Maybe all the Heat really needed was a booster shot of Udonis Haslem.
For the first time since January, the Heat’s co-captain and emotional beacon played important minutes for the defending back-to-back champions Tuesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Haslem then started against Boston on Wednesday night in place of Greg Oden. In both games, Haslem provided a dose of passion that was missing during the Heat’s losing skid.
“That’s the role he has right now and he really can make an impact in those kind of minutes — those type of short-burst minutes you see the impact with his energy and the rebounding,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the 100-96 victory against the Cavaliers.
The Heat’s two-game road trip offered Haslem his first meaningful minutes since January. He began the season as a starter before being replaced in the lineup by Shane Battier. Now, both Battier and Haslem are coming off the bench and Oden is starting alongside Chris Bosh in the Heat’s frontcourt.
It was Haslem’s first start since Nov.7, which moved him past Glen Rice for second place on the Heat’s all-time list for games started.
“You worry about what you can control,” Haslem said. “What I can control is when I step on the floor, how do I play my minutes? It’s to play with energy, and play with emotion, and be intense, and defend, and rebound, and just do all the little things.”
Haslem’s first basket against the Celtics was a dunk. He then scored six points in the first four minutes of the opening period, including another dunk.
He finished his first-quarter minutes with 12 points, going 6 of 7 from the field. Haslem’s season-high for field goals was three before Wednesday and his previous season-high for points scored was seven.
“It feels good to be able to contribute,” Haslem said. “However you can contribute when you step on the floor and how hard you play and the effort that you give is the only thing you can control.”
LeBron a scratch
The Heat's starting lineup against Boston on Wednesday — Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Michael Beasley, Bosh and Haslem — was the 16th different starting lineup for the team this season.
The team held James out as a precaution after an apparent bout of back spasms following his 42-minute effort against the Cavaliers on Tuesday night. James had 43 points against his old team, including 25 points in the first quarter. He spoke with reporters before Wednesday’s game in Boston with a heat pad around his lower back. The team announced James would not play after the locker room closed.
James has now missed three games this season. The Heat won the previous two games — (at Portland on Dec. 28 and against the Bulls on Feb. 23) — with James on the bench.
“Obviously, none of us is going to be 100 percent going into the playoffs,” James said. “But it is what it is. That’s the team we are. We’ve played a lot of basketball over the last four years. Guys have to be smart about certain situations and understand that if they can go, then go. But right now, we would rather go into the playoffs with 15 guys [full roster] instead of 13 or 12.”
Reporters in Cleveland are always looking to stir the pot when James is in town. A common question over the past two years is whether James thinks his jersey should be retired at Quicken Loans Arena. James addressed the topic while in Cleveland.
“It’s not for me to really be concerned about or to even think about,” James said. “At the end of the day, it’s something that we all as professional athletes dream about — to have your jersey retired in any building, or whatever franchise you ever played for, that means you were able to be successful both on and off the floor, so we’ll see.”