By Surya Fernandez
With only season ticket holders invited to this year's Heat scrimmage, the lower bowl was surprisingly filled up in time for tipoff at 7:00 PM. Could this be the end of Miami's infamous penchant for arriving late to actual games? Probably not, but it's a good start at least. Perhaps the lockout and the threat of an entire season lost will inspire fans to get to their seats in time. Or not.
Most of the fans in attendance were likely disappointed they wouldn't be able to get their first peek at new Heat players Shane Battier (strained left quad) and Eddy Curry (hip flexor) but they sure get a great introduction of what's to come with rookie Norris Cole shining in his unofficial debut.
Playing at a pace that Heat fans haven't seen since the days of Jason Williams, Cole impressed with pinpoint passing and an electrifying style of play that was infectious to his teammates. The young man wasn't afraid to put up his own shot but did his job well with good court vision and a solid basketball IQ, unafraid to push the pace but also aware when to pull back and let a play develop - qualities that are rare in a rookie point guard.
"You can see how he changes the pace as soon as he's in there," said Coach Erik Spoelstra. "I don't want him ever to take the pedal off the metal. That's what he's there for. He did a pretty good job at that in the open court. That's the style he played in college. That's one of the reasons why we liked him and drafted him."
As for the Big 3, the most encouraging aspect of their performance at the scrimmage wasn't so much individual plays or supposedly new wrinkles in their game, but their conditioning level put to rest any fears that the superstars wouldn't be ready to put in significant minutes at the outset of the new season. Maybe they're not in regular season form, but they're close to it.
"I felt good," said LeBron afterwards in the locker room. "You get used to the practice court. It's real good to be out on the game floor in front of our fans and try to demonstrate some of the stuff we've been doing."
Dexter Pittman didn't exactly inspire confidence that the center rotation is anywhere close to being definitely set, looking lethargic and shaky at times but still did his best to crash the boards and defend the rim without fouling.
"It was good to see Pittman respond on the glass and he takes up a lot of space," observed Spoelstra. "He was active. He's been grinding away all week, working to be an effort player, to make those types of plays. It was good to see."
Joel Anthony is still, well, Joel Anthony. Same goes for Juwan Howard. It will likely be enough against the lower-tier teams but there are open roster spots for a reason. Pat Riley is likely holding out hope that a big man falls through the cracks and lands with the team, either now or by the trade deadline.
Someone forgot to tell Udonis Haslem that this was just a scrimmage. The Miami native only plays the game one way no matter what's at stake, and that meant plenty of hustle plays, something the team could have really used last season. Thankfully, the injury doesn't appear to be much of a concern to him.
"It was the first time I was able to get out there without thinking about it,' remarked Haslem. "I still have a ways to go. I haven't played (up-and-down) ball since the last game of the Finals so it felt good. Real good."
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