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Howard doing his part with Heat from the sideline

By Tim Reynolds

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, June 21 2012 6:29 p.m. MDT

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. Coach, he has so much responsibility along with his staff. But I have something special, a different dynamic. I just try to find ways to encourage, to help inspire in ways that a veteran player's supposed to."

Howard said he's fortunate to have played for so many coaches in his life and learned so much that he thinks it would be a disservice to not try and teach young players about what he's learned.

"I kind of picture myself, if I ever get into coaching, that I'll be the next Tom Thibodeau of the world," said Howard, referring to the Chicago Bulls coach with a distinctive, raspy voice.

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

Bryant topped the list of the league's top-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.

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

The top-15 list was based on sales at adidas locations outside the United States during the season. Dwyane Wade was sixth, while Kevin Durant was the only Oklahoma City player on the list at No. 10.

Bryant also picked up two awards during NBA TV's "Social Media Awards" show on Wednesday. He earned the "Trendsetter Award" for the player who received the most mentions this season on Twitter, and the "Thumbs-up Award" for the player who had the most likes or whose Facebook posts received the most likes.

However, it was a Lakers loss that earned the "Epic Award," the favorite regular-season game as voted by fans. They chose one of the highlights of Linsanity, the Feb. 12 Knicks victory over the Lakers in which Jeremy Lin outscored Bryant, 38-34.

IBAKA SPEAKS: Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka is best known for blocking shots on the court.

Before Game 5 of the NBA Finals — with his team trailing the Miami Heat 3-1 in the best-of-seven series entering Thursday night — he tried to give the Thunder a shot in the arm.

"I wanted to address a message to my teammates that we need to stick together and we need to believe that we can do it," Ibaka said. "We addressed Kevin (Durant), guys who can make some crazy plays and make us all achieve better. My message was to make them to believe that we can do it because we've been working hard to be here."

SPO'S FAMILY: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has some family in town for the NBA Finals. For obvious reasons, he hasn't had time to see them much in recent days.

He's sorry about that. But they understand that his job is a little demanding right now, especially with the Heat entering Thursday up 3-1 in the best-of-seven championship series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

"They're having a good time here in South Florida," Spoelstra said. "I think all of us now have been on this journey for about almost 24 months, and dealing with this world that we live in right now, I think we're all kind of used to it."

JUST IN CASE: There were added police officers near AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami to ensure that 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 are prepared for a few impromptu street parties if Miami wins the championship — banging pots and pans is a bit of a tradition in some areas of the city. But police expect fans to cooperate once officers reopen the street to traffic.

AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney contributed.

Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds

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