MIAMI (AP) — It takes four losses for a team to be eliminated from the NBA postseason, as anyone who follows the league surely knows.
So here’s another statistic among the many that would support the reigning champion Miami Heat carrying the role of overwhelming favorite into these playoffs: Chris Andersen hasn’t been part of four losses this season.
Total, that is.
Andersen appeared in 42 games with the Heat during this regular season. They went 39-3 in those games. And sure, Andersen averaged only 4.9 points and 4.1 rebounds in those contests, so clearly it wasn’t his statistics that provided the difference between winning and losing most nights.
What Miami sought when it signed Andersen was the intangibles, things like toughness and veteran savvy. On those counts, he’s constantly delivered. And he’ll likely continue to have a big role off the bench for the Heat in the playoffs, which open for them on Sunday at home against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round series.
“He’s a defender, he brings toughness, defends the rim, he rebounds and offensively he gives us an element of keeping teams honest when they put two on the ball,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He fits with us and we’re certainly fortunately to have gotten him.”
Andersen sports a Mohawk haircut and who-knows-how-many multicolored tattoos, has been known to flap his arms as if they were wings — a nod to his “Birdman” nickname — and can be more than a little intimidating. At first glance, the idea of him fitting into a Heat organization that prides itself on doing everything in a first-class manner might have seemed absurd.
But the Heat looked at the big picture, how another energy-and-effort guy with size and strength would clearly help their chances of winning a second straight title. With that in mind, they offered him a deal, Andersen accepted, and he’s made the Heat look like geniuses for the move ever since.
“He’s perfect. Perfect,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “When you see his production, you get it. When you look at everything that Birdman is, what people say he is and even what he is to a certain extent, it doesn’t match. But when you look at how he plays and the production on the court and what we need, it’s a perfect fit.”
Andersen got a long ovation on his first night in Miami, and the cheering hasn’t stopped since. At one recent game, a kid with his hair gelled into a Mohawk and who sported the same colorful tattoos (albeit faux, of the magic-marker variety) on his neck and arms earned huge cheers from fans and players alike when he was shown on the in-arena scoreboards.
Turns out, him fitting into Miami was no problem whatsoever.
“I’m enjoying it, and being part of this team and this organization,” Andersen said. “The guys in the locker room just made it so easy for me. To be a part of it is just special. I keep my attention in the moment.”
He says these words while standing in the part of the arena the Heat call “Championship Alley,” the hallways around their locker room that are adorned with hundreds of photos from the title runs in 2006 and 2012.
Andersen’s face isn’t on these walls — yet. He’d give anything for that to change this summer. The closest he’s been to winning a ring was came in 2009, when Denver made the Western Conference finals, falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
“Oh, it’s been driving me,” Andersen said. “I’ve sacrificed a lot of broken bones and injuries to try to get to that point. Now that it’s right there in front of me, I don’t feel no pain. I just go out there and continue to do what I do and play tough.”
The Heat were not surprised to hear that’s Andersen’s mantra.
Turns out, they knew that was the way he was wired more than a decade ago.
Spoelstra still remembers Andersen’s free-agent workout in Miami — nearly 12 years ago, long before the tattoos and the Mohawk and the banishment from the league for violations of its substance-abuse policy. Andersen impressed the Heat mightily that day with his energy, and Spoelstra said he worked so hard, the team was concerned that he would make himself ill.
There are no concerns anymore.
“We didn’t necessarily need another guy to keep it light. We have quite a few of those guys in our locker room,” Spoelstra said. “I think the key point with Chris is he’s able to fit into a complex locker room. You have to have a personality. You have to have a confidence around you. It’s not the easiest locker room to step into. You’d be torn apart if you don’t have the right personality.”