Chris Bosh opened practice Monday morning at the University of San Francisco War Memorial gym with “a little pregame speech” — something to kind of motivate his teammates before facing the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
He ended it by spending a few minutes with rookie Justise Winslow, talking him through his shooting motion as only a fellow left-hander could.
“He’s a great leader. Even now if you look — he’s always teaching,” point guard Goran Dragic said as he watched Bosh and Winslow interact.
“That’s precious to have somebody like that, that kind of person, player on our team,” Dragic continued. “Even when the game is not going well for us, he always speaks his mind and tells you what you need to hear. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes they don’t want to hear that. But they know they have to.”
Dragic paused for a moment to watch Bosh and then added: “In some places they just play basketball. But he cares.”
Of all the things Bosh has brought the Heat this season — he leads Miami in scoring (19.2 per game), three-point shooting (40.2 percent) and plus/minus (126) — it’s his leadership that teammates and coach Erik Spoelstra mention as his most valuable asset.
And through this torrid road stretch the Heat is on — 14 of 16 away from home — that value has increased, especially with Dwyane Wade (left shoulder) and Hassan Whiteside (right knee) dealing with lingering injuries. Bosh remains the only Heat starter who hasn’t missed a game this season.
He entered Monday’s game on one of the best 12-game stretches of his six-year Heat career, averaging 23.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and shooting 51 percent from the field and 44.1 percent from three-point range. And yet, the Heat has gone just 7-5 over that stretch.
“He’s just playing in the flow,” Wade said last week of Bosh, who has scored 20 or more points in 10 of his last 12 games. “He’s real confident in his game right now. He understands what’s needed from him for this team. We need him to keep it going. We need it. And it’s not easy.
“Chris plays with different lineups on the floor. He has to figure out when and when not to do something when he’s out there. He doesn’t just shoot all the time. He’s a guy who has to be a ball mover for us as well. We move a lot of pick and roll. So the ball is back in his hands a lot. He has to figure out when to be aggressive, when not, who to look for, etc. There are a lot of things he has to do for this team and he’s doing a good job of it.”
Through Sunday, no player in the NBA had produced more points on pick and rolls (190) than Bosh and only 12 were averaging more points in the fourth quarter (5.9). His shooting percentage in the fourth quarter (48.7 percent) ranked seventh in the league among players taking at least 3.5 shots in the period — better than Kevin Durant (46.3 percent), Paul George (45.5 ) and Russell Westbrook (44.7).
And yet, there’s no guarantee Bosh will make this year’s All-Star team. Last week, he ranked sixth in voting among frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference, and if the Heat struggles entering the break there’s a chance the coaches who select reserves might decide to leave Wade, currently leading all guards in votes, as the Heat’s only representative. As it stands, Bosh — a 10-time All-Star — will likely have to fend off Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Atlanta’s Paul Millsap and Al Horford for one of the reserve spots.
“He’s got my vote,” Dragic said.
If there’s one area Bosh definitely wants to improve, it’s his shooting late in games and in clutch situations. He’s making only 30.3 percent (10 of 33) of his shots in the final five minutes of games when the score differential is five points or less, and he is 0 for 6 from the field when there is under a minute to play and the score differential is three points or less.
“I’m still trying to get a wrap on that,” said Bosh, who in the Big 3 era of the Heat was never the first or second scoring option in the fourth quarter. “Coach is showing faith in me handling the ball in crunch-time situations and I’ve got to do a little better job. You only get one crack at it. That’s what makes it so hard.
“But I think now I’ve got enough film on it and I can work on moves, work on those situations, and when I get it in certain spots I’ll know what to do and be a little more comfortable.”
Heat assistant coach Keith Smart was back with the team Monday after spending nearly a month away battling a rare form of skin cancer. Smart, 51, said he underwent surgery shortly after a team dermatologist found a bump on his left cheek and has spent the last couple weeks recovering at home.
“I had the surgery and now I’m just waiting for everything to clear up,” he said as he pointed to his swollen left cheek. “It’s my new look. I never felt anything. There were no symptoms or anything like that. [My dermatologist] saw it and realized it was a little bit more and we just kept moving on from there.”
Spoelstra is happy and relieved to see Smart back.
“It’s awesome — because it’s an incredibly scary situation,” he said. “All of us were rocked by it when he first told us. But his positive attitude and relentless perseverance is so infections. It’s absolutely great to have him back and maybe even sooner than we would have anticipated or heard the news.”