When last the Heat squared off against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Udonis Haslem was a reserve and recorded a rebound, an assist and a point—the rare triple-single—in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals.
On Christmas Day, Haslem will have a bigger role against the Thunder as the Heat's starting power forward. The Heat is 5-2 since Haslem moved into the starting lineup. In those games, the Heat has held opponents to 92.4 points per game.
"I’m just going to try to bring a defensive tone for the jump and give the team some energy at the beginning of the game,” Haslem said. “We’ve got to compete. They’ve got great individual players. They play great team ball. They’re fast. They’re athletic. They’re young.”
Other factors have contributed to the Heat's current run of defensive excellence—Joel Anthony and Norris Cole receiving more minutes, Dwyane Wade reestablishing himself as a top-notch defender and LeBron James playing defense so well he never even fouls people anymore—but Haslem's new role is the most tangible difference between the team that began the season with defensive indifference and the team currently playing some of the best defense in the league. All that will be put the test on Tuesday againt the Thunder, which is currently second in the league in points per game (105.1).
“I think the game is going to have another level emotion naturally,” Haslem said, “because obviously you have a rematch of the NBA Finals, so I think the intensity level and the level of play is going to go up naturally with that alone. We got to come in with the same defensive mindset to set the tone, yes, but with the understanding that we are playing the No.1 scoring team in the league, so it might take a little more.”