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Miami Heat’s Udonis Haslem no longer a forgotten man

Udonis Haslem isn’t afraid to challenge anyone, and sometimes that includes reporters.

Take Monday’s off-day practice in Indianapolis for example.

Haslem scored 17 points on Sunday in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, so the scrum of TV reporters crowded around the Heat’s starting forward was larger than normal. One reporter asked Haslem a seemingly innocuous question about whether he was happy to break out of his shooting slump.

It was the wrong choice of words.

“I haven’t been in a shooting slump,” Haslem fired back. “I just do what I’m called upon to do. I don’t take very many shots. Sometimes it’s not about shots for me. Sometimes it’s about defense and rebounding.

“I took seven shots in the first two games. That’s 3 1/2 shots a game, so it’s kind of really unfair to judge off that.”

Point taken.

Haslem was 8 of 9 from the field in Game 3.

His eight field goals set a career high for makes in a playoff game, and his 17 points was the most he has scored since injuring his foot early in the 2011 season. Haslem found the soft spot in the Pacers’ formidable defense and made the most of his opportunities.

For Haslem, the breakout performance helped dispel a perception that his offense is now limited mostly to shots in the paint.

He hit his first baseline jumper early in the first quarter and — as Dwyane Wade noted — showed off that signature trot down the court with his head “looking all around like, ‘What did y’all think was going to happen if you left me open?’ ”

For Haslem and Wade, the Heat’s co-captains and the only members of the team that played on the 2006 championship squad, a common saying is passed around and shared during times when the outside world either forgets what they sacrificed to put this current team together or just doesn’t take the time to understand.

“We got a saying: Perception is not reality,” Haslem said. “We got role players who can step up and carry the team, that’s one misconception. Dwyane Wade can still take over a game. That’s another. Sometimes he has to take one or two steps back. Some nights it’s three and four steps.

“For us to make this work, we have to play different roles.”

For one night at least, Haslem’s role was a nod to different times.

And, for one game at least, Pacers center Roy Hibbert can be grouped into the crowd of outsiders that forgot Haslem could still affect a game with his midrange jumper. Haslem caught Hibbert out of position throughout the game and made Indiana’s talented rim protector look either slow-footed or ill-prepared for the matchup.

Hibbert, to his credit, took full responsibility for the defensive miscues and said on Monday that he has to find a way to guard the paint in Game 4, but also get out on the baseline in time to contest Haslem’s jumpers.

“I’m going to do both,” Hibbert said. “Guard the paint and get out there.

“Well see if [Haslem] will be able to do that for the next couple games. He had one heck of a night last night but, you know what, I’m just going to have to bring it even more on the defensive end and see if he can keep doing that.”

Haslem’s offensive contribution was a carryover from a pregame speech he delivered to his teammates moments before tip off.

“We’re calling that a speech now?” Haslem said, trying to downplay its significance.

In so many words, Haslem reiterated the need for extra energy and focus on the road and reminded his teammates of “just that little piece of fear in the pit of your stomach that this team can take away all our hopes and dreams.”

As for energy, the Heat scored 70 points in the first half — a franchise postseason record for points in a half. As for focus, Miami committed just five turnovers the entire game — yet another franchise postseason record.

“Udonis, I would describe him as venerable,” Shane Battier said. “He’s one of the guys, when he speaks, you listen, because what he says you know is pure.

“It’s not coming from a place of bias, and he is a team-first guy. So, when he speaks, it’s usually passionate and it’s truth.”

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