Howard doing his part with Heat from the sideline

Juwan Howard thinks he might want to coach when his playing

career is over. He’s apparently started taking steps toward that

gig in these playoffs.

The 18-year veteran – he’s still called ”17” by teammates, a

nickname that stuck last season – came into Game 5 of the NBA

Finals on Thursday night having scored all of seven points in the

postseason for the Miami Heat.

What he’s done on the floor isn’t why the Heat are raving about

him. His main contribution is what he does from the sideline during

games, where he spends most of his time standing and screaming,

pointing and prodding.

In short, he’s basically become an unofficial member of Erik

Spoelstra’s coaching staff in Miami.

”It means everything,” Heat forward LeBron James said. ”He’s

our player-coach, man. He’s an extension from Spo and after the

game he’s just as hoarse as Spo is. He’s always communicating with

us throughout the game, during timeouts, letting us know what we

can do to improve. He’s that extension, that veteran voice that we

need.”

Howard came into Thursday having logged just 22 minutes of time

on the court in these playoffs. He made 28 appearances in the

regular season, scoring a total of 42 points – matching his

single-game career high set on April 19, 1996.

He’s 39 years old. He likely doesn’t have a lot of games left.

But he came to Miami to fight for what would be his first

championship, and he’s thrilled to be doing so even from the

sideline.

”It’s flattering that my teammates respect me being part of

this team,” Howard said. ”They appreciate and respect my voice

and my leadership. I just try to do whatever it takes to help the

team. Coach, he has so much responsibility along with his staff.

But I have something special, a different dynamic. I just try to

find ways to encourage, to help inspire in ways that a veteran

player’s supposed to.”

Howard said he’s fortunate to have played for so many coaches in

his life and learned so much that he thinks it would be a

disservice to not try and teach young players about what he’s

learned.

”I kind of picture myself, if I ever get into coaching, that

I’ll be the next Tom Thibodeau of the world,” said Howard,

referring to the Chicago Bulls coach with a distinctive, raspy

voice.

MR. POPULARITY: Though not part of the finals, Kobe Bryant still

is making some NBA news.

Bryant topped the list of the league’s top-selling jerseys

internationally during the 2011-12 season. The Lakers All-Star was

first on the list of sales in China, Europe and Latin America.

LeBron James was the top finisher among players in the NBA

Finals, ranking third behind Chicago’s Derrick Rose. Boston’s Kevin

Garnett and Orlando’s Dwight Howard rounded out the top five.

The top-15 list was based on sales at adidas locations outside

the United States during the season. Dwyane Wade was sixth, while

Kevin Durant was the only Oklahoma City player on the list at No.

10.

Bryant also picked up two awards during NBA TV’s ”Social Media

Awards” show on Wednesday. He earned the ”Trendsetter Award” for

the player who received the most mentions this season on Twitter,

and the ”Thumbs-up Award” for the player who had the most likes

or whose Facebook posts received the most likes.

However, it was a Lakers loss that earned the ”Epic Award,”

the favorite regular-season game as voted by fans. They chose one

of the highlights of Linsanity, the Feb. 12 Knicks victory over the

Lakers in which Jeremy Lin outscored Bryant, 38-34.

IBAKA SPEAKS: Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka is best known for

blocking shots on the court.

Before Game 5 of the NBA Finals – with his team trailing the

Miami Heat 3-1 in the best-of-seven series entering Thursday night

– he tried to give the Thunder a shot in the arm.

”I wanted to address a message to my teammates that we need to

stick together and we need to believe that we can do it,” Ibaka

said. ”We addressed Kevin (Durant), guys who can make some crazy

plays and make us all achieve better. My message was to make them

to believe that we can do it because we’ve been working hard to be

here.”

SPO’S FAMILY: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has some family in town

for the NBA Finals. For obvious reasons, he hasn’t had time to see

them much in recent days.

He’s sorry about that. But they understand that his job is a

little demanding right now, especially with the Heat entering

Thursday up 3-1 in the best-of-seven championship series against

the Oklahoma City Thunder.

”They’re having a good time here in South Florida,” Spoelstra

said. ”I think all of us now have been on this journey for about

almost 24 months, and dealing with this world that we live in right

now, I think we’re all kind of used to it.”

JUST IN CASE: There were added police officers near

AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami to ensure that fans or revelers not

get too out of hand before, during or after Game 5 of the NBA

Finals.

Miami Police Sgt. Freddy Cruz said Biscayne Boulevard – the main

thoroughfare running in front of the arena that the Heat call home

– would be closed as usual after the game to alleviate traffic.

Cruz said officers are prepared for a few impromptu street

parties if Miami wins the championship – banging pots and pans is a

bit of a tradition in some areas of the city. But police expect

fans to cooperate once officers reopen the street to traffic.

AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney contributed.

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