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Breaking Down What Heat Role Players Are Contributing to Streak

Ethan SkolnickNBA Senior WriterMarch 26, 2013

Breaking Down What Heat Role Players Are Contributing to Streak

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    Twenty-seven up. 

    Twenty-seven down.

    You don't accomplish that sort of perfection with just a Big Three.

    The Miami Heat's winning streak, the second-longest in NBA history, has been driven by LeBron James—and James has gotten plenty of assistance from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

    But he's also gotten help from the so-called "Little 12," the moniker that the supporting players on the Heat have given themselves, and which Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem chanted as Ray Allen was interviewed at halftime of the March 25 win in Orlando.

    After two-plus seasons of tinkering, coach Erik Spoelstra has found a fairly consistent rotation, using Chalmers and Udonis Haslem as starters; Allen, Shane Battier, Chris Andersen and Norris Cole as regulars off the bench; and Mike Miller and Rashard Lewis as spot players, with Miller getting two more recent starts.

    As Spoelstra said after the March 24 win against Charlotte,

    We almost had everybody contributing, and that's good to see. Because we will need it, and guys need to stay ready. And you never know when your number will be called.. It's so unpredictable when you get to that postseason. You don't know when your number is called, but from our experience the past two years, everybody has been called upon at some point, all the way down the roster.

    With respect to Miller (5-1 as a starter), Lewis (who made three three-pointers against Orlando) and Haslem (whose jumper has been steadier of late), five Heat role players have been especially essential during the streak.

    *All quotes in this piece were collected through the course of the author's coverage of the Heat for the Palm Beach Post. All statistics were accurate as of Tuesday afternoon.

Shane Battier: Every Little Thing

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    Shane Battier is the Miami Heat's silent killer.

    Not in the locker room—there, he makes his voice heard, whether he's rousing teammates with postgame speeches or entertaining the media with his multisyllabic, erudite quotes. 

    On the court, however, it's sometimes a challenge to properly understand and appreciate what Battier's doing—unless he's setting up behind the arc and splashing three-pointers at a high rate, as he has (49.6 percent) during the Heat's 27-game winning streak. 

    Other contributions are a bit more subtle. 

    He's taking charges, such as the one against the Orlando Magic's Tobias Harris that kept the Heat in striking distance, until LeBron James could put the game away.

    He's holding defensive position, which he did so expertly against the Detroit Pistons' Jonas Jerebko that it forced a careless turnover and led to a transition layup for James on the other end.  

    He's boxing out bigger players, as he did against Charlotte Bobcats center Byron Mullens, allowing little Norris Cole to sneak in, steal a rebound and fire a 60-foot lob to James for a spectacular finish.

    As Battier recently said: 

    When you are on winning teams, good teams, you tend to get praised for those things. When you are on bad teams, you are looked at as a limited player. All I heard, was, ‘Oh, Battier, doesn’t want to score, doesn’t dribble, doesn’t run pick-and-rolls.’ But you go to a playoff team, and it’s like, ‘Man, what a great intangible player, does all the little things.’

    Those things have played a role in a really big streak. 

Mario Chalmers: Finding That Stroke

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    Mario Chalmers wasn't worried.

    He had a game to play, with the Miami Heat against the Charlotte Bobcats, while his Kansas Jayhawks—the team with which he won a collegiate championship—was struggling for a while with North Carolina.

    "I checked it at halftime," Chalmers said, smiling.  "But I knew they'd pull it out." 

    That's the sort of patience—and confidence—that Heat fans have learned to develop in Chalmers, even when he's going through some rough stretches. 

    The fifth-year point guard still plays like more of a combination guard, still picks up early fouls too frequently and sometimes gets lost on a defensive rotation. Still, he has been better defensively on the ball than earlier this season, and he has found his spot-up shooting stroke after an early-season finger injury gave him some trouble.

    Since going 0-of-5 from deep in the first two games of the streak, he has made 51-of-111 in the past 25, a scorching rate of 45.9 percent. That has raised his season percentage to 41.7, best of his career.

    He's also connecting more regularly from the line of late—89.4 percent during the streak—to get his season percentage back to his career rate. 

    He's done this while generally making better decisions on offense, often making the extra pass, and now is averaging more steals (1.6) than turnovers (1.5). 

    There will be times, because there always are, that Chalmers will make fans feel like pulling their hair out.

    But at this point, most can safely believe that he'll pull out something else when it matters most—a good result.

Chris Andersen: Flying High on Both Ends

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    February 1 now goes down as a historic night.

    Chris Andersen played for the Miami Heat.

    And they lost anyway.

    It wasn't his fault—he was about the only Heat player who showed much energy in a 102-89 loss to Indiana, making all four of his shots in 12 minutes of service. That was Andersen's third time dressing for the Heat since signing to supplement the front court, and the Heat had won the other two.

    Miami has won 27 since.

    And so, entering the March 27th contest in Chicago, that makes Andersen a rather staggering 29-1 in a Heat uniform. 

    "You and your stats," Andersen quipped, when told of the ridiculous numbers recently. 

    Coincidence?

    Not completely. 

    Sliding seamlessly into the rotation, Andersen has averaged 11.8 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per 48 minutes and—finding more spring in his 34-year-old legs—has given Dwyane Wade and LeBron James a new above-the-rim finishing option. 

    Erik Spoelstra has stuck to his plan to keep Andersen's minutes limited and consistent—somewhere between 11 and 17 in each of the past 19 games—and has hinted at using Andersen more with Chris Bosh in the playoffs.

    A little more of a good thing can't hurt. 

Ray Allen: Same as It Ever Was

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    For a while, it was reasonable to wonder if the Miami Heat had gotten the old Ray Allen or just an old Ray Allen. 

    One of the NBA's great all-time shooters went through a two-month funk this season, especially on the road, where his inconsistent accuracy—coupled with his defensive limitations—made him a liability at times. 

    In the last 10 games, however, he's knocking down threes at a 51.2 percent rate, and his overall numbers are actually equal—or better—in the six road outings.

    Simply put, it looks like he's starting to get right just in time for the stretch run.

    And his ability to stretch the defense, along with Shane Battier, has allowed Erik Spoelstra to rest either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade while playing four subs.

    Prior to the streak, the weak link of the team from a plus-minus standpoint had been the backup backcourt of Allen and Norris Cole. Lately, the odd couple combination (one veteran, one kid) has looked a bit more connected. 

    "It's getting better," Allen said after a recent win in Toronto. "(It's) important for us, to run some stuff in that second unit, and move the ball side to side and make sure we get a good look."

    Allen is getting good looks in the month of March, in which he's a plus-73. 

    Miami's looked pretty much unstoppable when he's knocking them down. 

Norris Cole: Coming of Age?

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    It's hard not to like Norris Cole.

    The second-season point guard is as earnest as an NBA player can be, always saying the right things and trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible from his older teammates.

    "All I can do is watch and learn from all of them," Cole said. "I take notes. I will never forget this, it's like a lesson learned every day, from somebody different." 

    But, as the one kid in a veteran Miami Heat rotation—in which the next-youngest player (Mario Chalmers) is already in his fifth season—there's been a need for Cole to grow up even faster than the average guy. Sometimes it's been hard to watch, as he's dribbled himself into trouble or taken an ill-advised shot.

    In recent weeks, though, it has started to come together. 

    Cole has been pestering ball-handlers all season, but he's now also doing a better job with his own dribble. He's not forcing the action in the half court and finding himself in places he can't escape.

    He's thrown such "perfect" lobs, in the words of Dwyane Wade, that Wade has joked that he's still trying to "get Mario to throw them like that."

    Among the best? A 65-footer to Wade against the Toronto Raptors, a short one for the trailer LeBron James that James used to bury Celtics guard Jason Terry in Boston and then a couple more half-court heaves to James against the Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic. 

    Even better? 

    Cole is doing some scoring himself. In the Heat's 26th and 27th wins in their winning streak, Cole made 6-of-8 from behind the arc.

    As if the Heat needed another long-range shooter... 

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