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The last time Wayne Ellington played any meaningful minutes in a postseason game was nine years ago.

At the Final Four.

Ellington was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2009 NCAA Tournament after leading North Carolina to the national title. But since turning pro Tyrell Williams Jersey , postseasons have marked the start of vacations for Ellington, who has been in only two NBA playoff games, logging 13 1/2 minutes – all in the fourth quarters of blowouts.

That’s about to change.

Coming off a record-setting regular season, Ellington will play a vital role for No. 6 seed Miami in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series that starts Saturday in his hometown of Philadelphia against the third-seeded 76ers.

”It’s so sweet the way it’s coming,” Ellington said. ”I don’t want to get religious, but I really feel like it’s God’s plan the way that everything’s worked out, where I ended up at and where I’m headed to. I’m appreciative. After all this time, now to be here, I don’t think a player could be more grateful. You couldn’t script this.”

Ellington set Miami’s single-season 3-point record with 227, and also set an NBA record for 3-pointers by a reserve with 218 (he made nine in his two appearances as a Heat starter this season). He’s going into the postseason coming off the best game of his pro career, a 32-point night that tied the franchise mark for scoring by a reserve in a game.

As Ellington goes, Miami goes: In his two Heat seasons, they are 34-7 when he makes at least half of his 3-point tries, 43-54 when he does not.

”None of them come easy,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. ”He has to work for his shots, he really does. It is great to have a guy that has that ability. When he gets hot, there’s not much you can do about it.”

Before Wednesday’s regular-season finale victory over Toronto, which sealed the No. 6 seed for Miami Patrick Willis Jersey , Ellington was slumping – shooting 14 for 48 from 3-point range in those games, or 29 percent. The Heat gave players Tuesday off as a needed rest day, and coach Erik Spoelstra was lured out of his office at one point by the sounds of dribbling and sneaker-squeaking on the practice floor.

It was Ellington, putting himself through a 45-minute workout with Heat assistant coach Octavio De La Grana. Their routines, whether it’s on an off day or a half-hour before game time, are always the same: cut, catch, shot, swish, over and over and over. And as he watched, Spoelstra found himself simultaneously worried and impressed.

”I almost thought it was too much on a day before a game,” Spoelstra said. ”But that’s the vision of a champion before you’re a champion, drenched in sweat, totally exhausted, empty gym with a coach, working your (butt) off.”

The result: Ellington was 8 for 12 from deep on Wednesday, leading the Heat rally to a win over the top seed in the East.

What happened Tuesday was not uncommon. The Heat didn’t make the playoffs last season, and Ellington was back in the gym about a week after the regular season ended – even though at the time Jimmy Graham Jersey , there was no guarantee he’d be back with Miami this season. He would put himself through intense workouts, sometimes to the point where De La Grana would quietly suggest he take the next day off and enjoy life.

The Heat locker room is filled with hard workers, but teammates say Ellington stands out.

”Wayne’s like my right-hand man,” rookie center Bam Adebayo said. ”He does everything that he needs to do behind closed doors. He takes care of his body, eats right, and I’m learning from him.”

And now, the playoff chance is finally here for Ellington.

He sat at his locker for a few postgame minutes after the regular season ended, his thoughts drifting back to that Final Four run and championship moment.

”Up until now, that’s been my best experience as a player,” Ellington said. ”I’m looking forward to trumping that.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s meme-worthy scowl started with a look in the mirror.

The Milwaukee Bucks All-Star was an NBA rookie then, trying to come up with a look he could flash after making a big play. Antetokounmpo thought about the glare his mother would throw his way when he misbehaved as a child. It took about a week to perfect as he struck poses in front of the mirror.

”Now it comes easy. You’ve just got to put your nose up like this,” said Antetokounmpo, wrinkling his face after a recent practice.

It can look so much more intimidating on the court.

As Antetokounmpo’s skills reach new heights, so does his confidence as he enters his third career postseason. The Bucks open their first-round series against the Celtics on Sunday in Boston.

”You don’t think. It’s just second nature. You’re just playing now,” Antetokounmpo said. ”There are points when you’re young, you’re scared to make the wrong decision late.”

This is no longer the gangly, 6-foot-11 forward who would defer during his rookie season in 2013-14. He’s a go-to player in the fourth quarter, a do-it-all forward who can ignite the crowd with a rim-rattling dunk or momentum-changing block.

”That’s why I think the best players late Cameron Meredith Jersey , I think they have that mindset. They’re not scared to take big shots, they’re not scared to turn the ball over … and they’re just in general not scared about basketball,” he said. ”It’s something that they’ve done their whole lives.”

It has been quite the journey from awkward 18-year-old rookie to NBA stardom. Former general manager John Hammond, now with the Orlando Magic, scouted Antetokounmpo in the player’s native Greece before drafting him in the first round in 2013 with the 15th overall pick.

Some NBA fans questioned the move. Freakish athleticism and a 7-foot-3 wingspan offered the promise of being a tough matchup on both ends of the floor.

Boy, did the gamble pay off .

”I think one thing that is really important is to never underestimate or undervalue the things that he does,” Bucks coach Joe Prunty said last month after the forward scored 28 points in a win over the New York Knicks.

Sometimes, it takes Antetokounmpo’s absence to make that point stick.

On April 1, Milwaukee led by 18 midway through the fourth quarter in Denver before Antetokounmpo fouled out with 3:43 left. At the time, the Bucks were up by 10 and Antetokounmpo had 18 points and 12 rebounds. They ended up losing in overtime .

Two days later, the Bucks were in another tight game at home against Boston. Playing with a sore right ankle, Antetokounmpo came up clutch after chasing down Jaylen Brown from behind, swatting what looked like an easy layup against the backboard with 53 seconds remaining. The Bucks held on for the win .

”Because my ankle hurt, I wasn’t even being `Giannis Giannis,”’ Antetokounmpo recalled with a mischievous grin. ”I wasn’t sprinting down the court. I was just jogging down the court.”

Key positives for Milwaukee from that victory were runs of 11-3 and 16-4 with Antetokounmpo on the bench for rest. In crunch time, Prunty can also put three other proven scorers on the floor with Antetokounmpo in forwards Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker, along with quick point guard Eric Bledsoe.

”Just taking attention, making (the defense) know Oren Burks Jersey , `OK, I’m here, you guys come to me.’ If you guys don’t come to me, I’m going to go,” he said. ”If you guys come to me, I’m going to make the right pass.”

That mentality is another sign of Antetokounmpo’s growth over his five-year NBA career.

A sense of humor that borders on cheesy hasn’t changed.

Antetokounmpo the last few years has opened Bucks preseason media day by taking the microphone to deliver a cringe-worthy joke that can make teammates shake their heads.

”He was more funny back in the day when he was 18 years old,” quipped center John Henson. ”But for the most part, he’s a good dude, a funny dude who has his own sense of humor. We love having him around.”

That scowl? It’s just for fun. He doesn’t need to show it, nor does he keep count. In fact, Antetokounmpo said, he’s trying to smile more.

”Because if you’re going to do this for 20 years, you don’t want to have 10 years of sadness and 10 years of happiness,” he said. ”You want to have as much nice moments and memories as you can, you know?”

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