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May 19, 2011

Haslem fires up Heat

A Lisfranc injury of the foot occurs when one or more of the five long bones (metatarsals) connecting the toes to the foot are fractured, broken or otherwise displaced. It is an injury that keeps most athletes out for up to a year and can require multiple surgeries to correct.

For Miami Heat power forward Udonis Haslem, it only kept him away from the game he loves for six months. After finally deciding to have surgery in late Nov., Haslem returned to the court in game five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 9 and played three ugly minutes of basketball. He also saw action in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals (four minutes) but did not contribute much then either.

A close friend of guard Dwyane Wade, he returned to the Heat in the offseason after his buddy convinced his new running mates (LeBron James, Chris Bosh) to sign contracts for slightly less than the maximum in order to open up cap space to sign Haslem. He came back to the only NBA team he has every played for at a significantly reduced rate compared to what he could have signed for elsewhere.

On Wednesday, Haslem played in just his 16th game of the season and was a man on fire for the Heat, scoring 13 points (including two rim-rocking dunks) on 50 percent shooting with five rebounds in 23 minutes. His 4-for-4 start to the contest reenergized a team that appeared to be going through the motions.

Prior to his entering the game, Miami was allowing offensive rebounds left and right. That stopped immediately during Haslem's first appearance on the court. The play after he was called back to the bench? Another offensive board for the Chicago Bulls.

Though the Heat is a great defensive team without him, the tenacity, extreme effort and leadership Haslem adds to their post play is unmatched on their roster.

Head coach Erik Spolestra called his performance "inspirational," and there is no doubt that it was exactly that. Miami went on to win 85-75 on Wednesday (due in large part to James's heroics as the fourth quarter was coming to a close), but Haslem left his mark in the game.

It was not Chicago starting center and first-round draft pick Joakim Noah (nine points, eight rebounds) shining as a representative of the Florida Gators on Wednesday; instead it was the undrafted free agent who spent a year in France before playing in the NBA and earning the affection of the entire Heat fan base.

Always a warrior, Haslem proved Wednesday that he has not lost a step since injuring his foot. If Miami is going to come out of the 2011 NBA Playoffs holding a large golden trophy in the air, the man known to his friends as "U.D." will be playing a significant role from this point forward.
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