MIAMI — James Jones’ most important work during the regular season often occurred before Miami Heat road games.
That’s when the veteran swingman would arrive at the arena early to shoot around with teammate and fellow health nut Ray Allen. He then would take food orders for Heat players’ postgame meals.
"One thing about Champ, he’s very responsible," Udonis Haslem said of Jones. "If he’s the guy in charge of anything … pregame meals or whatever the situation may be, you can guarantee the job’s going to get done."
Which is what Erik Spoelstra might have been thinking Sunday when he called for Jones to enter Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round series off the Heat bench.
The 11-year veteran and former University of Miami star delivered a major contribution with 12 points in Miami’s 99-88 victory against the Charlotte Bobcats.
LeBron James was, well, LeBron James in scoring 27 points. Dwyane Wade appeared fit and ready for the postseason with 23. Still, Jones’ effort was an important part of the Heat beating the Bobcats for the 17th consecutive time overall.
After playing in just 20 games during the regular season, Jones entered Game 1 with Miami ahead 35-34 and 4:19 left in the half. He proceeded to score four points and grab two rebounds to help the Heat open up a 49-42 halftime advantage.
"I was surprised," James said. "Not surprised as in, ‘Oh, my God, Coach is calling my name!’ It’s that he went to me early.
"But not so surprised where I wasn’t prepared."
Jones hit four of six shots overall, including two of three from downtown to help Miami go 11 of 23 from behind the arc.
"That’s my role. I can either excel at it or fail," Jones said. "If I fail, they’ll find somebody else and move on to the next guy. So my challenge everyday is to go in and make sure I don’t fail.
"I’m a spacer. Coach wants me thinking shoot first, shoot second, shoot third."
Spoelstra said he "rode the hot hand" in sticking with Jones.
"He’s one of those unique players you can pull out of your bullpen," Spoelstra said. "Not many guys have that type of mentality, or are patient enough to understand the big picture, willing to sacrifice and don’t have a big ego in that regard but then have an incredible confidence when they get out there. That’s a tough balance."
Jones, 33-year-old nephew of former major league infielder Ricky Gutierrez, liked his coach’s "bullpen" analogy.
"I have an appreciation for the mental toughness it takes to play 162 games," Jones said of a major-league schedule. "That’s very fitting for what all the guys on our bench are required to do."
Sharpshoters have been important to the Heat during the recent postseasons. Allen remains — he went scoreless in 22:52 Sunday — but Shane Battier has been pushed down in the rotation and former Miami star Mike Miller now plays for Memphis.
"Mike Miller is Mike Miller," Jones said. "If the role is a guy who can space the floor and make shots, that’s me. We’re all unique.
"You can’t take anything away from what Mike did or who Mike is. He was and still is a great player in this league. I’m just trying to carve my own niche."
Besides his two Game 1 treys, Jones also sank two layups. One was a nifty drive down the lane after Cody Zeller approached the Heat vet on the perimeter.
"I like 3s more than 2s — I don’t get any style points on 2s," he said before explaining why people shouldn’t have been shocked to see him drive.
"I’m comfortable off the dribble. I’m an NBA player. I tell people all the time, it’s not that the bulk of the guys in this room can’t do certain things. We’ve all done them, and we can do them. It’s just what our team needs us to do."
Haslem certainly can relate to Jones when it comes to a player getting a chance to perform after long stints of relative inactivity. The veteran forward made his 11th straight start on Sunday after not playing at all in February and sparingly until late March.
"You gotta have good people around you because there are going to be points in the season where you’re going to be down, you’re going to be frustrated, you’re going to be disappointed about not having an opportunity to play," Haslem said.
"Me, James, Rashard (Lewis), (Michael) Beasley, Justin Hamilton and Toney Douglas, we all get upstairs and play 3-on-3 and keep each other encouraged. We understand what one another is going through."