CLEVELAND—On his way to a post-game shower, LeBron James took a second to play with Michael Beasley.
"My buddy, my buddy," James sang.
"Wherever I go, he goes," Beasley belted back.
James moved on, leaving Beasley and James Jones in a serious intellectual argument about the origins of that chorus—it was actually the jingle for a Hasbro doll that first came out in 1985, four years before Beasley was born. And it was reintroduced in a much different forum: on a 50 Cent G-Unit record in 2003.
These conversations only served to emphasize what is becoming exceedingly obvious:
In his second tour with the Miami Heat, Beasley is fitting in exceptionally well, on and off the court.
He's made fast friendships up and down the roster, even with the likes of Norris Cole, such a straight arrow that you wouldn't expect him to be bending Beasley's ear so often. Beasley has become the team's comic relief and release, the players' affection evident in their interactions. In that sense, he's taken on the role that Chris Andersen did last season, loosening up the locker room with a fresh personality.
He's made even faster progress on the floor, integrating with a variety of lineups.
Wednesday was his biggest step yet, playing a season-high 26 minutes and scoring 17 points with nine rebounds, a couple of assists and a block. He's now second on the team, to James, in points per 36 minutes (24.0), while shooting 55.7 percent from the floor. More surprisingly, he's second to Andersen in rebounds per 36 minutes (7.6).
Small sample sizes, sure, but not so small as a week or two ago, when Beasley seemed like a novelty, one Erik Spoelstra was more intent to stifle than showcase.
Udonis Haslem is healthy again, but Beasley has clearly supplanted him in the rotation; that was evident Wednesday when Spoelstra started Rashard Lewis in place of the sick Shane Battier and then didn't turn to Haslem at all as a reserve. Even if the Heat are at full strength, Spoelstra sounds more inclined to play 11 men than bury Beasley on the bench. For long stretches of last season, Spoelstra typically played just nine, keeping Mike Miller in mothballs.
In Cleveland, for only the third time all season, Spoelstra used Beasley with the core four of the starting lineup—James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers. He let that unit close, and it outscored the Cavaliers, 13-12, to finish off the 95-84 victory. While the success has been muted so far (the group is shooting just 43.8 percent in its 10 total minutes), it certainly will get more chances to click.
That's because, while Spoelstra's earn-it strategy has been smart, he can't ignore the obvious: Beasley is making the Heat better, especially offensively.
"He gives us something different," the coach said.
Spoelstra also mentioned some less obvious, but more critical, progress, such as Beasley's increasing reliability in his defensive pick-and-roll coverage.
Then there's the rebounding.
He grabbed just two in his first four appearances, covering 48 minutes.
He has 33 in his past six appearances, covering 118 minutes.
"Just going for it," Beasley said. "Chris (Bosh) and Bird need help, and I ain't really got nothing else better to do."
His history suggests some hiccups coming, but so far, his attitude appears adjusted. He keeps talking about focusing on the intangibles, since, for him, scoring tends to come easy. He keeps talking about "staying mature, staying ready," because he doesn't know if, when or how long he'll play.
What advice has James given him?
"Listen," Beasley said. "Continue to work, don't get complacent, don't get comfortable. Good night, bad night, missed shot, made shot, do the same thing, play the right way."
Call it the buddy system.
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