Every day this summer the quart bottle would be there, waiting
in Heat center Alonzo Mourning's refrigerator when he returned
home from his workouts. Reddish-brown and milk-shake-thick, the
goo consisted of ground-up carrots, celery, beets and parsley,
blended with a dash of apple to "get rid of the twang," as
Mourning puts it. At first he would pinch his nose and chug the
juice like some 6'10", 261-pound second-grader trying to gulp
down his cough medicine, but now Mourning takes his time. "Don't
get me wrong--it's not a delicacy, it's an acquired taste," he
says. "But it's great; it flushes your system out, flushes right
through your kidney."
'Zo's daily veggie cocktail--call it Z8--is part of his new
hyperhealthy lifestyle, one designed to minimize the effects of
focal glomerulosclerosis, the chronic kidney ailment that
sidelined him for all but 13 games last season. Gone are the
beers, cigars and pizza deliveries, replaced by low-fat,
low-sodium meals prepared by his personal chef and nutritionist.
These days, a late night means staying up for the 11 p.m.
SportsCenter. "My whole life has changed because of this," says
the 31-year-old Mourning, "but it's changed for the better
because I feel so much better. I want to get back to the same
level I was at two years ago, and I remain confident that I can."
His optimism is echoed by the Heat's players and coaches, who
marvel at how he's asserting himself defensively and predict that
'Zo will approach his All-Star form this season. But listen
carefully, and it's not hard to hear quiet desperation in their
voices. After a first-round playoff sweep by the Hornets and the
most complete off-season overhaul in team history, Miami needs
Mourning to return at full strength to have any hope of
contending in the East.
With the departures of Tim Hardaway, Anthony Mason, Bruce Bowen
and Dan Majerle, the Heat will rely on players like fourth-year
forward Ricky Davis and second-year gunner Eddie House. "I've
gone seven years here with veterans and big-money players, and
we won a lot of games during the regular season, but something
happened [during the playoffs]," says coach Pat Riley. "Why not
go with youth and athleticism?"
Leading Riley's youthquake will be inconsistent third-year guard
Anthony Carter, whose career highlight remains a crazy
over-the-backboard shot he hit against the Knicks in the 2000
playoffs. Despite a three-game series against Charlotte in which
he totaled 18 points, 11 assists and 10 turnovers, Miami signed
Carter to a three-year, $12 million contract in July. Over the
summer he arrived at the AmericanAirlines Arena practice floor
at 7:30 a.m., two hours before his teammates, and hoisted 600 to
800 shots in hopes of honing his suspect jumper. Carter has much
more hard work ahead if he hopes to replace Hardaway. "Tim was
our floor general, a coach on the floor," says Mourning,
mournfully. "And, to be candid with you, Tim had the balls, man.
Each and every time he'd come up and take the big shot,
regardless of how he was shooting that night. All that stuff
took time to develop, and now we have to start a new process
To ease Carter's transition, the Heat signed 35-year-old point
guard Rod Strickland to a one-year, $1 million deal on Monday.
Riley will also use free-agent acquisition Kendall Gill as a
point forward and run plays through shooting guard Eddie Jones,
who looks healthy after returning from off-season surgery on his
left shoulder. Up front, if Mourning can stay in the lineup--and
it looks as if he will be able to play about 25 minutes a night
throughout the season--power forward Brian Grant should be able to
return to his natural position. Another free-agent pickup,
LaPhonso Ellis, will swing between the three and four because, as
he puts it, "God has equipped me with the ability to stroke it
from the outside as well as be able to go inside."
Divine intervention and parsley-flavored shakes aside, the Heat
is not equipped to do more than sneak into the playoffs.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO 'ZO EXHILARATING Thanks to veggie shakes and cleaner living, Mourning says he feels great--but has his game fully recovered?
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Heat
"This team wins a majority of its games because of Pat Riley,
because it prepares as thoroughly for the regular season as it
does for the playoffs. Then in the playoffs, when other coaches
with better talent are able to prepare as carefully as he does,
the truth about his team comes out.... Miami's talent is not good
enough to contend, even if Alonzo Mourning comes back. You wish
every player had Mourning's drive and work ethic, but he needs to
work more on basketball and less on conditioning. I think he was
a more skilled player when he was at Charlotte. Now he just tries
to overpower you.... Brian Grant and Eddie Jones are costing
Miami $172 million, and you can't even say they're the best in
the East at their positions. They're good, solid players. Grant
turned out to have more skill and a better 15-foot jumper than
people thought, but I think Jones was a disappointment for Miami.
He's a little soft, and he doesn't fit into Riley's approach....
The Heat had trouble scoring last year--Miami was 24th in field
goal percentage, 27th in points--and it's only going to get worse
without Tim Hardaway and Anthony Mason.... Ricky Davis is an
athletic guy who could help, but you have to wonder if Riley is
going to give him the freedom to improvise, to make mistakes and
learn from them.... I don't mean to sound so negative. I've got a
lot of respect for Riley, and I would never bet on him missing
the playoffs. But the truth is out after the whipping Miami took
from Charlotte. In the end the Heat is going to disappoint."
2000-01 record: 50-32 (second in Atlantic)
Coach: Pat Riley (seventh season with Heat)
PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS
SF Kendall Gill 9.1 ppg 4.2 rpg 2.8 apg 1.52 spg 33.1 FG%
PF Brian Grant 15.2 ppg 8.8 rpg 1.2 apg 0.73 spg 47.9 FG%
C Alonzo Mourning 13.6 ppg 7.8 rpg 2.38 bpg 51.8 FG% 56.4 FT%
SG Eddie Jones 17.4 ppg 4.6 rpg 1.75 spg 44.5 FG% 37.8 3FG%
PG Anthony Carter 6.4 ppg 3.7 apg 2.5 rpg 1.01 spg 40.6 FG%
PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS
G Rod Strickland 9.2 ppg 5.6 apg 2.6 rpg 0.98 spg 42.4 FG%
F LaPhonso Ellis 9.4 ppg 6.0 rpg 1.1 apg 0.90 bpg 46.4 FG%
G Eddie House 5.0 ppg 1.0 apg 0.8 rpg 42.1 FG% 34.5 3FG%
G-F Ricky Davis 4.6 ppg 1.0 rpg 1.6 apg 0.71 spg 41.4 FG%
G-F Sam Mack 23.1 ppg 5.1 rpg 2.1 apg 1.47 spg 0.20 bpg
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)
 statistics from IBL
"Mourning needs to work more on basketball and less on conditioning."