There was a time during the offseason when Mario Chalmers didn’t know if he would return to play for the Heat. Now, less than a month into the regular season, he’s one of the team’s most important players.
With Dwyane Wade, Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng out with injuries Monday night against the Brooklyn Nets, the burden fell to Chalmers to lead the team offensively from the perimeter. Chalmers delivered, scoring a team-high 22 points, and helped the Heat snap its three-game losing streak with a hard-earned victory.
On a night his shot was a bit off (5 of 12 from the field and 1 of 5 from the three-point line), Chalmers got to the free-throw line 13 times, making 11. He was 5 of 6 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, and his crucial three-point play with 2:37 remaining put the Heat ahead by seven points.
“He did great,” Heat center Chris Bosh said. “I think he’s starting to figure some things out.”
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Chalmers is starting his seventh season with the Heat, so there shouldn’t be much left for him to figure out. Still, consider how much Chalmers has had to process since the start of training camp.
He began the preseason as the team’s starting point guard before being moved to the bench and given a nondescript hybrid role as a backup. With Norris Cole the team’s new starting point guard and rookie point guard Shabazz Napier still finding his way, Chalmers served as the team’s backup point guard and also Wade’s primary backup.
As Napier has developed into a viable option as a backup point guard, Chalmers has gradually transitioned from do-everything sixth man to primary scorer for the team’s first rotation off the bench.
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Then, just as Chalmers was getting comfortable with that role, Wade went down with a hamstring injury. Chalmers played nearly 40 minutes off the bench in the Heat’s loss to the Hawks, and then was moved into the starting lineup as the team’s shooting guard against the Milwaukee Bucks and Nets.
"You have to get to know your team, and we need Rio to be out there, so I'm trying to balance him to do both,” Heat coach Spoelstra said before Monday’s game. “He needs to play 35 minutes plus. He needs to start the game, but he also needs to be our backup [shooting guard].
Spoelstra paused and said, “Welcome to our team."
Chalmers has led the Heat in scoring the past three games, and could be the team’s primary scorer once again Thursday when the Heat hosts the Clippers. Wade has missed three consecutive games with a strained hamstring, and last season missed nine games with a similar injury. Lack of consistency has always been the knock on Chalmers, but he has adapted well to this new challenge.
“Sometimes you know what you’re supposed to do be doing, but it’s just not happening and that’s what we have to figure out — figure out how to bring it each and every night and just be ready,” Chalmers said.
After Monday’s effort, Chalmers is now second on the team in free-throw attempts per game (5.3) behind only Bosh (7.3). Getting to the line will be a priority for Chalmers until Wade returns to the lineup. The biggest key for Chalmers to be effective, said Bosh, is for the shooting guard to “control his speed.”
“I have to continue to tell him he’s fast enough,” Bosh said. “When he’s in control, he’s good, he can hit his open guy, he can get into the paint, he can score, he can pass.
“He has always been talented, he knows a lot, so we’re going to have to rely on him to continue to step up.”