Veteran Howard inspires Heat from sideline

Miami Heat power forward Juwan Howard (left) and center Ronny Turiaf react during the first half at Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

MIAMI — Juwan Howard thinks he might want to coach when his playing career is over. He’s apparently started taking steps toward that gig in these playoffs.


The 18-year veteran – he’s still called “17” by teammates, a nickname that stuck last season – came into Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night having scored all of seven points in the postseason for the Miami Heat.

What he’s done on the floor isn’t why the Heat are raving about him. His main contribution is what he does from the sideline during games, where he spends most of his time standing and screaming, pointing and prodding.

In short, he’s basically become an unofficial member of Erik Spoelstra’s coaching staff in Miami.

“It means everything,” Heat forward LeBron James said. “He’s our player-coach, man. He’s an extension from Spo and after the game he’s just as hoarse as Spo is. He’s always communicating with us throughout the game, during timeouts, letting us know what we can do to improve. He’s that extension, that veteran voice that we need.”

Howard came into Thursday having logged just 22 minutes of time on the court in these playoffs. He made 28 appearances in the regular season, scoring a total of 42 points – matching his single-game career high set on April 19, 1996.

He’s 39 years old. He likely doesn’t have a lot of games left. But he came to Miami to fight for what would be his first championship, and he’s thrilled to be doing so even from the sideline.

“It’s flattering that my teammates respect me being part of this team,” Howard said. “They appreciate and respect my voice and my leadership. I just try to do whatever it takes to help the team.”

MR. POPULARITY: Though not part of the Finals, Kobe Bryant still is making some NBA news.

Bryant topped the list of the league’s best-selling jerseys internationally during the 2011-12 season. The Lakers All-Star was first on the list of sales in China, Europe and Latin America.

James was the top finisher among those in the Finals, ranking third behind Chicago’s Derrick Rose. Boston’s Kevin Garnett and Orlando’s Dwight Howard rounded out the top five.

JUST IN CASE: There were added police officers near AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami to ensure fans or revelers not get too out of hand before, during or after Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Miami Police Sgt. Freddy Cruz said Biscayne Boulevard – the main thoroughfare running in front of the arena that the Heat call home – would be closed as usual after the game to alleviate traffic.

Cruz said officers were prepared for a few impromptu street parties if Miami won the championship – banging pots and pans is a bit of a tradition in some areas of the city. But police expected fans to cooperate once officers reopened the street to traffic.