DALLAS (CBSMiami.com) – He may not be the most celebrated member of the Miami Heat, but no one can question the impact power forward Udonis Haslem has had during the Heat’s playoff run.

Haslem injured his foot in November and wasn’t seen for more than just a couple of minutes a game until Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. At that point, the Heat went from being a good team to being a potential NBA Finals winner.

Udonis’ impact hasn’t been on the offensive end, even though he can knock down a jumper from about 17 feet away. Instead it’s been his defensive prowess that has kept the Heat running strong through Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

In Game 3, Haslem was tasked with the hardest job at the end of the game, guarding Dirk Nowitzki. Haslem stayed right on Nowitzki and had a hand in his face as Nowitzki took a tough, fade-away jump shot that missed and gave the Heat the victory.

“I was very confident in UD, understanding he wanted that challenge the last game, and he wasn’t able to be put in that position,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “Put him back in that position this time. I knew he was going to at least make it tough. If Dirk makes the shot, at least do his job and make sure he takes a fade-away at the end.”

And while he may not be at the top of the list for many NBA fans when they think of the best power forwards in the game, his opponents know just how great of a player he has become.

“He’s one of the best defenders we have at the power forward spot,” Nowitzki said. “He’s active. To me, it really hurt them him being out for so long. He’s back in time. He’s kind of a glue guy. He does all the little things. He sets screens, he does all the dirty work. He’s a good rebounder. He’s great in pick-and-rolls, showing. He does all the little things. They got him right back in time.”

And if the Heat manages to win the NBA Championship and lift the O’Brien trophy, it will be ironic for Haslem. He was set to join the Mavs last season before the Heat freed up enough money to re-sign him. Heat fans are thanking Pat Riley every day for that move among all the other key signings last year.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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