Miami Heat 'Fast Five': LeBron and Shula, Second Unit Switch, Bird and Zo & More

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterMarch 17, 2014

AP Images

Five quick-hitting Miami Heat items as the team slogs through the middle of March:

1. LeBron James may not have been the biggest sports celebrity in the house.

Honored Saturday at the eighth annual "Call of the Game" charity dinner—hosted by Heat broadcasters Eric Reid and Tony Fiorentino—James shared the stage not only with Heat president Pat Riley, but also with the NFL's all-time winningest coach, Don Shula. 

Surprisingly, the men had never met. 

"It was pretty cool, man, knowing that he probably didn't know I knew he was from Ohio as well," James said later. "I spent a lot of time where he's from, playing AAU basketball, throughout my childhood." 

Now that James is a full-grown man, global icon and representative of South Florida, Shula seemed excited to meet him as well. When James came to the stage, he bent down to Shula's scooter, and Shula patted him several times on the shoulder.

Riley, Shula and Dwyane Wade—who was sitting at the table in front, watching his fiancee Gabrielle Union emcee the ceremonies—make up a South Florida pro sports Mount Rushmore, with Dan Marino (honored here before) making up the fourth face.

But listening to Riley and Shula speak about James, it's clear that the latter will be welcomed to the mountain should he decide to stay for the long-term. 

Omar Vega/Associated Press

"I always used to talk about winning and misery, that that's what it's about," Riley told the audience of roughly 1,500 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, with proceeds going to Lauren's Kids. "But ever since the recipient of the Don Shula award showed up, it's changed the entire state, and it's changed the city. It's made all of us fall in love with the game of basketball again that, at times, throughout my 19 years here, it was fun, but it wasn't. And you go through the ups and downs of the game. There's the good and there's the bad. And with LeBron, it's been nothing but good." 

Shula rose to speak as well. 

"LeBron doesn't believe I know a lot about him, but I followed him from way back," Shula said. 

That prompted some smiles in the crowd.

There will be more in the South Florida market, if James sticks around long enough to be deemed the area's all-time greatest.

MIAMI, FL - March 16: Greg Oden #20 of the Miami Heat grabs a rebound against the Houston Rockets at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida on March 16 2014. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using thi
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

2. Greg Oden approved.

The Heat's project center, whose minutes and contributions have been erratic, was given the start Sunday against Houston, a little more than a week after he sat against Dwight Howard and the Rockets because that game came on the second night of a back-to-back. 

Erik Spoelstra didn't commit to it as a long-term solution, nor could he, not with more back-to-backs looming and Oden likely to sit one end of each. But Oden made it clear—after going scoreless with six rebounds and four fouls—that he likes it, even if he has matched Sunday's number of minutes (13) twice prior. 

"I think, at that point, I'm not coming in in the second quarter, when everybody else has been playing a quarter-and-a-half and I'm coming in cold," Oden said. "And it might make us a little bit bigger to start the game off also. So I hope it works."

But in truth, it seemed as if his comfort was actually a secondary concern for Erik Spoelstra.

Oden's insertion into the lineup, in place of Shane Battier but in the spot where Udonis Haslem used to play, allowed Spoelstra to get back to the bench rotation that he rolled out for the length of last season's 27-game winning streak. That's when everyone knew not only their roles, but could approximate their entrance times. That was Battier, Norris Cole, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen, usually playing for six or seven minutes at a time with LeBron James or Dwyane Wade.

That quartet has played 25 games, and a total of 125 minutes, together this season, recording a plus-16.

Last season, even though Andersen didn't join the team until midseason, that foursome played 34 games, and a total of 300 minutes together, recording a plus-29. 

That allowed it to develop a comfortable identity.

"Talking to Bird, talking to Norris, our mindset is going in and changing it defensively," Battier said. "Going in, and flying around. That's the strength of that unit, and I thought we did that (Sunday)."

MIAMI, FL - MAY 8: Miami Heat players, from left, Norris Cole #30, Ray Allen #34, Shane Battier #31, LeBron James #6 and Chris Andersen #11 huddle up while playing against the Chicago Bulls in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2013
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

The unit—again with either Wade or James anchoring—outscored the Rockets by just a 29-28 count in its most extended action of the season. 

"It's a good group," Battier said. "We've been trying to find the right combinations as a team, no question. Some have been successful, some haven't. But we have confidence in that group that we can come in, and it may not be pretty offensively, but we think we can make things happen defensively."

It appears to work for Battier, who got 21 minutes, tied for his second-most of March, even though he started all of the Heat's previous eight games. 

"The first four minutes of the game, they are sort of feel-out minutes," Battier said. "It's not until the middle of the first quarter, both teams are locked in, and understand the flow of the game. So when you come off the bench nine minutes into the game, you know how the game is going, and you don't have time to work yourself into it. So there are no wasted minutes."

Certainly, Oden wouldn't believe those opening minutes would be wasted on him. 

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 12: Chris Andersen #11 of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the Brooklyn Nets at American Airlines Arena on March 12, 2014 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or us
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

3. Chris Andersen isn't typical in any way.

And he's certainly not the typical Sixth Man of the Year candidate, not when he's averaging 6.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 19.4 minutes per game. But if voters are accounting for two-way contributions to a contending team, he should receive some consideration.

Andersen has been, by far, the Heat's most consistent sub, is shooting 67.1 percent from the floor and has excellent advanced metrics—first on the Heat in offensive rating (132) and defensive rating (103). 

His season doesn't pale much in comparison with what Alonzo Mourning produced in 2005-06, when Mourning finished higher in Sixth Man of the Year balloting (sixth) than any other player in Heat history.

That season, Mourning averaged 7.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 20 minutes, serving as Shaquille O'Neal's primary backup, but also making 20 starts when O'Neal was sidelined. Mourning's offensive rating that season was 113, and his defensive rating was a team-best 98. 

Mourning and Andersen wouldn't appear to be alike in many ways.

Except these:

Both were age 35 at the time of those seasons.

And both were bargains, with Mourning making $1.14 million and Andersen making $1.4 million.

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 13: Head coach Kevin McHale  of the Houston Rockets sits on the scorers table during a game between the Rockets and the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on March 13, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Rockets 111-87. N
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

4. Kevin McHale doesn't coach the Heat, but he played for a team a bit like them. 

McHale was part of an earlier Big Three—along with Larry Bird and Robert Parish—that went to four straight NBA Finals between 1983 and 1987. That's what the Heat are trying to accomplish now, though they'd like to win three championships. Boston won two during that stretch. 

Did the Celtics get tired due to all the extra games and pressure?

"You get tired, I think," the current Rockets coach said. "I remember...when the season ended, win or lose a championship, you were really tired. It took you a week, 10 days, to get your sleep pattern back to normal. And you kind of feel groggy. But 10 days after that, hell, you're in the prime of your life." 

McHale acknowledged that playing "a season and a half" of a playoff games early in their careers "took a toll on all of us, but not at that particular time. I think it took a toll on us later." 

The Heat stars spoke this week about how, even four years in, they're still sorting out roles late in games. 

How should that be handled?

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

STEPHAN SAVOIA/Associated Press

"The game dictates a lot of that," McHale said. "If Dwyane Wade is 15-for-17, I assume he'll probably get some last second shots. And if LeBron in that same game is 3-for-17....I mean, the game dictates a lot. Matchups dictate it. But if you have a lot of guys you trust, it's great."

McHale downplayed the difficulty of giving up some ball-handling responsibility.

"There's one ball," McHale said. "I don't think these guys have ever played with two balls, or three balls. So, like, when you're 12, there's one ball. You kind of figure it out."  

He said that he and Bird didn't squabble much about who should step forward in late situations. 

"You develop a chemistry and a symmetry and a respect for each other," McHale said. "You know, the ball finds the right people at the right times if you are playing the right way. If you are playing the wrong way, the ball finds the wrong person at the wrong time. It's not that complicated." 

J Pat Carter/Associated Press

5. Ray Allen wouldn't seem to need any sort of edge. 

But even he is proof of an old adage.

It's been said that basketball players need to see the ball go through the basket to gain some rhythm and confidence, and Allen is no different. He acknowledged that one factor in his scorching finish Sunday were the two technicals that he took with 4:53 and 4:26 left, respectively, in the fourth quarter—one for a defensive three-second violation and another for delay of game.

Allen hit both, and proceeded to make a layup, a three-pointer and another technical (called against Pat Beverley for arguing). 

"Those were big for me," Allen said. "My whole career, any time you get to the free-throw line, it just helps you get the ball in your hand, get a feel, see the ball go through the hoop. Even if you miss it, just having the ball in your hands is important."

That's why Allen sometimes lets a teammate shoot a technical. 

Though not too often—while Allen's other statistics have slipped some, he's shooting 91.8 percent from the line, his best since 2008-09. 

Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.


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