Veteran Miami Heat players ready for grind of NBA playoffs

04/23/2014 12:00 AM

05/18/2014 10:39 PM

When Udonis Haslem was a youngster in the NBA, he used to stay out and party until the early hours of the morning, and then have no problem recovering for work the next day.

Now, Haslem just sits at home and watches Netflix all night.

Shane Battier has seen players come and go in the NBA who couldn’t manage their lifestyles off the court. Battier is quick to paraphrase Ben Franklin about the spiritual powers of spirits, but he has always known the limits of his very limited athleticism.

LeBron James used to overthink the playoffs more than any other player in the league, but three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and back-to-back championships have sharpened his focus on what matters, and, more importantly, what does not.

“It’s a dramatic change for me, obviously,” James said. “My third year — the first time I made the playoffs — to now, I understand what I’m looking at, I understand what’s going to be coming after me and our team.”

There was a time not too long ago when Dwyane Wade would crank on the lights of the Heat’s practice facility at odd hours of the night this time of year. Now he really doesn’t do much without the supervision of a trainer, so all of his extra workouts happen early in the morning.

Chris Bosh looks forward to the playoffs because it’s the best time to be a professional basketball player, but not for the most obvious of reasons. Compared to the regular season, things actually slow down for players during the playoffs. The postseason means Bosh gets to see more of his family.

One of the biggest misconceptions in the NBA might be that older teams have a built-in disadvantage to younger foes during seven-game playoff series that can stretch on for two weeks. The Heat’s players say the opposite is true. Older teams are wiser, better under pressure and know how to prepare their bodies and minds for the long haul.

So while the back page of a Toronto tabloid recently received plenty of buzz for its catchy headline — “Raptors vs. Dinosaurs” — it was no surprise to Wade that the old Brooklyn Nets went out and thumped the Raptors in Game 1 of that series.

“You will continue to see throughout the playoffs that the veteran teams, you don’t have the youth or athleticism or that motor that young guys have, but you have something that you just can’t teach and you can’t fast track, and that’s the ability to understand the moments in the playoffs and what you need to do, especially down the stretch,” Wade said. “In certain ball games, you can look at Brooklyn and that game in Toronto. … That’s a veteran team with veteran guys, and that’s the reason why you love veteran teams in the playoffs.”

Heat president Pat Riley loves veteran teams, and not just because of experience at the end of close playoff games. Older players are simply smarter. They have learned what it takes to survive and thrive and in a demanding profession where someone — and usually a younger someone — is always trying to take your place.

At the beginning of this season, the Heat (30.3 years old) actually had an older roster by average age than the Nets (29.2).

The Charlotte Bobcats are nowhere near the youngest team in the NBA, let alone the playoffs, but the Eastern Conference playoff’s seventh-seeded team is a little green when it comes to the postseason. At the beginning of this series, the Bobcats’ roster featured players with a combined 15 starts in playoff games. The Heat: 727.

For that reason, Bobcats coach Steve Clifford made the decision to fly his team back to North Carolina for the two days between Games 1 and 2. Game 2 is at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. The Bobcats arrived in Miami on Tuesday night after practicing in Charlotte on Monday and Tuesday morning.

The Heat’s players say the Bobcats’ coaching staff made the right call.

“Hey, young guys, you know what they’re going to do out in Miami,” Bosh said.

The Heat holds a 1-0 lead in the series, and Miami is a heavy favorite to sweep the series after Bobcats center Al Jefferson injured his foot during Game 1. How different are these teams? Bosh said the Heat’s players would probably try and veto the team’s coaching staff if Erik Spoelstra decided to fly everyone back. “We’d probably be a little upset with the coaches, but that’s neither here nor there,” Bosh said. “I think we have the maturity to deal with that.”

And that’s not to say the Bobcats don’t. Guard Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson just need all the help they can get at this point.

Bosh might have given way to the temptations of South Beach in his early years in the league, but now he’s just happy to have extra time off during the playoffs. He spent most of Monday and Tuesday with his young children.

“It’s kind of nice,” Bosh said. “My son likes me again and my daughters, too. It’s awesome. It’s kind of weird. Things kind of slow down and you can focus on basketball, but you can also focus on family. I imagine as a single fella it’s a little boring and … it’s a lot more time for trouble.”

And, make no mistake, young players in the NBA party like the young millionaires that they are.

“I could stay out till 5 or 6 in the morning drinking and partying and run like a deer,” Haslem said. “Them days are over with.”

Battier, who has bounced around the NBA throughout his 13-year career, says partying is “a talent. Like a jump shot is a talent, or a rebound is a talent.”

“I’ve been with teammates who were unbelievable after staying up until 5 in the morning and doing lord knows what, and they can do it,” Battier said. “The problem is some of the other younger guys try to hang with that guy and fall out of the league because of their lifestyle choices.

“You have to know thyself. Know thyself!”

A man of routine, Battier enjoys a good craft beer during the playoffs and the regular season and, like one Founding Father, Battier is quick to extol the virtues of alcohol.

“Beer is proof that God loves us, and wants us to be happy,” said Battier, a theology major.

All that said, he’s too old for one too many.

“That’s not me,” Battier said. “That has never been me. If I stay up past 1:30 nowadays, it takes me like four days to recover.”

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