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RAVES FOR HEALTHY HASLEM

Times wires

MIAMI - The season began with forward Udonis Haslem inspiring the Heat with his words. He gave a passionate speech in the locker room nearly seven months ago, talking about how desperately he wanted to win a championship to honor his recently deceased mother.

Now Haslem is inspiring the Heat with his play. Or, perhaps more accurately, simply by playing.

The former Gator scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final against the Bulls and had two dunks - the first was his first basket since Nov. 20 - to begin and end a 10-0 run. That was the final margin Wednesday in an 85-75 win that tied the series at a game apiece.

"Huge. Huge," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "He was the player of the game. No question about it."

LeBron James fought off a cold for game highs of 29 points and 10 rebounds, plus scored nine points in a late 11-2 spurt that sealed the win.

But the spark came from one of the two Miami players left from the 2006 championship season.

"It's kind of hard to be patient when you work so hard to get back," Haslem said. "But I understand, we've had a formula that's been working for us. My teammates have done a tremendous job of getting us to this point. So I just had to be patient."

He'll be in the rotation Sunday for Game 3, the Miami native's first home game since having surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left foot sustained Nov. 20.

"That's what we've been waiting on since November," James said of Haslem's impact. "I'm happy for him. Just putting in the time and the effort, just getting back, getting back to game shape, feeling healthy, feeling confident. He helped change the game for us."

Heat executive and former All-Star Alonzo Mourning marveled at what saw from Haslem in Chicago. "U-D is a proven veteran and champion. It was just a matter of him being healthy again," Mourning said. "Now you see that he's healthy. He's not really thinking about his body anymore. He's out there reacting, using his talents."

"We really shouldn't care who's out there," Bulls guard Derrick Rose said. "We still have to play the same way. But he came (up) huge for them, shooting the ball well, rebounding the ball well. There was too many hustle plays that we didn't get."

When the Heat began the fourth quarter with Mike Miller, Haslem, James, Wade and Chris Bosh, it was the first time the unit had played together since Haslem was injured.

That always was the lineup Miami envisioned for a game's climactic moments. No one smaller than the 6-foot-2 Wade on the perimeter. A lot of active length inside. It worked as dreamed defensively. "Like we had been playing together all along," Haslem said.

Coach Tom Thibodeau gave the Bulls Thursday off. He said Chicago will have to "do a whole lot better down there" in Miami for Game 3.

rockets: Center Yao Ming said his surgically repaired left ankle is healing properly and he would like to remain with Houston. Yao, 30, said he will know during the summer if he can play next season. He becomes a restricted free agent July 1.

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