Ethan J. Skolnick

Ethan J. Skolnick: Chris Bosh’s strong start is exactly what Heat needs

Chirs Bosh of the Miami Heat reacts after scoring in the fourth quarter during a game against the Houston Rockets on Sunday, November 1, 2015 at the AmericanAirlines Arena.
Chirs Bosh of the Miami Heat reacts after scoring in the fourth quarter during a game against the Houston Rockets on Sunday, November 1, 2015 at the AmericanAirlines Arena. hgabino@elnuevoherald.com

When you take apart computers for fun and write essays about coding for Wired magazine, you’re not the sort to entirely unplug. So Chris Bosh certainly was capable of learning where ESPN.com slotted him, in October, in its annual #NBARank.

“I had to make sure I didn’t look at it, ’cause I didn’t want to get pissed,” a smiling Bosh said Sunday, after practicing with the Heat. “What was it?”

Twenty-two.

“OK,” Bosh said. “That’s not that bad.”

Laughter.

“That’s OK,” Bosh continued. “I mean, you know, man, you can’t get caught up in all that stuff. It’s like, no matter what they say, I’m gonna disagree with it. Unless they put me one. Then I’m like, OK. Unless I’m top five, I’m not rolling. I mean, there’s a lot of awesome players out there. But, yeah, I try not to look at it.”

Does he feel he’s playing above a No. 22 level?

“Hell yeah,” he said, with another laugh.

That, of course, remains subjective. Among players who primarily play center or power forward, Bosh was ranked behind Anthony Davis (2), Blake Griffin (9), Marc Gasol (10), DeMarcus Cousins (12), LaMarcus Aldridge (13), Dwight Howard (14) and Kevin Love (21), and just ahead of Tim Duncan (23), Al Horford (24), DeAndre Jordan (25), Serge Ibaka (28), Paul Millsap (29) and Andre Drummond (30).

What’s undeniable, however, is that Bosh — less than seven months after being hospitalized with career-threatening blood clots — has been doing exactly what Miami needs in order to contend in the Eastern Conference. Through nine games, he’s averaging 19.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists while shooting 45.3 percent from the field, and he is gaining strength with each outing.

This year, I just wanted to make sure I’m staying consistent and make sure the team’s winning.

Heat forward Chris Bosh

It should be noted that Bosh got off a strong start during the 2015 season, too; through nine games, he was averaging 21.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 assists while shooting 44.8 percent from the field. Although the statistics are similar, this stretch feels more sustainable. He certainly thinks so.

“I fizzled out a little bit after that first week,” he acknowledged. “This year, I just wanted to make sure I’m staying consistent and make sure the team’s winning. If we’re in positions to win, everything else will take care of itself.”

The winning, in turn, will help his mental and emotional state, which typically leads to better performance. And his physical state? Well, that’s the remarkable aspect of all of this. After enduring extreme trauma late last season, he now says, “I’m the best conditioned I’ve been in a few years, probably since the [2010-11] lockout. And that’s just because I’ve had time to work on it. And for obvious reasons, I had a different focus going into this year.”

He says that observers shouldn’t be surprised that he has recovered so quickly, because “that’s the best thing about being an athlete. I run for a living. … It’s just really my body getting back to what it’s used to doing.”

What he hasn’t always done enough to please his critics: rebound. Currently, though, he’s fifth in the NBA in defensive rebounds per game, behind only Drummond, Jordan, teammate Hassan Whiteside and Love.

“Sweet,” he said.

Sweeter still, it should stay that way because of the significant tweaks that coach Erik Spoelstra has made to the defensive scheme. Bosh explained that, during the Big 3 era, the Heat was relying on the wings (mostly LeBron James and Dwyane Wade) to do a lot rebounding, while Bosh was out blitzing the ball, far from the basket. Nor did it change much last season.

“When they were screening and rolling, we were zoning up on the weak side,” Bosh said. “And it’s difficult to rebound. I kept telling people that. They just ... whatever. I’m a punching bag, so whatever. But the knack for rebounding doesn’t go anywhere. I told people that. They thought I was crazy. ‘Yeah, stop making excuses’ But it’s just the coverages. The way it’s going now, you can’t just jump out and trap constantly. You have to kind of find that gray area in between trapping and zoning up. I think that’s helped out quite a bit.”

The numbers confirm his point. Bosh is getting 12.2 defensive rebounding chances per game — when the ball is within 3 1/2 feet of him — compared with 9.0 last season and 8.7 the season prior, the first season SportVU began tracking that statistic. And he’s grabbing them at a higher rate, 69.1 percent compared with 67.0 percent and 61.5 percent. Also, a higher percentage of his rebounds have been contested than either of the past two seasons.

All in all, not bad for No. 22.

Which doesn’t really bother Bosh, even if it would have bothered “the younger me,” even if he did request the list of big men above him, and even if he left this reporter with this booming explanation for his early excellent play:

“Because they ranked me 22!”

Ethan J. Skolnick: 305-376-3483, @ethanjskolnick

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