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Five Stars: 1996-97

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For the first time in their history, the Heat were really REALLY good, cruising to a 61-21 regular season record.

Lenard getting back for some defense.
Lenard getting back for some defense.
Mankind Unplugged

The ninth season of the Miami Heat would see the franchise turning a corner, with Pat Riley's first barrage of signings. The club had two nine-game winning streaks through the season, and never lost two in a row. For the first time, the club got out of the first round of the postseason, dispatching the Orlando Magic in five games and the New York Knicks in seven before running into the top seeded Chicago Bulls, again, who would cruise their way to their fifth title in seven seasons.

First Star

10 Tim Hardaway 1547.7

Hardaway's first full season in Miami would see him dominate opposing defenses, riddling them with pinpoint accurate passing and sinking daggers from deep. After being named to the All-NBA second team in 1991-92, and the All-NBA third team the following season, for the first time was named to the All-NBA first team, finishing fourth in the MVP Award vote. He made 590 total attempts from outside through the season, to rank second, making 203 of them to finish fifth in the league although his .344 success rate was two full percentage points lower than the team's .364 mark.

Hardaway ranked second on the club by appearing in 81 total games, starting all of them at point guard, and led the team with 3,136 minutes played, 1,644 points, an NBA-fifth best 695 assists, and 151 steals. Despite his stature as the shortest player on the team, he also pulled down a team-fourth 277 rebounds (49 offensive). He made 575-of-1384 shots from the field (.415) and 291-of-364 from the foul stripe (.799).

Hardaway's per game totals also ranked highly, leading the team with 38.7 minutes per game, along with 20.3 points, an NBA-seventh 8.6 assists, and just a tick under two steals per night. He totaled 25 double-doubles for the season. He did all this despite his bargain-basement $2.5 million price tag.

Hardaway finished with double-digit GameScores in 62 of his appearances, averaging 16.4 over the regular season. On December 29th, he scored 36 points on 14-of-24 shooting, with eight assists, three steals, and four three-pointers as Miami set down the Milwaukee Bucks, 95-94. On February 11th, in a 104-91 win against the 34-12 Detroit PIstons, Hardaway scored 31 points with 10 assists in 37 minutes, making 11-of-17 shots and pitching in three steals and three rebounds. His best game was probably on March 7th, when he put up 45 points including six-of-12 from outside, along with seven assists, seven rebounds, and four steals in 51 minutes of a 108-106 overtime win against the Washington (still) Bullets.

Hardaway was a force to be reckoned with in the postseason as well, especially in the second round against the New York Knicks, when he scored 23 points per game, with six helpers, four rebounds, and 2.3 steals. In Game two in Miami, he scored 34 points with eight rebounds and four assists in a 88-84 grudge match victory. He was key in Miami's Game seven win as well, putting up 38 points with seven helpers and five steals as Miami eliminated the evil Knicks by a 101-90 final count. Unfortunately, we all know that New York got their revenge, but that's for later.

Second Star

33 Alonzo Mourning 1189.3

Mourning, Miami's all-time leading rim defender, with a staggering 1,625 blocked shots, finished fourth in the NBA and led the Heat with 189 blocks for the 1996-97 campaign. He led the NBA with a 95.3 defensive rating. He started in 65 of his 66 total appearances at center for Miami, ranking third on the team with 2,320 minutes played.

Mourning made 473-of-885 shots from the field, only draining one-of-nine three-pointers and a frightfully bad 363-of-565 free throws, for shooting percentages of .453, .111, and .642, respectively. Somehow, he did not lead the team in rebounds, coming in second with 656 boards (189 offensive). He ranked fifth with 104 assists, third with 56 steals, and second with 1,310 total points.

Mourning made his fourth-consecutive all-star squad, joining Hardaway on the midseason classic roster. He was third on the Heat with 35.2 minutes played, second with 20.3 points, first with 9.9 rebounds, and first with 2.9 blocks. "Zo" finished the season with 32 double-doubles, grabbing 15 or more boards nine times and scoring 30 or more points on six occasions. He also blocked five or more shots 13 times through the season.

On November 6th, he scored 33 points with 19 rebounds, four blocks and four assists in a 106-100 loss to the Chicago Bulls. He had better results against the Indiana Pacers on February 13th, scoring 29 points with 13 boards, three steals and three blocks in a 106-90 win. His best night of the season was probably against the New Jersey Nets on April 8th, when he scored 35 points with 18 rebounds, three assists and two blocks in a 94-92 win.

Mourning played in all 17 of Miami's playoff matchups, scoring 18 points with 10.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. On April 24th, in Miami's Game one 99-64 win over the Orlando Magic, he dominated former Heat player Rony Seikaly, scoring 12 points with 11 rebounds and six blocks while holding the original member of the Heat to seven points on two-of-12 shooting.

Third Star

42 PJ Brown 798.9

Brown, also known as "Big Cat," was a 6'11", 225 lb. center and power forward from Detroit, Michigan. Born on October 14th, 1969, he played four seasons of college ball with Louisiana Tech for the Tigers, graduating with the class of 1992. The New Jersey Nets chose him in the second round of the 1992 NBA Draft, with the 29th overall selection. Brown played in 240 games over three seasons with the Nets, but during that time only got 56 minutes of postseason experience, in four games at the end of the 1993-94 season. His time in Miami would cure that.

On July 18th, 1996, Brown signed a seven-year, $36 million contract to play with the Heat.

I know this organization is going in the right direction and I want to be part of it. - Brown, after signing

Brown started in 71 of his 80 appearances with Miami, mostly at power forward but a few times at center when Mourning was injured, and ranked 10th in the NBA with 5.4 defensive win shares and third with a 98.0 defensive rating, making the NBA All-Defensive second team. He was also sixth in the association with 283 personal fouls. He totaled 2,592 minutes to rank second on the club, making 300-of-656 shots (.457) from the field and 161-of-220 from the foul line (.732), with a team-fifth 761 points, a team-best 670 rebounds (239 offensive), and team second totals of 98 blocks and 85 steals. He also had 92 assists in total.

Despite leading the team in total rebounds, Brown ranked second behind Mourning with 8.4 rebounds per game. His nine and-a-half points per contest ranked him all the way down in Miami's eighth spot. He totaled 23 double-doubles for the season, and pulled down 10 or more boards on 31 occasions. On February 15th, in a 125-99 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, he scored 16 points, shooting eight-for-12 from the floor with 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocks in just 28 minutes. On March 11th, he scored 19 points with 15 boards in 44 minutes as the Heat downed the Milwaukee Bucks, 108-93. On April 7th, in a 94-88 win against the Detroit Pistons, Brown scored 21 points with 13 off the glass.

Fourth Star

21 Voshon Lenard 732.8

Lenard, a 6'4", 205 lb. shooting guard, was born in Detroit, Michigan on May 14th, 1973. After playing four seasons with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the Milwaukee Bucks selected him in the second round of the 1994 NBA Entry Draft, with the 46th overall pick. As a Golden Gopher, he played 127 games over four seasons, averaging 16.6 points with 3.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, but he failed to make it out of training camp with the Bucks, eventually signing as a free agent with the Heat for the absolute minimum. He played about 11 minutes per game over 30 games, making 35.6% of his long distance shots and scoring 5.9 with 1.7 boards and 1.0 assists.

For 1996-97, Lenard again made the minimum, signing for $247,500 for the entire season. He started at shooting guard for the Heat in 47 of his 73 overall appearances, ranking fourth on the team with 12.3 points per game, along with 3.0 rebounds and 2.2 helpers.

Lenard's 897 points ranked him third on the team, and incredibly, 161 assists placed him second. He also had 217 rebounds, 50 steals, and 18 blocked shots. He made 314-of-684 shots from the field (for a career-best .459), 183-of-442 three-pointers (a career best .414), and 86-of-105 foul shots (also a career best .819). He was seventh in the NBA in three-pointers made, 10th in three-pointers attempted, and 10th in percentage.

On January 17th, he scored 21 points on eight-of-11 shooting, sinking all five of his three pointers and adding eight rebounds, four assists, and three steals in a 103-92 win against the Washington (still) Bullets. His best game of the year was on February 6th, when he scored 38 points with four boards and four helpers as the Heat set down the Milwaukee Bucks, 102-90. On April Fools Day, in a 97-87 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, he scored 26 points, including six-of-nine from deep, along with five rebounds and two blocks.

Lenard later appeared in all 17 of Miami's playoff games before they were eliminated in the third round by the Bulls. Lenard scored 12.7 points with 3.3 rebounds and 2.4 helpers per game.

Fifth Star

8 Isaac Austin 585.6

Considered by many a failed prospect at the time of his signing with the Heat, Isaac Austin had a profound effect on Miami's rotation of bigs. Paired with Alonzo Mourning and PJ Brown, Miami had a massive edge against most teams on the glass.

Austin was a 6'10", 255 lb. center from Gridley, California, born on August 18th, 1969. After two seasons at Arizona State, he was selected by the Utah Jazz in the second round of the 1991 NBA Entry Draft. He played 77 games over two seasons with Utah, playing just 5.4 minutes per game and scoring 2.5 points with 1.5 rebounds. After 14 games with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1993-94, he matriculated overseas, spending a season in France and a season in Italy before the Heat resurrected his NBA career.

Austin won the 1996-97 comeback player of the year award, and was the only Miami player to appear in all 82 games, starting 17 times at center. He played 1,881 minutes and ranked fourth on the club with 792 points. His 478 rebounds were third on the team, and he also had 101 assists, 45 steals, and 43 blocked shots.

Austin made 321-of-639 shots from the field and 150-of-226 from the stripe (.502 and .664 respectively). Although his 9.7 points per game ranked him seventh on the team, he was only one of four players to make over half of his shots from the field. He had 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game to round out his statline.

If I had been doing my daily Five Stars back in the 1996-97 season, Austin would have appeared around 19 times by my count. On February 5th, he scored 17 points with nine rebounds and three assists, making seven-of-nine shots from the floor in 28 minutes of a 118-117 win over the Boston Celtics. On March 6th, he scored 19 with nine boards, three helpers and two blocks in a 99-95 loss to the Washington (still) Bullets. Austin had 11 double-doubles through the season, including March 11th in a 108-93 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, when he totaled a season-high 26 points on nine-of-11 shooting with 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks.

Austin played in 52 games for Miami the following season before getting traded to the Los Angeles Clippers with Charles Smith and a draft pick (Brian Skinner) for Brent Barry. After 26 games with the Clips, he played a season each with the Orlando Magic (49 games), the (still) Bullets (59 games), the Vancouver Grizzlies (52 games), and the Memphis Grizzlies (21 games). I know it's the same team.

The Rest

9 Dan Majerle 452.9

24 Jamal Mashburn 414.3

2 Keith Askins 333.0

5 Sasha Danilovic 264.7

11 John Crotty 203.4

35 Willie Anderson 85.2

40 Kurt Thomas 68.0

23 Gary Grant 66.5

54 Ed Pinckney 63.5

30 Mark Strickland 37.6

31 Martin Muursepp 6.9

3 Bruce Bowen 0.7

Matt Fish 0.0

32 James Scott -2.7