Even cocksure Mario Chalmers sometimes needs words of encouragement, it seems.
After yet another subpar game Wednesday, Chalmers received a call from his former college coach, Kansas’ Bill Self.
“Always good to hear from Coach Self,” Chalmers wrote on Twitter. “The one person who always has faith in me outside my family.”
Chalmers has fallen in and out of favor so many times during his five years with the Heat that this latest trough is no less surprising than his brilliant run of play to begin 2012. Remember the first half of last season? While Shane Battier struggled to find his form from the outside, Chalmers was the Heat’s most consistent outside threat. He led the Heat in three-point shooting and earned a place in the All-Star Game’s three-point contest.
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But the only consistent thing about Chalmers’ NBA career, other than his unflappable confidence, has been his inconsistency. He’s shooting 32.7 percent from three-point range (16 of 49) through the first 20 games of the season. Of the Heat’s three-point shooters, Chalmers ranks sixth in made threes behind Ray Allen (37), Battier (33), LeBron James (27), Rashard Lewis (17) and Mike Miller (17).
Chalmers is the Heat’s entrenched starter at point guard, but as his numbers have waned so too has his role at the end of games. In the Heat’s past three games, Chalmers has watched fourth quarters from the bench. He last saw action in a fourth quarter in the Heat’s blowout loss to the Knicks. Chalmers played less than three minutes in that fourth quarter and had two points.
On Wednesday against the Warriors, Chalmers’ struggles reached a crescendo when he inadvertently took out teammate Dwyane Wade in the second quarter. Wade took an elbow to the face from Warriors guard Klay Thompson while trying to fight through a screen and hunched over in pain. Chalmers then crashed into Wade’s exposed head, sending Wade spinning to the court.
Wade was helped to the locker room after a few scary moments on the court, where a team trainer checked for signs of a concussion. Wade returned in the second half but finished with just 14 points.
In a touch of irony, it was Wade who spoke up for Chalmers after the Heat’s Wednesday morning shootaround.
“Mario Chalmers is very key to this ball club, and we want to make sure how important he is to us, so we need to get him back on track just like Norris [Cole] got back on track,” Wade said. “We need to make sure we pump the positive into Rio and get him back on track. Because for us to be a good team, we need him at a high level.”
While the Heat’s roster is overflowing with wing players, the team is thin at point guard, and that weakness is exposed when Chalmers is off his game. In the Heat’s six losses this season, Chalmers has averaged fewer than five points per game. He shot the ball well Wednesday in the Heat’s loss to Golden State, going 2 of 4 from three-point range, but had three turnovers in 24 minutes compared to just one assist.
Chalmers has struggled recently, but his backup is steadily improving as the point guard of the Heat’s first rotation off the bench. And while Chalmers remains the Heat’s starter, Cole has supplanted Chalmers in fourth quarters. In the Heat’s past three games, Cole played every minute of the fourth quarters against the Hornets and Hawks and logged 10 minutes in the final period against Golden State.
“He’s improving, and when you have a young player you want to see that,” Wade said of Cole. “You’re going to go through a lot of ebb and flow early in your career, but you want to see when they hit a dark spot that they come out of it. He’s been playing well, so we want to continue to give him confidence to play well.”
Overall, Chalmers is averaging 6.3 points and 3.9 assists per game. Cole is averaging 4.9 points and 2.2 assists per contest.
“We need both of them guys,” Wade said. “They both bring something different to our team.”