Checking up on the "Little 12"

With 8:22 left in the second quarter of Tuesday’s game against Utah, LeBron James slapped fives with Carlos Arroyo on his way to the Heat bench, joining his Big 3 companions Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the pine. Up 13 points early, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra thought he had enough cushion to bring in the fleet of reserves.

Why was this move significant? The substitution marked the first time all season that the Big 3 enjoyed each other’s company on the bench before halftime.

We spend a lot of time talking about the Big 3. We constantly gauge how well they’re meshing together -- game by game, minute by minute, possession by possession.

But how about we pay some lip service to the other guys? Forget the Big 3, the real question is have the Little 12 gelled yet?

If last night was any indication, they’re doing just fine. When LeBron checked out of the game, the remaining five of Arroyo, Eddie House, James Jones, Udonis Haslem, and Zydrunas Ilguaskas took the floor against the Utah Jazz lineup of Earl Watson, Ronnie Price, C.J. Miles, Andrei Kirilenko, and Francisco Elson. This was obviously the matchup that the 20,000 people in the building came to see.

And they got their money’s worth. For the first time all season, James Jones managed to shoot some free throws, nailing all three during his 2010-11 charity stripe debut. Does it get any more exciting than that? Well actually, yes it does. After Udonis Haslem drew a charge against C.J. Miles charge, head coach Jerry Sloan had finally seen enough and brought in his heavy hitters, Paul Millsap, Deron Williams, and Al Jefferson. Ilgauskas was demonstrably unimpressed, backing Jefferson down on the block and nailing a soaring hook shot that nearly grazed the ceiling. But Z wasn’t done. On the ensuing possession, Jefferson tried to return the favor but Ilgauskas rejected his weak attempt at an up-and-under.

After 2 minutes and 22 seconds of electric basketball, the Heat stretched the lead from 13 to 18 before Wade and Bosh checked back into the game. What Big 3?

Well, Heat lineups without the Big 3 aren’t always so superb. The trio-less +5 scoring margin during Tuesday’s game lifts their season-long plus/minus to a less-inspiring -5, with opponents currently leading 53 to 48 in about 28 minutes according to Elias Sports Bureau.

So, have the other guys gelled yet? Not quite yet. But as the Big 3 have stressed all season long, it’s a process.