season, which was initially set when the Los Angeles Clippers ran off 17 straight victories from late November through the end of December. The Heat's streak started after a blowout loss on Feb. 1 in Indiana that improved the Pacers to 2-0 this season against Miami.

So even as some players were drying off from postgame showers after beating Philadelphia, many had already worked up a lather as the focus shifted to the Pacers.

For some, the streak means very little if it isn't punctuated with a statement Sunday against the one team in the league against whom the Heat have yet to redeem themselves.

The Heat have already avenged earlier losses to the Clippers, Bulls, Grizzlies and Knicks during the longest winning streak in franchise history. Sunday presents an opportunity to cross the final nemesis off their list.

“It was already more than just a game, after the first two (losses),” Heat center Chris Bosh said of the Pacers. “After they beat us pretty good, them and New York, we've had these days circled for some time. So forget about the winning streak. You can take that away. If we lost a few in a row, we'd still be ready for Sunday.”

The level of stock the Heat are putting into the third meeting against the Pacers varies depending on which player spoke late Friday night. From a team-wide perspective, coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters he wouldn't divulge the extent of his postgame talk with the team.

But there was no way to hide the sentiment. Anchored by 7-2 center Roy Hibbert, 6-9 rugged power forward David West and All-Star swingman Paul George, the Pacers are essentially constructed as the anti-Heat. In their two double-digit victories over Miami, the Pacers won the rebounding battle by an average of 14 boards and limited the NBA's most efficient offense to 83 points a game.

Indiana has been motivated to show it can measure up better this season after squandering a 2-1 series lead and losing to the Heat in six games during the Eastern Conference semifinals last season. That highly-charged playoff series was filled with trash talk, flagrant fouls and both teams having to face and overcome internal strife.

Bosh sustained a strained abdominal muscle in Game 1 and would miss the rest of the series. Heat guard Dwyane Wade was dealing with a severely sore knee that had to be drained during the series, and his frustrations boiled over in a heated exchange with Spoelstra during a Game 3 loss.

But the Pacers also showed they couldn't quite handle the prosperity of having the Heat on the ropes. After losing Games 4 and 5, then-Pacers executive Larry Bird told the Indianapolis Star that his team was, “soft. S-O-F-T.”

“It really was the equivalent of a seven-game physical series,” Spoelstra said. “With another year of experience, that team has gained more confidence, they've gotten better and they've played two great games against us – and they deserved to win both times.”

Sunday's showdown has the Heat's full attention.

“I won't share the extent of the conversation we had as a team, but we're all aware that they absolutely pounded us, beat us up,” Spoelstra said of the first two meetings this season with Indiana. “What else do you want to say? Each game is its own challenge, but this is one that everybody gets what they want Sunday. Fans get a game they think is compelling. Indiana wants to play us and compete against us, and we want to compete against them.”

The defending champion Heat have already secured their spot in the postseason by clinching a playoff spot with Friday's win. They also have an eight-game lead over the second-place Pacers in the conference standings. Put there's still a point or two the Heat want to prove – both to themselves and to potential postseason opponents.

Miami's coaches and players felt they passed a significant test on March 1 when they beat Memphis, 98-91, and held their own the second time against the Grizzlies' big frontline led by Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies and Pacers play a similar physical style, so the Heat hope to build from that confidence-boosting performance.

Rebounding remains one of the Heat's few weaknesses, but it is a strength for the Pacers.

“The first game, they smacked us pretty good. The second game, we had a change, but they did more than us to win the game,” Wade said. “Now, it's our turn. We're at home. We have to take care of business. Every team that's beaten us, especially since the (All-Star) break, we've tried to redeem ourselves and play a lot better.”

About the only player in the Heat's locker room who downplayed the significance of Sunday's matchup was LeBron James. He quickly shot down the notion his team has much to prove and suggested that the Boston Celtics – not the Pacers – are the Heat's biggest rival in the East.

The outcome of Sunday's game, James intimated, has absolutely no bearing on what happens when – or if – they meet in the playoffs with a trip to the NBA Finals at stake.

“We don't need to make no statement against no team,” James said. “We know where we stand when it counts. But we want to play well and continue to get better against a very good team coming into our building. You always want to hold serve on our home court. This will be a good test for us, and we look forward to it.”

Heat prove they can win ugly, too

March, 2, 2013
3/02/13
4:09
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive
For the Miami Heat, Friday night's game against the rugged Memphis Grizzlies represented an opportunity to prove they could go blow-for-blow with one of the best inside punchers in the league and still emerge on their feet.

"Anytime you have a matchup like that, you always want to win," Heat center Chris Bosh said after the Heat's 98-91 victory against Memphis. "Not only to send a message to the team but to send a message to the league, as well. And send a message to ourselves. We have to assure ourselves that when we're locked in, we can play with anyone."

If February's priorities were to find a groove and hit their collective stride, then March's mission for the Heat is to strike back at opponents against whom they've struggled.

Not only did Miami have to overcome a Memphis front line that is one of the toughest in the league but the Heat also had to do it with catalyst LeBron James having his worst shooting night of the season. But with Dwyane Wade taking over and the supporting cast stepping up until James got going, the Heat extended their winning streak to 13 games on the strength of arguably their toughest effort of the season.

James had just four points entering the fourth quarter but scored 14 down the stretch -- including a 3-point dagger that pushed the Heat's lead to four with 24 seconds left. He shot just 4-of-14 from the field, but still flirted with a triple-double on a relatively off night to finish with 18 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds in 42 minutes.

The same Heat team that went 12-1 in February and made winning look easy at times last month entered March looking forward to a chance to respond to adversity. First up was a Grizzlies team that hammered the Heat 104-86 in Memphis in November. On Sunday, the Heat travel to face a New York Knicks team that beat them twice by 20 points earlier this season. A week later, the Indiana Pacers visit Miami having also routed the Heat twice this season.

James stopped well short Friday of buying into the notion that the Heat are in the midst of the redemption portion of their schedule. But James, named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for the fourth consecutive time Friday, suggested the Heat are motivated to prove they aren't the same team that last faced the Grizzlies, Knicks and Pacers.

Read the rest of Michael Wallace's column

What a difference a week makes for Miami

January, 22, 2013
1/22/13
8:33
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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Pat Riley
Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images
A week ago, Pat Riley and the Heat may not have been in a singing kind of mood.

MIAMI -- Pat Riley is a man of many motivational methods. But who knew channeling his inner Cee Lo Green would help work such wonders to ease some of the tension within his team?

Yet there stood Riley, the Miami Heat's president, on a stage rapping alongside forward James Jones the other night during a fundraising karaoke event to uproarious laughter. That mood carried into Tuesday's practice as the Heat prepared for Wednesday's home game against the Toronto Raptors.

This time a week ago, the feeling around the Heat was quite different. Just seven days ago, Miami was in the midst of a disastrous road trip, coming off a mini-controversy after coach Erik Spoelstra's decision to bench Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh late in a loss to Utah and the team was coping with a tired and frustrated leader in LeBron James.

After rallying with two victories to salvage their six-game trip, then enjoying a five-day break in the schedule and poking fun at one another during forward Shane Battier's South Beach fundraising event, the Heat have regrouped nicely.

Now they look forward to returning to action after addressing some concerns on and off the court in recent days. That's the difference a week can make in the NBA, in which last week's drama is this week's joke material.

“Whenever you lose, it's the worst feeling, especially when you lose multiple winnable games,” Wade said Tuesday of emerging from a 3-3 road trip that started with three loses in the first four games. “It hurts. There's a lot of things in question, and all of these situations. But when you win, it cures all, in a sense. We're a close-knitted team. If we have any issues, a lot of it is not in the locker room with each other. Even though we didn't have the trip we wanted, we did get better and we did learn something … as a team.”

The Heat return home to AmericanAirlines Arena on Wednesday night far more rested, with a bit more size available on the roster and, overall, in no worse shape in the standings than they were when they departed on their longest trip of the season nearly two weeks ago.

At 26-12, Miami holds a 1 1/2-game lead over the New York Knicks for the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Heat have taken steps to address their rebounding struggles by signing veteran center Chris Andersen to a 10-day contract earlier this week that makes him available for Wednesday's game against Toronto. But the team's most meaningful accomplishment in recent days has been the opportunity to give James and Wade significant rest.

The Heat went two days without practicing after returning from the west coast, and James was also allowed to stay home from Tuesday's practice in order to recover from a cold. James' absence came a day after Wade sat out of Monday's workout to nurse a minor toe injury.

“You don't get these type of breaks very often,” Spoelstra said Tuesday. “You want to try to accomplish what you can to get guys healthy, to teach, to reinforce some of our habits, but also to take advantage of a couple days, at least, to get after it and drill the physical aspects of our game.”

One physical aspect that has been a focus for the Heat is rebounding, where they rank at or near the bottom of the league in many statistical measures. But Miami showed signs of improvement in its past two victories on the trip, even before Andersen was brought in to add size and bulk.

The Heat were outrebounded by seven against the Lakers, but compensated for that deficit by forcing 20 turnovers in a 99-90 win last Thursday. A night earlier, Miami was outrebounded 52-51 but forced 21 turnovers in a 17-point victory against Golden State. It has marked the first time in just more than a month the Heat's defense have forced at least 20 turnovers in consecutive games.

With the defensive turnaround already underway, Spoelstra stressed Tuesday that Andersen wasn't signed to be any sort of savior after being inactive for the past nine months since he was released by the Denver Nuggets last season. Instead, Andersen wants to eventually contribute energy and a few extra blocked shots and rebounds when he gets up to speed.

“I just want to come in here and do what I do,” Andersen said. “What I've noticed here is a big trust. Everybody trusts each other on the floor and off the floor. I'm trying to build that trust with these guys. I'm trying to earn it. Just by coming up here and working my tail off, hopefully I'll gain that trust in the next week or so.”

While Andersen represents one front-court project for the Heat, Bosh remains another who is a work in progress. After decompression from a turbulent trip, Bosh would like to see his game level off at somewhere near his performance nearly two weeks ago in Portland. James and Wade fed the ball into Bosh early, he attacked the rim often and finished 13-of-18 from the field for 29 points along with four rebounds and four blocked shots in a 92-90 loss.

Bosh said Tuesday that he made it a point during the game against the Blazers to assert himself and demand opportunities. That aggression wasn't there in other games. Bosh said he's still adjusting to knowing when to get himself going by demanding the ball inside, and when to defer and maintain spacing for James and Wade to operate.

“In my position, it's going to be more sporadic -- and I understand that,” Bosh said of feature opportunities in the offense. “That's on me a lot [to be aggressive]. I've got to really make and effort to just run down in there. I just have to enjoy myself out there. A lot of the time, I don't want to get in the way. And I can't have that mentality. I have to get in the way sometimes and establish myself.”

Ray Allen's words ... and what they mean

July, 11, 2012
7/11/12
6:11
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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Ray Allen
Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
Ray Allen stepped to the microphone alongside coach Erik Spoelstra and embraced his new team.

MIAMI -- Ray Allen, the most productive 3-point shooter in NBA history, officially became a member of the defending champion Miami Heat on Wednesday after signing a two-year contract to end his free agency.

It was a tough and emotional decision for Allen, who left the Boston Celtics after five seasons that included an NBA title in 2008. Here are eight storylines from Allen's Boston departure and arrival in Miami, based on some key statements from his introductory press conference.

(Connecting with Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra)
What Allen said: “I had an opportunity to sit down and really discuss basketball philosophy with (Riley). He's got a lot of great stories. I had a lot of questions for him. I followed him for as long as I followed basketball. Same with coach Spoelstra. We talked about every basketball philosophy we shared, to a point where he said, 'Well, I don't know if you're coming, but I'll just tell you this anyway.'"

What it means: Boston simply might have taken Allen for granted, and Miami took advantage. There's no question Allen was feeling a bit underappreciated and overlooked. In Miami, Allen was almost treated like his character Jesus Shuttlesworth on college recruiting visits in that "He Got Game" movie.

(Friction with Rajon Rondo factoring in decision)
What Allen said: “I haven't spoken with him at all. I know when I came down here, I texted Paul (Pierce) and Kevin (Garnett). Those are the guys I had talked quite a bit with over the years ... There are differences. We all have differences. Paul eats Corn Flakes. I might not like Corn Flakes. That's kind of who we are as individuals ... as players we have to put our differences aside.”

What it means: There really was a rift between Rondo and Allen. Boston has gradually become Rondo's team. He's its best player and most volatile personality. The difference is the Celtics still pay Pierce like a megastar and treats Garnett like one. But Allen's ego was compromised a bit.

(The role Allen expects to play in Miami)
What Allen said: “You mean I'm not starting? I wish they would have told me that last week. Going into this process, I never said whether I wanted to start or come off the bench. That was never really an issue. Whatever is going to be best for me in this situation is going to figure itself out. This team won a championship without me. I'm not going to come in and expect for Coach to cater to who I am and what I do. I have to make it work on the floor with my teammates. I always said whether you start or come off the bench, the best compliment is who you finish the game up with.”

What it means: Allen wanted to put to rest any notion that he demanded to be a starter -- or necessarily play starter's minutes -- moving forward. The fact that he made light of the situation showed he has a sense of humor and a willingness to take on whatever role Miami has for him. But there's little doubt that Allen will play a significant role, likely as the first guard off the bench and in the closing lineup at the end of competitive games.

(Could Boston have done more to keep Allen?)
What Allen said: “It's hard to say. It's hard to say.”

What it means: Of course there's more Boston could have done. Perhaps trade Rondo. Maybe guarantee a third year on that reported two-year, $12 million offer. More likely, the damage had already been done before the start of free agency. Allen was ready to move on. Those attempts to trade him took a toll, as did demoting him to sixth man. In reality, the Celtics and Allen were better off parting ways.

(Are “traitor” insults from Boston fans upsetting?)
What Allen said: “I've given so much, not only on the floor but off the floor. I think that there's a sense of sadness and hurt that the people feel. And we feel that, too, as a family. And that's understandable. But we're still a part of that community. Our home is still in Boston. That's not going to change how we feel about the people there. It doesn't bother me. I know who I am.”

What it means: Allen has built up so much goodwill over his decorated career that it will be impossible for him to ever be viewed as a bad guy for long. He'll be like Joe Dumars on those Bad Boys team in Detroit. He's just too likeable and respectable. He made a decision as a free agent. But it'll still be tough for some to buy into his declaration of “always being a Celtic” while playing for the Heat and working for a man in Riley who coached the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks. That basically covers the gamut of Boston's fiercest sports rivals.

(How bad was Allen's ankle that required surgery?)
What Allen said: “Surgery was good. I was walking within four or five days. Not a lot of swelling. Even now, if I do too much on it -- I haven't worked out, I haven't been given the clearance to work out yet -- if I do too much walking on it, it gets a little tender. But for the most part, I'm feeling really good moving forward. The playoffs, I was probably a day away from just having surgery when I decided I was going to play and try to stay along to help the team win. I think one day more, I probably would have had surgery. That's how much it bothered me.”

What it means: No one can say Allen didn't give Boston his all late in the season while playing on an ankle that obviously required serious attention. After having surgery in June to remove bone spurs, Allen says he's about a month from being cleared for serious basketball activity, putting him well on pace to be ready for training camp.

(Attempts from Garnett/Pierce to keep Allen)
What Allen said: “When I knew I was leaning toward Miami, I actually sent a text to Kevin, just to let him know that -- I remember this process in 2008 when (James) Posey left us. And we just really wanted him back and he went to New Orleans, and we didn't get a chance to get Danny (Ainge) to try to give him a little something extra. I didn't want that to be the same case with me in this situation. So I texted Kevin and said, 'Hey, I'm leaning this way and I just want you to know, without getting into the finite details of the deals.' He said, 'Well, Danny will step up to the plate and do whatever you need him to do.' So, I was like, 'We'll see.'”

What it means: Perhaps this was a veiled attempt by Allen to place some of the responsibility for his departure on Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations. It sounds like Allen was at least open to hearing a better offer from Boston after he informed people he was leaning toward Miami. By then, Boston was well into its contingency plan. And rightfully so.

(Recruiting pitch from LeBron James/Dwyane Wade)
What Allen said: “I got texts from both of them. It wasn't me as much that they influenced. But it was the people around me that it excited. It showed them that these guys really like you and want you on their team. As much as they seem bigger than life on TV and just won a championship, they took the time out to reach out and to say something nice about you. The people who care a lot about me and love me, it meant a lot to them.”

What it means: As Allen said earlier, the fact that the Heat won a title and still felt they needed him on the roster to be even better next season carried a lot of weight with him at a sensitive time. The Celtics and Heat have ended the other team's season each of the past three years. There's a history of mutual respect there. Assuming health, jobs on the court just became easier for Allen and his new teammates.

Cole's quest: 'Destroy whoever he plays'

July, 10, 2012
7/10/12
6:19
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- So what does a rookie point guard who just won an NBA championship in his first season in the league do for an encore?

For Norris Cole, the answer is simple.

"Right back to work," Cole said Tuesday between practices with the Miami Heat's summer league team as it prepares to play in Las Vegas next week.

Just three weeks ago, Cole was on the Heat's home court alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as the Heat finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games to win the title.

On Tuesday, Cole was in his familiar practice jersey, but surrounded by a completely different set of teammates -- young free agents, second-round picks or undrafted players aspiring to NBA jobs.

Cole is the lone player from the Heat's Finals rotation on the summer league team that will play five games in Las Vegas starting Sunday against similar NBA teams stocked with young players. Seldom-used Heat center Dexter Pittman and guard Terrel Harris, who were both with the Heat last season, are also on the summer league squad.

The team's primary goal is to help Cole build on his sporadic rookie campaign in hopes of becoming a consistent contributor in the point guard rotation behind starter Mario Chalmers during Miami's title defense. The NBA's labor dispute prevented Cole from participating in summer league play last season.

So there's plenty of work to catch up on, despite the fact that he was part of a team that passed a major test this season.

"I don't want him ever thinking he's arrived to a point where he's now being hunted," said Heat assistant Dave Fizdale, who will coach the summer league team. "He has to stay hungry. And he has to play this summer like a guy who did not win a title."

Fizdale emphasized that Cole will be featured in just about every aspect of the Heat's game plan while in Las Vegas. He hopes to see Cole, the Heat's first-round draft pick in 2011, take more command of the offense by becoming a vocal leader as well as an aggressive playmaker.

"The offense is in his hands to make the play calls, to make the reads and to really quarterback the team," Fizdale said. "We're breeding Norris a different way. Norris is a hunter. Norris doesn't care about people coming after him, and all that. We're developing him to be an attacker. So he's going out to Vegas with the intent to destroy whoever he plays against."

Cole averaged 6.8 points, 2.0 assists and 1.4 rebounds in 19.4 minutes per game last season. He played in 65 games, including 19 playoff appearances. He averaged 11 minutes a game in the Finals.

Cole said the past three weeks have been a whirlwind for him since the championship, but he's ready to end his extremely abbreviated offseason to improve his game and possibly expand his role.

"Even though we won a championship, I know I can get better ... need to get better to help this team grow," Cole said. "I'm going out there [Las Vegas] to get better. Competition is good for everybody."

For rehabbing Wade, Allen right on time

July, 9, 2012
7/09/12
4:37
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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Ray Allen
David Dow/NBAE/Getty Images
Dwyane Wade is going to work on his shooting while he recovers. That new guy might help.

MIAMI -- For nine years, Dwyane Wade's NBA career has largely been defined by overcoming odds off the court combined with graceful skill and athleticism on it.

It's been a virtual spin cycle of knock down, get up, bounce back. Repeat.

But at least one of his characteristics has been understated along the way: impeccable timing.

That was never more the case than Monday, when Wade underwent arthroscopic surgery on his long troublesome left knee to correct an ailment that deeply affected his play during the Heat's march to an NBA title this season.

Well, for LeBron James and the rest of the Heat, it was a march.

For Wade, it was more of a laboring limp. At least by his lofty standards.

Wade repeatedly downplayed the issues with his knee throughout the playoffs. But after ESPN.com's Heat Index first reported he had the knee drained during Miami's second-round series against Indiana, Wade could only do his best to disguise the problem and play through the soreness.

But, privately, he could no longer honestly deny it.

By having surgery, Wade has chosen to attack the problem that has been the cause of so much pain, discomfort and distortion in his game that many have started to question whether the only "prime" remaining in his career is affiliated with late-night dinners at the Prime One Twelve restaurant on South Beach.

From a timing standpoint, Wade's projected rehab and recovery schedule from Monday's surgery is expected to last up to two months. Barring a setback, that timetable should allow Wade to be ready to join his Heat teammates for the start of their title defense when training camp opens in late September.

Heat president Pat Riley sounded more hopeful than absolutely confident that Wade would be completely ready for action when the Heat gather for what is expected to be an earlier-than-usual camp, in anticipation of Miami being selected for one of the NBA's preseason trips overseas.

Somewhat overlooked in all of the analysis of Ray Allen's impending free agency addition to the Heat's roster later this week is the impact the sharp-shooting guard's signing will have on Wade's progress. Like Wade, Allen will also be coming off summer surgery when the season starts. But Allen is already well into the recovery stage from having bone spurs removed from his ankle last month -- just days after the Heat eliminated his former Celtics team in the conference finals.

On the surface, Allen gives the Heat yet another knockdown, 3-point shooter who happens to have made more treys than any player in NBA history. But beyond that, Allen, 36, is also an early-season insurance policy of sorts for Wade at shooting guard. Conventional wisdom would suggest that each player should lessen the physical burden on the other next season.

Minutes, as in playing time, won't be a pressing problem.

Instead, maintenance should -- and will -- be the priority.

In some ways, Wade has already gotten a jump-start on the recovery process. He has had several sessions with noted NBA personal trainer Tim Grover even before the decision to undergo surgery. Wade and Grover have worked together for the past five years, ever since Wade first had surgery on that same knee in 2007.

But the Heat will be in no rush to work Wade back into heavy game action when he's cleared to resume basketball related activities. This is why bringing in Allen was as big a move for Wade as it was to complement LeBron's ability to break down opponents and set up shooters for wide-open looks on the perimeter.

Neither the Heat nor Wade will acknowledge it, but there very well might be concerns that the issues with Wade's left knee could be chronic. That it could require extensive maintenance along with reduced wear and tear. That so many years or relentless and remarkably reckless attacks on the basket might have finally started to catch up to Wade, who refers to it as his "explosion knee ... the one I jump and cut off of to explode and attack."

It's fair to wonder just how much spark and spring are left in a knee that has required two known surgeries, controversial shock-therapy treatments and at least a couple of excess fluid draining procedures over the past five years.

But again, Wade's career has been defined by the cycle.

Knocked down. Get up. Bounce back. Repeat.

But this time, Wade should be motivated less by what he may feel he needs to prove and more by what he needs to preserve at this point in his career.

In other words, his approach needs to be completely different than the last time his knee issues lingered. After sitting out the final months of the 2007-08 season, as Miami wrapped up a franchise-worst 15-67 finish, Wade opted for the shock-therapy treatment a year after his initial surgery in May 2007.

At that time, he was determined to get his body -- which had also endured 2007 shoulder surgery -- right by the time the 2008 Olympics rolled around. Not only did Wade steel his body through rigorous rehab, he also stole the show in Beijing that summer to lead Team USA in scoring and on to a gold medal.

This time around, instead of pushing to get his body prepared for the Olympics, he wisely chose to skip next month's Olympics to get his body prepared for the Heat's title defense. Wade also has talked about hiring a shooting coach to work with him this offseason for the first time in his career.

Which brings it all back to Wade's perfect timing.

There might not be a better shooting coach in the league than the free agent Miami is set to sign when the league's moratorium ends Wednesday.

Well before Allen is worked into the Heat's playing rotation, he could prove his worth in potential offseason workouts with Wade. Few players in NBA history have adjusted their games with age more productively than Allen.

He wasn't always the sweet-shooting "Sugar Ray" we've seen these past five seasons in Boston, where he helped the Celtics win a title in 2008.

There was a time when Allen would drive and dunk on defenders just as seamlessly as he would dice them up from deep with his jump shot. But Allen gradually altered his game to finish with far more finesse than athletic fury.

Right now, it's hard to imagine Wade ever becoming the kind of jump shooter who could consistently beat teams with his range. The same could've been said at one time about Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Jason Kidd and several other elite players who evolved their skills amid declining athleticism and aging.

Wade's track record of comebacks from setbacks suggests he still has plenty left as one of the top-10 players in the league. But his history with that balky left knee also means he shouldn't take anything for granted from this point on.

So as Wade looks to alter his game after another adjustment and recovery process, Allen's presence should offer more than early-season relief.

He'll also be a worthy resource.

For Wade, the timing couldn't have been better.

No secret to Wade: 'I'm getting doubled'

June, 2, 2012
6/02/12
7:22
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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BOSTON -- Heat guard Dwyane Wade insists the knee is fine and that there are no physical limitations affecting his play beyond the normal wear and tear from a long playoff run.

But Wade is trying to shake off something else that has been bothering him: Boston's defense.

"It's not a secret, guys; I'm getting doubled at the top of the key, I'm getting doubled in the paint," Wade said as Miami, up 2-1 after Friday's loss, prepared for Game 4 on Sunday. "We're going to have to find other ways. I'm a patient person. Things will hopefully loosen up."

Wade has challenged his coaching staff and himself with making adjustments that will free up his game and allow him to operate more effectively against the Celtics. If there's been a commonality in each of the first three games of the series, it's that Wade consistently has gotten off to slow starts against Boston.

In Game 3, the Celtics' plan against Wade was their most effective yet: They simply swarmed him with defenders each time he touched the ball and forced him to pass. Wade finished with 18 points on 9-of-20 shooting from the field and had just six points at the half.

By the time he found some operating room against the Celtics in the third quarter, the Heat were already on their way to trailing by as many as 24 points. Wade also didn't attempt a free throw Friday, marking the first time he hasn't done so in a playoff game since his rookie season.

Wade had his best stretch of success when the Heat sped up the tempo on offense and committed to running in transition -- even after made baskets by the Celtics. The less Wade had to go against a set Boston defense, the better he played.

But even Wade had to smile at the irony of yet another struggle in Game 3 of a playoff series. In the Heat's previous series against the Pacers, Wade had the worst playoff game of his career during a Game 3 loss in which he scored only five points.

Before that game, Wade had his troublesome left knee drained of excess fluid and was visibly sluggish. After a few days of rest, Wade responded with a three-game stretch in which he scored 99 points as the Heat finished off Indiana for a 4-2 series win.

Wade said the knee isn't giving him any additional problems this series. He probably wouldn't admit it if it was. Instead, Wade chose to give a nod to Boston's defensive strategy. The Celtics have mixed the coverages on Wade with defenders that have included Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus, Marquis Daniels and even Kevin Garnett.

Boston has been able to gamble and commit two defenders on Wade, in part, because of the absence of Chris Bosh, who remains sidelined with an abdominal strain. Without a third scorer they believe can seriously hurt them, Boston has been able to load up on Wade or James. For Game 3 at least, they decided to target Wade.

The defense hasn't completely stopped Wade, who is shooting 52.1 percent from the field and averaging 21 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds in three games. But Boston has effectively slowed him down for long stretches.

"Give Doc [Rivers] and them credit for coming up with the scheme," Wade said. "Now, we have to do our jobs in making adjustments."

Chris Bosh takes rehab on road with Heat

May, 31, 2012
5/31/12
4:25
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI - The Heat will have Chris Bosh in tow as the Eastern Conference finals swing to Boston for the next two games, but the All-Star forward is not expected to play as he continues to recover from an abdominal strain.

Coach Erik Spoelstra said Thursday that Bosh would join the team in Boston to maintain a recent rehab schedule that has seen him go through four on-court workouts this week, including a session before the team left Miami on Thursday.

But Spoelstra also quickly emphasized that Bosh isn't ready to return to game action and indicated he would sit out of Games 3 and 4 in Boston. The Heat have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series and are looking to return to the NBA Finals for the second time in as many seasons.

Bosh is making progress from the injury he sustained May 13 in Game 1 of the conference seminfinals against Indiana. But it's been a methodical process.

"We want him around so we can work with him," Spoelstra said of the sessions with Bosh that have been conducted by assistant coach Keith Askins and team rehab specialist Rey Jaffet. "He's done three straight workouts (and) he just finished one again. The same workout, but a little bit different. It's a rehab-slash-basketball workout."

After initially remaining in the training room during games after the injury, Bosh has since sat with teammates on the Heat bench for each of the first two home games against Boston. Bosh has averaged 18 points and 7.9 rebounds this season, but the Heat have been getting timely contributions from role players in his absence to win five consecutive playoff games.

The team still considers Bosh's status as out indefinitely, and Spoelstra said Thursday it's still far too soon to speculate on his possible return.

"It's too early to tell right now," Spoelstra said. "I think we're all encouraged that he's actually able to do some work."

Battier provides a boost in Game 1 win

May, 29, 2012
5/29/12
1:41
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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US Presswire
Shane Battier had his first career playoff double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) in Game 1.


MIAMI -- When Shane Battier signed with the Miami Heat as a free agent this offseason, he knew his primary role would be to spread the floor and defend.

Starting out of position at power forward and giving up as many as 25 pounds a night in his matchups wasn't exactly in the initial job description. But that's where Battier found himself for the second straight postseason series when Miami opened the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics.

Apparently, it hasn't take Battier long to adjust to what has been a far more demanding role than he imagined when he joined LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. Battier notched his first career playoff double-double to complement another strong set of performances from James and Wade in Bosh's absence as the Heat took a 1-0 series lead with Monday's 93-79 victory.

With Bosh still out indefinitely because of a strained abdominal muscle, the Heat have desperately searched for role players to collectively fill the void. James finished with 32 points and 13 rebounds and Wade added 22 points and seven assists, and Battier was the third Heat player in double figures with 10 points and 10 rebounds to go along with two assists, two blocks and a steal.

“Shane is everything,” Wade said. “He does it all for our team. Me and LeBron, we love Shane on this ball club. Not only his defensive effort, he does all the little things. He's pesky. He gets under other guys' skin a little bit. He does a great job of blocking out. He was able to capitalize.”

The Heat have won four consecutive playoff games since falling into a 2-1 series hole in the conference semifinals against the Indiana Pacers. The dominant play of James and Wade in that stretch has set the tone. But in each victory, a different role player has provided a much-needed boost.

After spending the last series matched up against the much bulkier David West, Battier remained in the starting lineup against Boston and was assigned to Brandon Bass. The 6-foot-8, 225-pound Battier, is giving up considerable size to Bass in again after yielding two inches and 15 pounds to West.

The power shift hasn't exactly been smooth and seamless for Battier, who has played small forward for the majority of his 10 seasons in the league. He probably hasn't spent this much time consistently at power forward since his days as the college player of the year as a senior at Duke.

“I take a lot of pride in that -- I haven't had 10 rebounds in about three years,” Battier said. “It's starting to become a little more natural. It's still a little unnatural. It's just a different mindset because of your pick-and-roll coverages. But it's getting there.”

There remains some discomfort with his shooting touch, but Battier is never one to evaluate his performance based on the numbers on a postgame statistics sheet. So it was easy for both his teammates and him to look beyond his 2-for-9 shooting from 3-point range on a night when the Heat missed 20 of their 25 attempts from beyond the arc.

Still, Battier was involved in the perhaps the most pivotal swing of the game. With the score tied 50-50 midway through the third quarter, Battier rotated over to block a Rajon Rondo layup at one end before racing to the other end to knock down a 3-pointer in transition, igniting a 22-9 Heat run.

He also contributed to Rondo's frustrations when the two got tangled up under the basket. Rondo shoved Battier during the third quarter and was assessed a technical foul.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers could have probably anticipated the type of games James and Wade would have, but Boston couldn't compensate for Battier's impact. He was instrumental in two phases of the game: The Heat outrebounded the Celtics 48-33 and had 11 blocked shots to Boston's one.

“[If] we guard him, that would be nice,” Rivers said when asked how the Celtics might account for Battier moving forward. “Take away some of the easy shots. I thought Shane had three or four easy shots that hurt us. Those are baskets we have to take away. You're not going to take everything away. They have two sensational players. But we gave them both. We let Wade, we let LeBron play in extreme comfort, and we gave the other guys everything they wanted as well.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had the option of resetting his rotation and starting veteran Udonis Haslem at power forward. He instead chose to stay with Battier. Spoelstra said the decision is based on Battier's defensive versatility and his ability to be an offensive threat with his shooting out to the 3-point line. The strategy has worked so far.

“We're calling Shane and LeBron forwards; neither one is a small forward or power forward,” Spoelstra said. “They will both be guarding multiple positions. Shane gives us that flexibility to play both those guys in the same lineup.”

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