James Jones emerges as surprise contributor for Heat

With his role reduced in recent seasons and his reserved nature not prone to hype, it is easy to forget that James Jones has been here before, at the highest level of playoff competition, with visions of the NBA Finals.

"My first year in Phoenix we lost in the Western Conference finals," the Miami Heat reserve forward said during a break in this opening-round NBA playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers. "Between me and Boris Diaw, we played a lot.

"You never forget what it is like to play when it means something."

Through the first four games of this best-of-seven series, which the Heat lead 3-1, Jones has been the Heat's most reliable perimeter player behind mainstays LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

With swingman Mike Miller pulled from the rotation due his erratic play and various ailments, and with point guards Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers struggling with their shot, Jones has emerged as an unlikely closer.

"This just happens to be my moment," the University of Miami product and Southwest Ranches resident said.

Through the first four game of the series, Jones is shooting 50 percent from the field and a respectable 5 of 13 on 3-pointers. By contrast, the team's remaining wings -- Miller, Bibby, Chalmers and Eddie House -- are 13 of 54 from the field through the four games, a worrisome .241 percentage.

After averaging 19.1 minutes during the regular season, Jones is averaging 23.8 in this series.

Initially bought out in the offseason to clear cap space for the free-agency haul of James, Wade and Chris Bosh, Jones was re-signed to a minimal deal.

An enhanced playoff role certainly was not the vision in July.

"James has been steady, probably one of the more consistent guys all season long in his role," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Number one, he's smart enough to understand what his role is. He stays within that role. He accepts it. He doesn't get outside of his boundaries very often.

"He's one of our best team defenders, and obviously we know about his ability to step in and take hits and do a lot of the dirty work on the weak side and we value all of those things."

But taking charges is not the ultimate value. It is attracting defenders, something the Heat's other 3-point shooters have had trouble doing, particularly Bibby, who missed open shot after open shot in Sunday's 86-82 loss at Wells Fargo Center.

"He spaces the floor for us, whether he's making shots or not," Spoelstra said of Jones. "People know where he is on the floor at all times. So he's been productive for us and that's the reason why he's playing."

That, of course, is only part of the story. He is playing because Miller seemingly can't and because the rest of the perimeter rotation is struggling.

But what he has done is create confidence, not only with his shooting, but with defense as good as anything being offered on the perimeter beyond James and Wade.

"He stays in front of guys defensively," James said. "He's always in tune on the weak side. He takes as many hits as anybody on our team, twice as many, and he's always aware of what's going on on the court. So you've got to respect that."

Less respected is Jones' playoff resume. Yet entering this postseason, there were 52 games of postseason experience, just 14 fewer than Wade. And there was that run through the 2006 postseason with the Phoenix Suns that left him two victories shy of a meeting with the Heat in the 2006 Finals.

While that would have evoked a warm homecoming story, what he could potentially accomplish now with his hometown team in this newly expanded role is just as stirring.

"It's always better to do it at home," he said. "The playoffs, just being a part of the playoffs, is something special. But being able to do it at home means a lot more.

"I'm with that team that I watched growing up. I'm with the team that has been my NBA team for as long as I can remember. That holds some special value, because that's something that rarely happens in this league."

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