Chris “Birdman” Andersen adds toughness to Heat’s defense

Miami Heat power forward Chris Andersen (11) leaps to slam dunk in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Hornets in New Orleans, Friday, March 29, 2013. The Heat won 108-89. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Miami Heat power forward Chris Andersen (11) leaps to slam dunk in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Hornets in New Orleans, Friday, March 29, 2013. The Heat won 108-89. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Veteran center giving Heat more physical defensive presence

NEW ORLEANS — Miami Heat backup center Chris “Birdman” Andersen certainly has had his bleak moments.

Andersen was suspended for most of two seasons with the New Orleans Hornets for substance abuse and lost a lucrative multi-year contract. He resurfaced with his original team, the Denver Nuggets, only to be cast aside when the team brought in young, athletic big men and Anderson injured a knee.

No team would sign Andersen, 6-foot-11, in the offseason because he’d just had surgery. However, the Heat called before the start of the season and said that when he became healed, they’d like to have him.

“When I first got picked up by the Heat, they’d already been started for three months,” Andersen said in the locker room before playing against the Hornets on March 29. “It took a little process, but I got to it, watched a lot of film and went through practices.”

Andersen is long and athletic, a good leaper, and his mobility and shot-blocking helps ratchet the Heat’s defense to another level, teammates say. It’s probably not a coincidence that since Andersen has come aboard, Miami has ascended a few notches into the top five in the NBA defensively. He is often on the floor when the Heat goes on one of its patented 15-2 runs.

“We think he fits the fabric of how we play,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said. “He’s a high-motor player, he’s tough, he’s defensive-minded. He’s all the things we had hoped for when we signed him.”

Said Andersen: “I’ve played on teams that played good defense, but with this team, everybody plays defense. It’s what this team is about.”

Now, Andersen relishes having an excellent chance to win his first NBA championship.

“The opportunity is great,” he said. “You’ve go to concentrate on the game in front of you. Doing that kind of keeps that pressure off you of thinking about a championship. I’ve just got to be patient.”

Despite the not-so-pleasant end to his tenure with the Hornets, he said New Orleans will always be with him.

“The city was always alive, always jumping, the people always great,” he said. “That Southern hospitality, great food, of course. I wish I’d kept my house here.”

The right stuff

Terrel Harris, who was signed to two, 10-day contracts by the Hornets before being retained for the rest of the season on March 28, looks like he could be a good fit.

Harris, who had played 10 games with the Hornets heading into Friday night against the Utah Jazz, has shown to be a tough, solid defender, a good rebounder, and is long and athletic.

He was brought in when rookie Austin Rivers was lost for the season with a broken hand. Coach Monty Williams said he thought Harris would be able to help the Hornets based on his having spent more than a year with the Heat. Williams gushed when he mentioned Harris had gotten a layup on a play off which none of the Hornets could get one this season.

However, Harris, a shooting guard from Oklahoma State, is just 2-of-18 from the field, including 0-of-7 on 3-point attempts. Sources said the Hornets were thinking of bringing Harris to training camp in the fall and giving him a good chance to make the team. However, one has to wonder if his lack of touch might be the deal-breaker.

“I want to make shots, but I’m not stressing too much about it,” said Harris, who shot 48.8 percent as a senior in college after two seasons of 40 percent shooting. “I’ve been trying to fit into the system, understand the system, really. I’ve found ways to help this team, and we have scorers. I think as long as I’m playing my part, it’s going to help this team.”

Williams said he really hadn’t noticed Harris’ shooting woes.

“The kid plays hard, plays with the type of force I like,” Williams said. “He’s a good defensive player, and he has picked up what we’re doing well. I’m not concerned about anything else.”

Point of concern

When the San Antonio Spurs lost last week to Oklahoma City, the Thunder closed to a half-game of the Spurs for the best record in the Western Conference and the important home-court advantage in case the teams meet in the conference finals.

However, it appears the Spurs may have bigger problems, notably point guard Tony Parker’s left ankle. Parker was sidelined with the injury, came back, and has been sidelined again.

“He’s just not the same,” said a source in town for the Hornets game against Miami. “When he can do that spin move in the lane that he’s so effective with, then we’ll know he’s ready. Right now, he can’t do that.”