MIAMI (AP) -Udonis Haslem is considered the toughest man in the Miami Heat locker room, with good reason. He plays hurt, happily battles stronger opponents and takes more charges than probably anyone in the NBA.
``A warrior,'' Heat president Pat Riley has said.
``A fighter,'' offered teammate Dwyane Wade.
Yet even warriors and fighters can feel pain, and the kind Haslem has battled in recent weeks wasn't fixed by aspirin and ice packs. He spent two weeks reeling over the death of his 70-year-old grandmother, Christine Pinkey, the woman who named Haslem and essentially raised him into the man he is now.
Time heals all, as the saying goes, and Haslem is believing that sentiment.
He had his bounce-back game Tuesday night, a 16-point outing against the Golden State Warriors. And for the first time since his grandmother died, Haslem actually seemed to be having fun at work again.
aslem said. ``The last week or so, mentally, I don't think I was where I needed to be to perform.''
Haslem got the call about his grandmother at 11 a.m. on Dec. 4, about six hours after the Heat returned home from a West coast road trip, the last four games of which represented perhaps the best stretch of Haslem's career.
He'd averaged 16.5 points and 10.8 rebounds over those six days, and felt as good about his game as he had in years, maybe ever.
``I went from being as high as I could possibly be to probably being as low as I could possibly be in just a matter of hours,'' Haslem said. ``It was difficult. I'm still trying to bounce back from it.''
The next two weeks were a blur, and not surprisingly, his scoring and rebounding numbers dropped precipitously.
``Udonis is one of the most mentally tough people I've ever been around,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ``So it's a matter of time. There's no question that we knew he would bounce back.''
With one shot, Haslem started returning to form.
It was just a 15-footer from the left baseline, a shot he's made countless times. But this was particularly special: It came with only a few seconds left Saturday night and sealed Miami's 106-103 victory at New Jersey, and it gave Haslem the boost he desperately needed to get back on track.
second-most this season) and finished with 16 points, matching his fourth-highest effort of the year.
``I think he feels good being around the team, being around the Heat family,'' Spoelstra said. ``That's helped him.''
Grief, sadly, is not an uncommon emotion for Haslem.
For a 28-year-old, he's surely been to his share of funerals.
There was the friend slain during Miami's championship season. The stepbrother who died of cancer in his 30s, and other relatives as well. Folks from Haslem's old neighborhood, too. Each time, Haslem would mourn, then return to his sanctuary - the basketball court - to block it out and play.
``I've always been able to come out and focus on my job, still perform at a high level,'' Haslem said.
This time, it wasn't so easy.
He missed a game for the funeral, returning to the team for a game against Milwaukee last week. Stats-wise, it was Haslem's worst night of the year: two points, four rebounds, 19 1/2 minutes - season-lows in all three categories - and the Heat got whipped on their home floor by 15 points.
``This was the first time it was very difficult for me to come out and do my job,'' Haslem said.
Making the situation even tougher for Haslem is that his mourning comes during the Christmas season.
ition put on by the Udonis Haslem Children's Foundation. But the emptiness is still there, and Haslem knows from experience with losing loved ones that the anguish isn't going to fully subside anytime soon.
So instead, he'll do what his grandmother always wanted: He'll play as hard as he can, every minute he's on the floor.
``Each funeral, it's rough,'' Haslem said. ``All I can do is just try to continue bouncing back and staying focused and being thankful for the things that I have and the people I have around me.''
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