Haslem returns to form for Heat

Udonis Haslem waves to Heat fans during the championship parade in June. // Photo by Christina De Nicola

Udonis Haslem waves to Heat fans during the championship parade in June. // Photo by Christina De Nicola

MIAMI — The victor was never in doubt during the Miami Heat’s 102-72 victory over the Washington Wizards Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Yet if one analyzed the game closely enough, it appeared as though one member of the defending champions looked to be returning to form.

Udonis Haslem, starting his fourth straight game, scored a season-high 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting with seven rebounds. He was one of four Heat players in double figures.

“It’s good. It’s great, honestly,” LeBron James said of Haslem’s performance. “UD — I feel like for himself — he hasn’t lived up to what he’s capable of doing, especially with his outside shot. He mixed it up tonight. He had a drive, he got to the free throw line, a couple of dunks, pick and rolls and a few jumpers. The little mix helped us out.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra replaced Shane Battier with Haslem in the lineup. The former missed three games earlier in the month with a knee injury. Over the past three starts, Haslem had averaged just 4.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

The nine-year veteran, who suffered through a career-low .423 shooting percentage last season, has made 53.5 percent of his shots through 20 games.

Assistant coach Keith Askins and Haslem began watching film of his shot over the years to uncover any difference from then to now. What they discovered was Haslem’s tendency — of late — to lean to the left with both his head and body when he raised his arms to shoot the ball.

Both believe this could be attributed to his November 2010 injury — torn ligaments in his left foot — that created the habit and sidelined him until the playoffs.

Despite the struggles, Haslem continued to take thousands of shots at practice and work on his comfort level. He focuses on going straight up and down on each shot, holding his follow-through.

Spoelstra, who calls Haslem’s jumper his “bread and butter,” wants the team to stay the course with him because of his intangibles.

“He’ll be fine,” Spoelstra said. “He’s finding where you can get your open shots with the offense and these guys. It’s just a matter of time before it becomes consistent like it always was.”

That’s something Haslem admits he’s still trying to get accustomed to — a position-less offense with new teammates (and perimeter experts) like Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen.

“It’s not easy really getting a rhythm — you know — playing a different role than I’ve been playing eight years where I made my career,” said Haslem, who fell two seconds shy of his season-high in playing time (23:54). “It’s a work in progress, and I’m buying into it and I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to help us win. [Saturday] I just had it going.”

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