- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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Miami hasn't been without a few bumps in the road during the first half of the season.
MIAMI -- With the All-Star break looming, the defending champion Miami Heat sit in unfamiliar territory at the season's midway point during the Big 3 era: atop the Eastern Conference.
“And we know we still haven't played our best basketball yet,” three-time league MVP LeBron James said. “There's been some ups and downs. We've had some struggles. But for the most part, we like the direction we're headed.”
With James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh set to anchor the Eastern Conference's All-Star team, guided by coach Erik Spoelstra next week in Houston, Miami is halfway to its goal of repeating as NBA champion. Let's chart the team's progress with our mid-term report card that grades each player on the roster.
Grades are weighted and determined by specific player performance based on expectations entering the season.
LeBron James: What else is there really to say? He came to Miami three seasons ago as the centerpiece of the so-called Big 3. But that no longer applies. He stands alone as a clear-cut sensation. He has gone Beyonce. He's still the best player on the planet, still the most unselfish superstar in the league and still getting better each month of the season. Already shooting a career-high 55.5 percent from the field this season, LeBron has upped that number to a ridiculous 60 percent over the past 11 games. Grade: A+
Dwyane Wade: He asked not to judge until around the All-Star break, based on his recovery schedule from offseason knee surgery. Don't expect the nightly dominance from Wade. But he can deliver it just about every other night. Turnovers have become a concern recently, but he's making far more explosive plays as he regains strength and confidence in his legs. Like James, Wade is also shooting a career high from the field and remains one of the most efficient guards in the league. Grade: B
Chris Bosh: So far, it has been a season of playing to the extremes for Bosh, who is capable of being the best post player in the East one night and a 6-foot-11 invisible man the next. Bosh went as far as to apologize to Heat fans after Sunday's game in Toronto for inconsistent play. His rebounding and scoring are at or near career lows, but so are his opportunities in Miami. That said, he's also shooting at a career-high clip and is again an All-Star. Grade: C+
Mario Chalmers: Despite recently fashioning himself as a top-10 point guard in the league, there are many nights when Chalmers isn't even the best at his position on the team. His overall shooting numbers aren't impressive, but his 72 steals are second-most on the team. Instead of solidifying his role as a clear-cut starter in this league, Chalmers' biggest task is fending off backup Norris Cole. But just when you count him out, he responds. Grade: C-
Udonis Haslem: Having re-emerged in the starting lineup to help address the Heat's recent rebounding woes, Haslem has yet to recapture the shooting touch and production on the boards that have defined his gritty career as a key member of two championship teams. Multiple injuries in recent seasons have quietly caught up with him and his production has been in steady decline. Haslem's leadership, accountability and intangibles remain valuable. Grade: C-
Ray Allen: How long ago does it seem when Allen made three game-winning shots in the first couple of weeks of the season? His consistent impact hasn't been the same the past few months. Allen leads the team with 72 three-pointers, and he ranks among the NBA's best at 42 percent from deep. But he's still searching for a comfort level that might not be found until the stretch run. Grade: C+
Shane Battier: First off, give Shane extra credit for that rare dunk in Monday's game. Intangibles are his thing. Battier is a consummate professional who plays with the same effort and attitude regardless of the role. That's invaluable this team. All but nine of his 72 made shots this season are from 3-point range. Ask him to step inside the arc, and he's in trouble. But he's also third on the team in blocked shots, which was a bit of a surprise. Grade: B
Norris Cole: Aside from LeBron, Cole returned from last season as the Heat's most improved player although his offensive numbers don't always reflect it. But there was a point earlier this season when Cole absolutely frustrated several of the league's top point guards with his ball-hawking defense. If he continues to make strides with his jumper, he'll earn more clutch-time trust. Grade: B-
Chris Andersen: For the second straight season, an out-of-work big man walked off the streets and directly into the Heat's primary rotation. Last season, it was Rony Turiaf. This season, it's the Birdman, whose energy and rebounding are having a much-needed impact. Imagine how effective Andersen, nearing the end of his second 10-day contract, might be once he's in actual game shape. Grade: B
Mike Miller: Eventually, Miller will get another shot in the rotation. He always does. But for now, he's the odd man out -- basically for no real reason at all. That's the luxury -- and curse -- of depth. At least he's healthy. Grade: C+
Rashard Lewis: Just consider Lewis this season's version of Juwan Howard, a veteran eager to be along for the ride and considers it a bonus when he gets the rare dose of meaningful minutes. It could be worse. At least Lewis isn't this season's version of Eddy Curry. Grade: C
Joel Anthony: Before he was planted on the bench, Anthony was praised as the answer for the Heat's defensive lapses. Andersen's arrival -- and ability to catch and finish at the rim -- led to Anthony's departure from the coach Erik Spoelstra's feast-or-famine rotation. Grade: C
James Jones: Tough to earn a grade when your best performance of the season came during Battier's "Battioke" fundraising event. But still, Jones was on fire that night with Cee Lo Green's "Forget You." Grade: A
Dexter Pittman: Considering all of D-League assignments, including his third this season, Pittman has to be closing in on Sioux Fall's career records for scoring, rebounds and minutes. That doesn't appear to bode well for the three-year Pittman experiment with a Heat team that has been desperate at times for any productive inside presence. Grade: D
Jarvis Varnado: Signed for the duration of the season after serving two 10-day contracts, the Heat appear to be developing the former second-round pick to be a cheaper and younger alternative to Anthony. Grade: Incomplete
Erik Spoelstra: His rotations may leave you puzzled at times and the in-game adjustments are sporadic. But credit Spoelstra for largely managing egos amid the challenge of a championship hangover, keeping Miami atop the East and earning his first All-Star coaching nod. With four consecutive playoff berths, including two straight to the Finals, Spoelstra has solidified himself and his staff as one of the NBA's hottest commodities. Grade: B+
13hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
5dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
2dDan Le Batard
8dESPN Stats & Information