Updated: Jan. 4, 2007, 9:18 PM ET

Resilience is Riley's game

A few question in the wake of Pat Riley's announcement that he will take a leave of absence to undergo knee and hip surgeries ...

Riley is going to turn this setback to his advantage, right?

Yes. Wherever Riley's recovering, whether it's in a hospital room or home, he's eventually going to use the time to step back and look at the big picture of the team. I know from playing for him, he's a guy who wants to do things now. Sometimes, when you're too close to things, you miss the overall story. But now he might be less concerned about the right now, and in his president and GM role, he can look at the big picture.

This is his time to evaluate his talent and work on trades. That's much harder to do when you're coaching the team.

Was picking Ron Rothstein as the interim coach a sign he won't be stepping down permanently?

Looks that way. Rothstein was the Heat's first coach and longtime figure in the organization and the NBA. But if we thought Riley was going to retire, I think he'd give the job to the younger Erik Spoelstra, who it seems he's grooming as an eventual successor.

How will the players respond to a new coach?

Pat Riley IS the Miami Heat. The buck stops with Riley. However Rothstein coaches, they're still answering quietly to Pat Riley -- I don't think the players won't respond.

What one thing makes Riley so successful?

He's prepared and organized. And he likes to run a system built for a prime-time center.

Is prime time over for Shaq?

I've had two knee surgeries, so I know how tough it is to first recover, then get in shape to play basketball. An older guy in excess of 300 pounds, it's tough to get up and down the court. Counting on him to be the Shaq of old is fool's gold. He's not the dominant player he was. Riley realizes the window of opportunity is closing with this team.

Can't we just let Shaq play on a Segway?

Too slow. There would still be guys running past him.

When you played for Riley from 1997-2000, were you impressed by his ability to think fast on his feet? Because he's got to think fast to get Miami back on a winning path.

In a playoff game against the Knicks, he drew up a play we'd never run before. It was an inbounds play for us heading into Alonzo Mourning. Riley knew the double would come, but the screener would be able to pop up open -- he knew what other coaches tendencies were. We had never practiced it, but the play worked -- except the the shot didn't fall.

That kind of X and O excellence hasn't changed. But he's 61. In future seasons, how about using Riley just as a closer -- let someone wear himself out for 60 games, then Riles can take over. Worked last year, right? Crazy?

Too crazy. And a little bit expensive.

ESPN analyst Jamal Mashburn's four-year playoff record was 18-19 under Pat Riley.

Hear Mashbun on ESPN Radio's The SportsBash with Erik Kuselias Insider

• Talk back to The Daily Dime gang

• Dimes past: December 27 | 28 | 29 | 30-31 | Jan. 1 | Jan. 3

Newfound Offensive Behavior In Memphis
Mike Miller
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Mike Miller launches one of his franchise-record nine 3-pointers in Memphis' 144-135 regulation win over the Warriors. Farewell, grind-it-out Grizzlies of the departed Mike Fratello. Hello, Tony Barone's gunners.

Barnes Burning Improvement

In terms of sheer "Where the %$!* did that come from?" effect, Golden State's Matt Barnes is 2006-07's answer to Boris Diaw. Entering the season, Barnes was your typical end-of-the-roster NBA journeyman, having played for four teams in three seasons after never suiting up for Cleveland, the team that originally drafted him in 2002. He never scored more than 4.5 points per game or shot better than 25.0 percent on 3-pointers, and the Warriors signed him only as an afterthought the day before training camp started.

Flash forward to Wednesday night's career-high 36 points, which included seven 3-pointers, in a loss to the Grizzlies. That effort came on the heels of Tuesday night's 29 points, 11 rebounds and five steals in a win over the Hornets.

According to Michael E. Jackson of ESPN Research, Barnes has eight 20-point games since Thanksgiving Day (21 games). Prior to that he had none in 158 career games.

Complete John Hollinger story Insider

Cleveland Rise In Order

David (Cleveland): I know the Cavs haven't been playing great. But how can you have them behind every team in their division?

Committee's counter: For one week, it made perfect sense. Didn't like the effort we saw from the Cavs all month, honestly . . . especially when you compare it to how sharp they look every time they see San Antonio. Cleveland was a lackadaisical 8-6 in December, playing a pretty favorable schedule. By the time that the calendar year closed, Chicago and Milwaukee were hotter, Indiana was in the Cavs' vicinity record-wise playing a road-heavy schedule and Detroit led the Central until losing Chauncey Billups. Yet I suspect that the Cavs, after sweeping the Spurs, will be back in the top 10 next week. Where we, like you, expected them to be.

Complete Marc Stein blog Insider

Records At A Glance

Range Extends To Boston Harbor

LeBron sinks 80-footer in Cavs' win over Celts

Substitute Pat
Zo question
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Miami Heat interim head coach Ron Rothstein grabs the attention of Alonzo Mourning in 110-95 loss to the Clippers. Rothstein was the Heat's first coach in 1988.

Extreme Behavior
Gilbert Arenas

Wednesday's Best
Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas: 32 points, 11 rebounds . . . and that winnning 3 in a 108-105 win over the Bucks. Defender Charlie Bell on backpedaling before Arenas launched a 32-footer. "I thought he would take one more dribble," Bell said. "I give him credit. They say he has no conscience, and he doesn't."

Bruce Bowen

Wednesday's Worst
Spurs forward Bruce Bowen: The defensive stopper's shooting slump is a whopper. Went 0-for-6 in a 103-101 loss to the Wolves. He hasn't made a field goal in his last three games, a combined 0-for-15 slump.

Quote of the Day
"I'm tougher than those guys."
-- Heat coach Pat Riley, on comparing his comeback timeline favorably to that of Larry Brown and Phil Jackson, who both faced similar hip ailments.

See how all 166 who played stacked up

-- Andrew Ayres

Back-to-Back? Probably Wack
Pat Riley

If and when Pat Riley comes back from his surgeries, Miami probably still will be out of the playoffs and left for dead. His return from injury, Shaq's age and a growing list of doubters, as well as the revelation that, while Dwyane Wade is excellent, he can't carry this team by himself, all create the perfect setting for an "Us Against the World'' mentality.

The Heat returned this season fat and happy, but by the time Riley returns, they'll be the underdogs again. No one will believe in them, everyone will count them out, and folks will question whether they will even make it to the postseason.

Only the 15 guys in that locker room still will believe. And that will increase their level of play and maybe give them a snowball's chance.

Do I think it will play out this way? Not really.

Full Chris Broussard blog Insider

Some Durham Bull

Vinnie (NYC): Why have Duke players had such trouble making the transition to the NBA? What are they lacking coming into the league?

David Thorpe: Great question. One thing I've considered is maybe they were great in college because Coach K is a master motivator. They are on their own in the pros.

Ken (Terps alum): Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner, Cherokee Parks, Danny Ferry, and Chris Collins are also Duke alums, to name just a few Duke busts . . .

David Thorpe: They have so many "busts" cause they kicked so much ACC butt. You forgot Trajan Langdon.

MC Welk (SLC): Deron Williams and Kevin Martin said they like the new ball. Could this be because they actually worked hard in the offseason with it unlike, say, Shaq?

David Thorpe: Of course, but Martin has smaller hands that worked better with the stickier surface.

Full David Thorpe chat Insider

News And Notes

The Wizards took a lighthearted approach to the return of the old ball. A video montage shown between the first and second quarters showed the microfiber ball exploding like the Death Star -- accompanied by the "Star Wars" theme music. Then the leather ball was shown getting out of bed, crossing a street, getting into a cab, punching some meat in a meat locker and victoriously climbing the steps of the Lincoln Memorial -- all to the theme from "Rocky."

• Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said his team's health is fine after Tim Duncan and at least five of his teammates were affected by the flu bug recently. Popovich said he didn't get a flu shot. "I didn't get sick, for whatever that's worth. I'm too mean to get sick," he quipped.

Steve Nash received the 2006 Lionel Conacher Award as Canadian male athlete of the year before the game. He was asked about winning a third straight MVP. "Having won twice, I never would have predicted that, so my bank account's full, I can't really lose," Nash said. "If I don't win it this year, it's no big deal. If I do, it obviously would just be incredible."

-- The Associated Press


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