Heat turn to Dampier with Haslem out
There's a photo in the hallway that links Miami's home court and the Heat locker room, a huge image of Udonis Haslem leaping past Erick Dampier during the 2006 NBA finals.
Haslem won't be making a move like that again for the next few months - and the Heat have turned to Dampier to fill his void.
Haslem's season may be over after surgery Tuesday to repair a torn Lisfranc ligament in his left foot, an injury that typically needs at least four months to heal. Almost simultaneous to Haslem's surgery, Dampier was passing his Heat physical, which allowed him to practice with his new club for the first time Tuesday afternoon.
''I just look at it as an opportunity of a lifetime here,'' Dampier said.
The opportunity came under less-than-ideal circumstances from the Heat perspective.
Haslem was Miami's leading rebounder, emotional leader on and off the floor, a co-captain whose voice was one that carried perhaps the most weight in the Heat locker room - no small feat for someone who doesn't start, and when that locker room already has stars like Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
He was injured Saturday in a loss to Memphis. In Miami's first game without him, the Heat were embarrassed at home by Indiana on Monday night, falling to 8-6 on the season - nowhere near what Wade, James and Bosh wanted or expected.
So with rebounding perhaps the biggest immediate concern, the Heat summoned Dampier, who was a big part of the Dallas team that lost to Miami in the 2006 finals.
''He gives us size and rebounding. That's what he's always done throughout his career,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ''And now, since we are a little thin with UD out indefinitely, he'll be able to bolster our frontline and probably give us some of the things that we've been lacking so far in the 14 games.''
The Heat, who visit Orlando on Wednesday, may consider applying for an injury exception if the determination is that Haslem's season is over.
To make room for Dampier, the Heat waived guard Jerry Stackhouse.
Miami entered Tuesday tied for the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference and the 10th-best mark in the NBA. And the words Heat President Pat Riley once famously said - ''No rebounds, no rings'' - are resonating again.
Since the moment Haslem was carried off in Memphis with his foot injury, Heat opponents have outrebounded Miami 64-44, including 20-7 on the offensive glass and while holding a 27-10 edge in second-chance points. James (5.4 per game) and Bosh (7.2 per game) are on pace for career-lows in rebounding.
''We kind of lost our swag a little bit (Monday) night,'' James said. ''If you don't know what that means, it means a lot in the game of sports. When you lose that, then you're just out there, like going through the motions.''
Take away Haslem, and the Heat don't have anyone ranked among the NBA's top 37 rebounders this season.
Those numbers aren't the only red flags, either. Miami ranks last in the league with 33 points in the paint per game, and Wade had the worst shooting night of his career in the loss to Indiana, 1 for 13 from the field, 1 for 5 from the foul line, a three-point performance.
Wade just stared as the Pacers celebrated in the final seconds Monday, at a level rarely seen in a regular-season game.
''You see guys playing above their heads. There's no secret about it,'' Wade said. ''Teams are playing very well against us. There's a lot of things we have going against us at times, but we'll figure it out. We understand that we're a team everyone wants to beat, and when they finally do that, it's their playoff game. It's the biggest win of the year, possibly, unless they beat the Lakers.''
So for some help,the Heat are turning to a veteran in Dampier who's had interest from Charlotte, Phoenix, Houston, Toronto, Portland and Miami in the past two months alone, yet hasn't been on the court for anyone this season.
For weeks, Dampier had been saying he wanted to be in Miami, and ultimately got that wish. He worked out for Riley and Spoelstra in September, but was not offered a contract. When Haslem got hurt, it didn't take long for Dampier to reclaim his spot on Miami's radar screen.
''You've got LeBron and D-Wade and Chris Bosh, some of the better players here, if not the best in the league,'' Dampier said. ''I get a chance to come here, play with these guys and have a chance to win a championship.''
Dampier showed flashes last season with Dallas - 14 points and 20 rebounds against Houston, 14 points and 18 rebounds against Charlotte, and maybe most notably, a 20-point, 17-rebound effort in Miami last Dec. 11.
But in his last 20 games last season, 12 as a starter, he averaged 3.0 points and 4.9 rebounds, never scoring more than nine points and scoring more than five only twice. Dallas traded him in July to Charlotte, which wiped out the voidable $13 million final season of his deal in a salary-cap move.
The 36-year-old Stackhouse scored 12 points in seven games for Miami, on 3 for 12 shooting. He was in the Heat starting lineup on Saturday in Memphis, a fill-in for Wade, who sat that game out with a sprained left wrist.