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Terrel Harris emerges at just the right time

The Miami Heat have routinely found diamond-in-the-rough type of players. Bruce Bowen got his start in Miami, signing with the team in 1995 and later having a breakout year with the Heat in 2000-01, earning his first of eight All-Defensive Team selections. Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony both went undrafted, but have since found their niches in Miami.

AP PhotoBecause of the Heat’s sizable financial commitments to LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley needed to find other players off the scrapheap that could contribute. Terrel Harris was a training camp invite to this year’s team (I predicted he'd make the team), and the 24-year-old former D-League player has already shown that he can serve as a nice role player for the Heat in the playoffs this year.

Harris has played in Miami’s last four games. But prior to this current stretch, the Oklahoma State product only played in mop-up duty with the exception of the Heat’s triple-overtime win over the Atlanta Hawks. Without James or Wade (or even Mike Miller for that matter), the Heat only had Shane Battier, James Jones and Harris available on the wings. The first of this four-game run for Harris came March 30 against the Toronto Raptors, when Udonis Haslem was unavailable. For nearly this entire season, Harris could only get on the court when someone was injured or the result was already decided.

But why has Harris played since Haslem returned from his one-game absence? Norris Cole. In his last 13 games, Cole has shot a putrid 14-for-64 (22 percent) from the field. Spoelstra benched Cole for the second half of Friday’s loss to Memphis, only inserting him for the last two minutes of the blowout loss. The rookie who earned a spot in the Rising Stars Game at All-Star Weekend may not find himself in the rotation once Miller comes back, which could be as soon as Sunday’s game against Detroit.

Harris does not stand 6-foot-8 like Miller and Shane Battier do. He struggled defending the longer Evan Turner last Tuesday, so it may be difficult to have him play as a three. But unlike Miller and Battier, Harris is athletic and crafty around the rim. But he can also hit the 3-point shot and play solid defense against opposing ones and twos. Harris has even shown flashes of Eddie Jones’ early days with the Heat before he became strictly a 3-point shooter. He hasn’t shown some of Jones’ dunking ability, but he can get to the basket, defend and stretch the defense. Harris made a couple nice acrobatic players at the rim against Memphis and finished with 10 points, six rebounds and four assists.

It may seem strange that Erik Spoelstra is now more comfortable playing an undrafted former D-League player than a first-round pick who had such a promising start to the season. But Cole has simply failed to put the ball in the basket since the All-Star break. When everyone on the Heat was healthy earlier in the season, Spoelstra used Battier, Miller and Cole off the bench. From now on, expect Harris to take Cole’s minutes.

The Heat needed Cole’s point guard skills earlier in the year when Bosh played with four reserves to start the second and fourth quarters, but Spoelstra has inserted Wade along with Bosh onto the court at those times recently. In the playoffs, expect that to continue so the Heat can have at least one of the three top players in the NBA on the court all the time.

If Harris continues to impress, the Heat may decide to amnesty Miller this summer for luxury tax relief. Harris hasn’t played a lot this season, but he’s shown that he has some talent and can score in various ways. If "Linsanity" taught us anything this season, it’s that some quality basketball players fall through the cracks and are there for the taking. After Bowen, Haslem and Anthony, it looks like the Heat have found another unheralded player who can contribute in the playoffs.