Heat Need Cool and Confident Mario Chalmers in Game 2 of NBA Finals

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Heat Need Cool and Confident Mario Chalmers in Game 2 of NBA Finals
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO — These are not the sort of questions anyone expected to be asked at a 21st century NBA Finals, all these questions about electrical failures, engineers and electrolytes.

Questions like the one Erik Spoelstra received following Saturday's practice at the Spurs' practice facility, about whether his team will need to investigate the state of the AT&T's air conditioning system in the hours prior to Sunday's Game 2. 

"It will be fine," Spoelstra said. "We've been assured of that." 

Let's assume, for the sake of everyone's sweat glands, that it is. And let's assume that the cooling controversy cools down, even as some Heat players and staffers were still skeptical about what happened Thursday—not that anyone cut the AC intentionally, but whether the Spurs, who used cooling fans at halftime, had received more advance warning about the issues than they did. 

If so, we can all turn our attention to matters that will have more impact on the series going forward.

Such as whether the Heat can fix something else, something that also malfunctioned Thursday:

Mario Chalmers

Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

Everyone on the Heat would feel much more comfortable if he started working effectively again in Game 2. 

That starts with Chalmers himself. The point guard is known for his outsized, unshakable confidence, which has often been of great benefit to the team during its title runs, but which has shown temporary cracks at times during his six seasons in the NBA. He's always recovered eventually, and he's made critical shots in the Heat's last three postseason pushes.  

But his teammates, who deem him to be more important to Miami's success than most observers typically do, have expressed real worries this time: that he isn't compartmentalizing well enough, and that he is allowing off-the-court concerns, including his contract status (as a free agent after the season), to affect his play. 

"He's sideways," one veteran said. 

His minute and shot totals have been slipping backwards since the regular season; in Game 1, he recorded three points, one assist, five turnovers and five fouls in 17 minutes. He hasn't scored in double digits in the past 10 games, even while shooting reasonably well. In some games, he hasn't been as available, due to the officials or Spoelstra taking him out.

In others, he simply hasn't been as aggressive. In the past six regular seasons, he has averaged a remarkably consistent 9.1, 9.0, 8.8, 9.8, 9.2, and 9.3 shots per 36 minutes. The Heat didn't make it out of the first round during his first two seasons, but he averaged 8.7, 9.1 and 10.1 shots per 36 minutes in his next three postseasons.

Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

This postseason?

Chalmers has taken 7.7 shots per 36 minutes. 

His foul rate is actually down overall from the regular season (3.1 per 36 minutes compared to 3.5), but he was frustrated by the way he was officiated Thursday. He felt that three of the five whistles were for nit-picky "touch fouls." 

"I feel like I've been beaten up on one end, and as soon as I breathe on the other end, I get the foul," Chalmers said. "But it's all about adjusting to it, and figuring out how I can stay on the court."

He said his father Ronnie told him to "play softer on defense" and to "be more careful" during their conversation on Friday.

"I just got to figure out a way," Chalmers said. "I got an old style, that's how I guard. I'm physical. I always get the foul. I'll figure it out."

After six years, Spoelstra is still much more prone to publicly dissect Chalmers' difficulties than that of any other player; the difference is striking compared to the way he protected Norris Cole when the backup point guard struggled significantly for the season's final two months, attributing those issues largely to the unsettled rotation that led to Cole getting his shots in unfamiliar spots.

Spoelstra has never coddled Chalmers, not for a moment. He has shown his faith in the most important way: by keeping the Kansas product in the starting lineup whenever he's been healthy since Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals.

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

"That hurt (Thursday) night, 17 minutes," Spoelstra said. "We were managing the minutes the best that we could and getting guys in and out, played nine guys and nobody played deep minutes, but those extra 15 or 16 minutes from Rio probably would have helped. And he needs to be more attentive to technique and earlier in his thought process. Things are happening very quickly obviously at this level of competition and your preparation before the play happens is paramount. Now, Rio is very important to our success, he understands that, and I believe he will be better with the next game."

The numbers don't necessarily show that the Heat need significant scoring from Chalmers to win—as he averaged more points in losses than wins this season. But there's no question that the Heat feel better about their chances when he's a steady hand.

So how does he get there?

When Chalmers is down, as he's been lately, he tries "to surround myself with positive thoughts."  

"I watch highlights of old games, old series, just to figure out how to get my bounce back, what I can do to be aggressive," Chalmers said.

His teammates have been watching him, and feel they need to do their part to lift him up. 

"We tell him we need him," said Chris Bosh, who was in Chalmers' ear often Thursday, most forcefully after the point guard pressed and committed turnovers. "If he plays well, we're very difficult to beat. So he needs to play well." 

So what's the advice? 

"Just be yourself," Bosh said. "I think Mario tries to do too much. He doesn't have to do anything complicated with this team. I think his game is good enough. And you can tell sometimes he just gets really down on himself, and he tries too hard. I think that's the best advice someone ever told me, is that what you've done over this body of time is good enough to succeed now. So he doesn't need to change anything. We don't need him to be this amazing version of Mario Chalmers. We just need him to be Mario Chalmers and that will be good enough." 

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Udonis Haslem, a co-captain and Chalmers' teammate for all six seasons, has told him to "stay aggressive, stay confident, stay focused. I felt like he had a couple calls that didn't go his way. But I used to be that guy. When you're out there with the Big Three, (the officials) not going to call fouls on them, and they're going to give them every foul. So somebody has to get slighted out there, somebody has to get shorted out there." 

Haslem laughed. 

"He'll be fine," he said. "The one thing I know about him, and I told him this, is when there's big games, he's there. No matter how much he struggles, he's clutch. His biggest strength is his confidence. He's hit a little rough patch, but we all do. All it takes is one game, and he'll be fine. He had a big game last year against Tony Parker. He can do it again. We're gonna need one of these games to be big for him, I don't know which game it's gonna be, but he'll be ready." 

If it comes on Sunday, that would feel better for the Heat than a fresh blast of cold air. 

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