Miami Heat Index: Boston Celtics

Shabazz Napier eyes lesson in rough debut

July, 5, 2014
Jul 5
7:10
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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 Shabazz Napier Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty ImagesHeat point guard Shabazz Napier's debut was marred by eight turnovers and 3-for-15 shooting.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Shabazz Napier turned the ball over on his first possession and launched an airball on one of his final shots during his first game as an NBA point guard.

Those kind of miscues can only mean one thing: The Miami Heat’s first-round draft pick is right on track in the early stages of his transition to the league. Struggling in a summer league debut has become a rite of passage for point guards getting their first taste of NBA action.

Napier, the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player who had LeBron James’ stamp of approval when he was drafted in the first round last month, missed his first 10 shots and had eight turnovers Saturday in Miami’s 85-77 loss to the Boston Celtics at the Orlando Pro Summer League.

But a productive spurt in the fourth quarter during a rally that fell short left Napier embracing the growing pains and eager to quickly adjust in time for his next summer league test Sunday.

“I definitely needed this one to understand the game much better,” Napier said of Saturday’s performance. “It’s a big adjustment. I’m unable to do a lot of things I was on the college level. I’ve got to find the adjustments on how to do those things. I’ve still got the college game coming in. We’re learning on the fly, and we’re going to make big mistakes. This is a different game.”

But the humbling start makes Napier no different than plenty of other point guards who stumbled along their initial steps into the league. This time a year ago, Michael Carter-Williams shot 27 percent from the field in Orlando, had games with nine and eight turnovers, respectively, and he never found a rhythm despite putting up solid overall scoring numbers.

The Sixers point guard ended up being named NBA Rookie of the Year last season.

There are similar stories of early struggles dating back to Derrick Rose’s NBA summer league opening act in 2008. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Napier’s approach to this process was revealed after Saturday’s game when he was asked how much he either watched or knew about the early growing pains some top college point guards had in their initial week of summer schooling.

Napier, who never shied away from controversial statements during his time at UConn about the NCAA’s governing guidelines, offered a dish better than either of the two he had in Saturday’s game.

“I didn’t watch it at all,” Napier said of tracking previous summer league seasons. “I never had NBA TV, especially at school. If a lot of point guards do this, then I guess it’s a remedy. But it’s a big learning curve for all of us. So you’ve got to find a way. I will as soon as I continue to play.”

Repetition is certain to be a remedy, too.

Napier was targeted by the Heat for several reasons. Chief among them was that LeBron likes him and considered the shifty, sharp-shooting, two-time NCAA champion as the best point guard in the draft. Another reason was that Napier plays a position of potential need for the Heat, who saw 14 of the 15 players on last season’s roster become free agents this summer.

It’s made for a hectic and desperate month of July already, with LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh still yet to publicly commit to re-signing with the Heat since entering free agency last week. There has been a steady dose of conflicting reports about the intentions of the Heat’s Big Three, from some outlets speculating that all three players are likely to return, to others reporting that LeBron and Bosh are now apparently open to exploring how they might fit with other teams.

Meanwhile, Heat president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra have been traveling the country the past few days meeting with potential free-agent targets, including Luol Deng and Pau Gasol, in an effort to retool the roster in anticipation of LeBron, Wade and Bosh returning.

Amid that backdrop, the Heat are hoping to develop and prepare a handful of prospects on the summer league team who might be able to contribute to next season’s roster. In addition to Napier, Miami is hopeful that swingman James Ennis, a second-round pick last season, and holdover center Justin Hamilton can add a “layer of youth” to the team Riley mentioned was needed moving forward.

Ennis led the Heat with 18 points and eight rebounds, showing both the athleticism around the rim and the shooting distance from 3-point range Miami needs to replace aging veterans from last season’s team that was overrun by San Antonio in five games during the NBA Finals. Hamilton missed nine of 15 shots, but he had 13 points and nine rebounds Saturday against Boston’s young prospects.

Heat assistant Dan Craig, who is coaching the summer league team, said Napier’s uneven play was more a result of his inability to adjust to the pace of the NBA game -– even at the scaled-down summer level.

“At times, I thought he sped himself up,” Craig said. “That’s one thing we’ve been talking about. Slow down, let the defense make the mistake. As he settled in, I think he did a good job of adjusting. Obviously, we’re still learning each other. If he makes a mistake, he goes on to the next play. I think he got in trouble more than they got him in trouble. And that’s just about slowing down.”

Among the dozens of former players, league executives and team scouts who watched Napier in action at the Orlando Magic’s practice facility was someone who knows quite a bit about a point guard’s transition from leading a team to an NCAA title to getting prepared in a hurry for the NBA.

Isiah Thomas, who guided Indiana to a championship in 1981 and then entered the draft three months later, smiled and nodded his approval as he spoke with ESPN.com Saturday about Napier.

“The thing I like about him most is that he competes. And not only does he compete, he’s smart and has a great fundamental base you can build from,” Thomas said. “He understands offensive concepts and defensive concepts. I’m not concerned about what his field goal percentage was today, or any of that.”

Thomas, a Hall of Fame point guard who won two championships with the Detroit Pistons, said Napier has the intangibles and instincts necessary to work through many of the initial adjustments required to be an impact point guard in the NBA. Thomas pointed to a stretch in the fourth quarter, when Napier made three straight shots, got a steal and sparked a comeback in a key stage of the game.

“They had a stretch there when he really got it going,” said Thomas, now an analyst for NBA TV. “The thing that is impressive is that he can have those type of bursts in a game, when he can hit a couple of shots, get a couple of steals and change the whole momentum of the game. It didn’t matter to him what he was shooting before that moment. He’s able to grasp that, and that’s a big thing at this level.”

Ennis, who played for the Heat’s summer league team last year, said he spoke with Napier about not allowing a slow start or bad game to linger. The week is far too short for any of that.

“I told him, ‘This is your first time here. Last year, I was very nervous,’” Ennis said. “I know he got drafted in first round, so a lot of people expect a lot of him. Next game, he’ll be better. Just get the jitters out.”

That process for Napier started with the first play of the game. He brought the ball up in transition and tossed a lazy pass across the court and knew it was a mistake the moment it left his hand. The turnover led to a Celtics fast break.

“I passed it, and I didn’t know I threw a loose pass,” Napier said. “I thought I threw a regular pass. That’s one of the things I’ve got to learn. Throw a pass that has a chance of getting there. As soon as I threw it, I said, ‘There it is, get back on defense.’”

A good sign is that Napier didn’t get defensive about his miscues.

He dissected them. He accepted them.

His plan was to spend the evening in his room watching film and refocusing for Sunday’s game.

“I can come in here and not be prepared, or I can come in here and be prepared,” Napier said. “And I like being prepared for everything.”

Everything, including a long and productive NBA career at the point.

After seeing Napier on Saturday take his first step -- and a few missteps, as well -- Thomas likes his chances.

Loss to Celtics keeps Heat scuffling

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
12:49
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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BOSTON -- All LeBron James wanted Wednesday was to enjoy a McFlurry and a rare night off.

Instead, he sat on the Miami Heat’s bench in street clothes after his pregame snack and had to digest Miami’s 11th defeat this season to a team with a losing record. A 101-96 loss to the Boston Celtics was the Heat’s sixth loss in nine games and left them yet again assessing their recent troubles.

Even with James sitting out to rest his sore back, this was a bad loss for the Heat.

At a time of the season when the two-time defending champions are normally gearing up for the playoffs, the Heat are instead stuck in neutral, shifting with the level of competition from night to night.

Managing rest and injuries has affected the continuity. The constant lineup tweaking to this point has thrown off chemistry. And a 5-6 record in the month of March has challenged the prideful Heat’s confidence.

“We’ve never played this poorly at this point in the season before,” forward Shane Battier said. “This is unchartered territory for us. I’d like to think this will forge us and make us better for the stretch run. But we have to make it happen. We just can’t hope that things will turn around.”

On the surface, Wednesday’s loss could easily be rationalized as insignificant because the Heat (46-20) were pushing through the second night of a back-to-back set on the road and were without a four-time MVP in James after he scored 43 points in Tuesday’s win against Cleveland.

But even before Rajon Rondo notched nine points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists and Avery Bradley scored a game-high 23 points to beat Miami, there was a sense of the unknown swarming around the Heat.

“I think the jury’s still out on this team,” Wade said of his biggest concern about the Heat with less than a month to go before the playoffs. “But I’m confident in this team. I think when we’re healthy, we’re still one of the best teams in the league and give ourselves a chance to win every night.”

Wade, who scored 17 points but was 7-of-17 from the field in one of his worst shooting performances of an otherwise ultra-efficient season, said the Heat have faced and overcome enough adversity over the past three seasons to get through this rough patch they are stuck in right now.

“I think we’ve responded very well for a team that’s played the most basketball of any team the past four years, and fighting the human nature of complacency and all these things,” Wade said. “I’m satisfied with our mentality and how we approach things -- also understanding how certain teams have gotten better than they were last year, so that knocks our record down a little bit.”

Admittedly, Wade’s focus has been on the big picture with this team. It’s a vantage point from which he also views his long-term health amid a season-long knee rehabilitation program on track to deliver him into the postseason much healthier than he was during last year’s championship run.

But the Heat aren’t quite developing and rounding into form according to last season’s pace. While it’s unfair to compare their current sporadic play to the 27-game winning streak last spring that propelled the Heat into the playoffs, it’s within reason to question the Heat’s recent inability to sustain success.

“We’re searching for consistency; that’s our issue right now,” Battier said after losing to the 23-46 Celtics. “When we’ve been on, we’ve been very good. And we’ve been inconsistent, we’ve been very beatable. We’re searching for a consistency that will allow us to go to the next level.”

Battier has won two titles in his two seasons in Miami, so he knows how that next level of play should feel and look for this team. What he’s unfamiliar with is the search process this deep into the season.

The constant tinkering hasn’t made it easy.

Among the Heat’s recent changes has been Greg Oden move into the starting lineup at center, although the team still isn’t comfortable playing him extended minutes or on consecutive nights because of his long history of knee issues. Because Oden played in Cleveland on Tuesday, he was ruled out in Boston, which led to another lineup shift beyond Michael Beasley stepping in at small forward for James.

There was a time earlier this season when James expressed frustration with the team’s constant rotation shuffling. Now, as coach Erik Spoelstra looks to manage rest for some veterans while also trying to build some semblance of momentum, those previous issues have resurfaced.

In essence, Miami is juggling big-picture playoff perspective with the desire to develop some urgency and rhythm over the final weeks of the regular season.

“We’re not there yet,” Spoelstra said of the level of play necessary for a third consecutive championship finish. “We know what our game is. At this point, we’ve been through so many games and playoffs and everything, we know what our identity is. We know when we’re not getting to it. We know what a successful formula for us is, and we know what it’s not. We also know there is a higher ceiling we can get to. And it’s a necessary ceiling we have to get to before we get to the playoffs.”

That means there are about 16 games left to re-establish a routine. There’s a strong notion that suggests the Heat are simply coasting and conserving energy for the playoffs, that they’ll flip the switch when the time comes and the games really matter.

That’s been the Heat’s track record the past two seasons.

They’ve done it before.

They’ll do it again.

The counter to that logic is that this Heat team is a year older, now relying on a handful of role players in their mid-to-late 30s. Meanwhile, teams like Brooklyn, Indiana, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston all have discovered how to adjust to the Heat’s championship lineups from past years.

“There have been pressure moments in this year,” said James, who missed his third game of the season but will likely be available for Friday’s home game against Memphis. “Because we were last year’s champs, don’t mean we’ll be this year’s champs. The following year is always the hardest year. This is the hardest year, just because it’s the next year. We look forward to the challenge.”

One loss to Boston in the middle of March is no reason to sound the alarms in Miami.

But it’s also getting too late in the season to keep shrugging off some nagging concerns.

“We’re not used to playing this unstable,” center Chris Bosh said. “I think we’re still trying to figure it out -- what our style is, what our rotations are, what our consistent plays are. We’re still just in this gray area right now. We need to pick it up, man. We’re running out of time. We still have time. But there’s no urgency in anything that we’re doing.”

Bosh was then asked how troubling these times are for the Heat.

“It’s not troubling, it’s just upsetting,” Bosh said, shifting his focus to defensive lapses. “We should all be upset right now. Every team we’re playing is shooting 50 percent, every single night. If we think we’re going to win a championship doing that, we’re kidding ourselves.”

Heat Reaction: Grading Heat-Celtics

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
10:00
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Heat get recall code before edging Celtics

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
1:21
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- The black papers with red lettering were carefully placed on every seat of the Miami Heat’s locker room before Tuesday night’s game against the Boston Celtics.

In big, bold type, the sheets read: Remember Who We Are.

In smaller type surrounding the main message were a series of what’s come to be known around the franchise as "Spo-isms." These are the sometimes corny but often inspiring one-liners Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra delivers on a daily basis to help hold his team accountable.

“He could have emailed it to us, save on the recycling," center Chris Bosh said. “I guess he wanted to make sure we got the message.”

The Heat have been caught up in an identity crisis lately. The two-time defending champions had split their previous 10 games since the start of the new year, and were coming off a 2-4 road trip that saw their defense get shredded in Washington and Atlanta. Rock bottom came when the Heat gave up 71 points in the first half of Monday’s 121-114 loss to Hawks.

That rendered Tuesday’s game against the struggling Celtics a much-needed pick-me-up for the Heat. Instead, what the Heat discovered in their 93-86 victory against Boston is that no team in the league is going to make it easy for the Heat to dig their way out of their relative doldrums this season.

Even after holding Boston to just 15 points in the first quarter and sub 40-percent shooting throughout the game, the Heat still squandered all of an 18-point lead down the stretch and need one final push to get past a Boston team that lost Avery Bradley to an ankle injury in the first half and saw Rajon Rondo miss all eight of his shots in his third game back from knee surgery.

With Dwyane Wade sitting out a third straight game with knee soreness, LeBron James scored 17 of his game-high 29 points in the second half and the Heat got a combined 29 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks from Bosh and Chris Andersen to hold off the Celtics.

“You never know what can change the momentum in a season,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t know if this is the striking point or not. It’s something to build on.”

Spoelstra commanded his team to stop buying into excuses about things like a schedule that had Miami playing 11 of 14 on the road prior to Tuesday’s game. He implored them to instead find reasons to make the extra effort in areas where they’ve struggled defensively.

Before the game, James spoke at length about the struggles the Heat have endured while trying to cope with injuries overall and, in particular, Wade’s frequent absences from the lineup. The Heat essentially haven’t been whole all season, and they opened the second half of their schedule Tuesday hoping to at some point develop the continuity they've been missing since the middle of training camp.

James pointed out how the Heat have struggled against teams with losing records, with nine of their 12 losses coming to teams with sub-.500 marks. He then scanned the crowd of 20 or so reporters and cameramen surrounding him at that moment.

“You guys can line up and play us and be motivated to play us,” James said. “It’s how it is. And we know that. We’ve have to be ready for that every night. We can’t take no team lightly, no matter what.”

Tuesday was about taking the initial steps to reclaiming some of the defensive identity the Heat have lost in recent weeks. Miami had ranked among the top five defenses in the league in efficiency over the past three seasons since James and Bosh arrived to play alongside Wade in Miami. But that hasn’t been the case in the month of January, with the Heat slipping to the bottom third in games played in 2014.

The Heat spent time in the White House last week to commemorate their 2012-13 championship, but they’ve strayed quite a ways from the habits and chemistry it took to secure that second straight title.

“It’s difficult doing what we do, but that’s why we’re the champs,” Bosh said. “We’re going to do the difficult thing and get the job done. The energy was good. Guys were communicating. We just can’t worry about the playoffs [now]. We have to live in the moment. Tonight was a good start. We just have to build off it.”

The win gave the Heat at least a bit of momentum to start a four-game homestand that continues with three consecutive nationally televised games, with visits from the Lakers on Thursday, Spurs on Sunday and Thunder on Jan. 29.

James said there’s no better time than now for the Heat to get back to being more like themselves.

“It’s a good test for us,” James said of the challenging days ahead. “The Lakers are a really good team, too. But they’re just in an unbelievable conference. Obviously, we know what the Spurs and OKC are all about. We’re looking forward to seeing them. We’re looking forward to playing these three teams.”

Heat's turn to lament fateful corner heroics

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
2:04
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- Perhaps someone forgot to inform the Boston Celtics there is no longer a rivalry with the Miami Heat.

It's possible Dwyane Wade didn't completely grasp that there's really no need to try to intentionally miss a free throw with a two-point lead and 0.6 seconds left to play.

And maybe -- just maybe -- Celtics forward Jeff Green wasn't aware he was trespassing on sacred ground when he nailed a 3-pointer from Ray Allen's corner to punctuate a 111-110 victory over Miami at AmericanAirlines Arena.

At least one thing was clear about the Heat's stunning loss Saturday night: Regardless of how the final seconds played out, Miami can look to nearly 48 minutes' worth of defensive meltdowns to discover how this one got away.

“We can't afford to trade baskets with anyone, no matter who we're playing,” LeBron James said. “It hurt us. We messed around with the game tonight, and that was that.”

Indeed.

The Heat messed around and lost their defensive identity as the Celtics essentially played pick-up ball and took turns driving to the rim for dunks and circus shots or stepping back for desperation jumpers to beat the shot clock. Boston shot 52 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3-point range to rally from a four-point deficit with 3.6 seconds left.

The Heat messed around and lost their minds, with Wade missing a key free throw and making two costly decisions in the final minute to open the door for Boston.

The first came when the Heat had possession with 36 seconds left and Wade dribbled aimlessly before he passed to Chris Bosh, who missed a rushed jumper from the wing. On the surface, it doesn't appear to be a blunder because the Heat work their two-man game through Bosh routinely.

The problem was that Wade never looked to find James, who, despite battling through back pain, carried the Heat on his shoulders throughout the fourth and had the hot hand. James scored 11 of his 25 points in the final period, when he was 4-of-6 from the field and a decoy at the end.

But it's the second of Wade's late-game mistakes that drew most of the attention. After missing his first free throw attempt with 0.6 seconds left and the Heat ahead 110-108, Wade decided to intentionally miss the second, hoping the clock would run out amid the scramble for the rebound.

But Wade's two-handed chest pass toward the basket clanked off the square on the backboard and never hit the rim, which resulted in a violation and gave the ball back to the Celtics with no time elapsing off the clock. Boston used a timeout to advance the ball to half court for the inbound play. Celtics first-year coach Brad Stevens then called a play he never used before, with Gerald Wallace hitting Green with a cross-court pass for the game-winning shot.

“Just 0.6 [seconds] left, I was trying to hit the rim and it didn't go as planned,” Wade said. “It wasn't one of our better hours. If we would have won this, we would have stolen one. Instead, they stole one. They played better than us tonight. It went the way it was supposed to go.”

In other words, the Heat didn't deserve to win. Miami reverted Saturday to several of the bad habits players and coach Erik Spoelstra had spent the past week working to overcome during a three-game winning streak. Defensive lapses, poor communication and attempts at hero ball were all on display for Miami, particularly down the stretch.

That combination doesn't go very well with a relentless effort from the Celtics, who won their third in a row after an 0-4 start to a rebuilding season following the departures of Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and with catalyst Rajon Rondo out recovering from knee surgery.

But none of that mattered from the outset. From the moment Green blew past James for an emphatic dunk on Shane Battier in the opening minutes to the high-arching jumper he drilled in the final second, Boston never backed down.

On the final play, Stevens drew up a play designed to tie the game on a two-point shot to send it to overtime. The Celtics got greedy and went for the win. And why not?

“It seemed like everything went right for us in that last minute of the game, so we felt like this was our time,” Wallace said. “The main thing was to stay in the fight and not get knocked out early, especially against a team like Miami that likes to knock you out in the first half.”

The irony in the finish is that it was familiar on two fronts. The Heat's previous loss to Brooklyn on Nov. 1 ended with Bosh trying to miss a free throw with the Heat down by two and hoping to get an offensive rebound and putback. Instead, Bosh mistakenly made it to lock up a 101-100 loss.

“I'll tell you what -- we just need to cover more things,” Spoelstra bristled after Saturday's loss. “We do. We need to cover more situations. That clearly did not work. I could go on and on. You could see it. The lack of awareness, the energy, the effort. Running it down our gut. Beating us off the dribble. Open shots all night. Categorically, it's probably across the board, we were very poor.”

Five months ago, Bosh was on the winning side of a miraculous play that featured Allen's shot in that same corner to help the Heat rally from a five-point deficit in the final 30 seconds to force overtime in Game 6 of the Finals.

On Saturday, Wallace's pass sailed right beyond Bosh's outstretched arms and found Green, who faded into the courtside seats as he launched the shot over James.

Far different stakes. But still the same feeling.

Ballgame.

“They started hitting bombs and they finished with a bomb,” Bosh said. “Things are going to even out. I believe in balance. It happens to you sometimes. If you give a team confidence, they'll start hitting shots. And if it comes down to one shot, which it should, it lines up perfectly for them.”

Heat Reaction: Grading Celtics-Heat

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
11:16
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Miami Heat: What's their motivation?

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
11:09
AM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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HeatKevin Jairaj/US PresswireThe Heat can sit back and enjoy the best record in the East despite not having played their best ball.
Over the last few weeks, LeBron James has slowly been becoming perturbed about the Miami Heat’s overall effort level.

It has manifested itself in several ways: A postgame workout session he used, rather transparently, to set an example to teammates; a handful of statements in which he liberally used the word “urgency"; and some recent body language that has reeked of disappointment during lackadaisical stretches against what should be inferior opposition.

But here is the reality: Why should the Heat care all that much about playing well now?

Their motivation to play their best basketball is lacking and it is hard to fault them. The Eastern Conference is shaping up to be the weakest it has been in a decade. Although it's never easy to repeat as champion, there’s no mistaking that the Heat’s road back to the Finals this season could provide less resistance than in the past two seasons.

James and Dwyane Wade certainly remember the last time the East looked like this, back when they were rookies in the 2003-04 season. Each of their teams started 5-15 and still almost made the playoffs. Wade’s Heat, at 42-40 that season, were one of just four Eastern teams that had a winning record. James’ Cavs won just 35 games and were in the playoff race until the last week.

It’s not quite that bad in the East right now and there is some hope that it could improve. The Heat seem to be waiting for that.

One of the question marks is Friday’s opponent, as the Chicago Bulls come to Miami (ESPN, 8 ET). Maybe the Bulls will morph into the contender of the previous two seasons when Derrick Rose is able to return from his knee injury later this season. Or maybe the Boston Celtics will make a late-season push as they’ve been known to do. Or maybe the Brooklyn Nets will start playing the way they’re being paid to. Or maybe the New York Knicks’ two wins over the Heat in the regular season so far actually matter, even as they've started to show some serious flaws over the last month.

But these are all maybes. What is known is that the Heat can’t rebound very well, aren’t defending at near the same level they did last season and have settled into a routine of letting weaker teams take the lead for two or so quarters before they try to act like the hare catching the tortoise. And still they are the heavy favorites to win the conference again.

If the Heat were in the Western Conference and had to worry about going through teams like the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs to reach the Finals again, then perspectives would certainly be different. Heck, right now you could make a case that the Golden State Warriors would be a contender to reach the conference finals if they were in the East.

Instead the Heat are sitting back, playing at about 80 percent many nights and still enjoying the East’s best record while waiting to see if a contender can pull itself together enough to challenge them.

“It’s the luck of the draw and it’s been that way for some time,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said this week when talking about the difference in depth and competitiveness between the East and West. “I can’t really explain it. The West is just tough.”

Ultimately, of course, to win four playoff series -- no matter the opponent -- the Heat will have to tighten up and start resembling the cohesive unit they became during last season’s playoffs. Coaches often talk about the importance of building good habits during the regular season so they carry over to the postseason. That’s something James has spoken about several times this season as well.

Human nature, however, is tough to fight. The Heat won’t be challenging any win records but they’re going along merrily, for the most part.

They’re one of the weakest rebounding teams in the league, ranking 23rd, and it looked bad when they were outrebounded by 19 against the Minnesota Timberwolves and by 17 against the Orlando Magic over the last few weeks. But they won both games.

Meanwhile, their most serious competitors in the East at this point, the Knicks, are actually a worse rebounding team, ranking 27th. The Indiana Pacers and Bulls both rebounding well but have stars with health issues that leave their overall threat level in question.

After being fourth in defense efficiency last season, the Heat are currently 16th. But as they enjoy the second-best offense in the league -- with James, Wade and Chris Bosh all having the best shooting seasons of their careers -- it’s not hard to understand why coach Erik Spoelstra is having trouble renewing that defensive focus.

“To know that we can be down by six with two minutes left and still have the confidence to overcome everything and get the job done, it works out great,” said Bosh, who was outrebounded 29-4 by the Magic’s Nikola Vucevic earlier this week. “We always know we can do it.”

That attitude would seem to be dangerous and probably will be if the Heat are taking the same approach in late March. Spoelstra has been flicking at the issue for weeks, and James has recently gotten on board as well. His minutes are up slightly over last season and he has already dealt with minor shoulder and knee injuries; he has had to work harder than he’d prefer in leading the Heat to some wins.

“We don’t look at games with entitlement, our guys want to win,” Spoelstra said. “We have to be realistic and objective, we have to get better. The next six weeks before the All-Star break we need to improve in several areas.”

That’s just it, though. The Heat want to improve, but they don’t really need to improve right now. A luxury they certainly are enjoying as they kill time before the playoffs.

LeBron focused on game, not his first ring

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
9:38
AM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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LeBron
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
LeBron James will receive his first title ring before Tuesday's opener, but don't expect much emotion.


MIAMI -- If LeBron James gets emotional during Tuesday night’s ring ceremony, it’ll probably be a surprise to him. If you see him wearing it anytime soon, that’ll be a surprise, too.

This is the third time in the past five years opening night has been a ring night for James. In 2008, he waited in the cramped visitors locker room at TD Garden in Boston as Paul Pierce wept on the floor where the Celtics ended James’ season five months earlier.

Last Christmas, as Dirk Nowitzki got a little misty eyed as the Mavericks’ championship banner headed toward the ceiling in Dallas, James paced in a nearby hallway waiting to face another team that ended his season on the way to its celebration.

After everything James has been through -- getting swept in his first Finals in 2007, failing to get back after being the No. 1 overall seed two years in a row in Cleveland in 2009 and 2010, blowing a Finals lead in 2011, being forced to hide from two ring ceremonies along the way -– it would seem logical that James would anticipate the Heat’s jewelry presentation as a cathartic release. It is a time when showing emotion is expected and even encouraged.

But in what is just the latest example of James’ all-business approach to this season, he almost couldn’t sound more detached about the moment.

When he finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder in June with a triple-double in Game 5 of the Finals, the pure joy showed on James' face as he grasped the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time. The next morning he shared his “pinch me” moment with his Twitter followers by declaring, “I think it just hit me. I am a CHAMPION. I AM A CHAMPION.”

Now, with the rival Celtics in town in a fitting reversal of the 2008 ring ceremony, all James can focus on is getting back and not looking back. It’s shown in his focus and his play throughout the Heat’s training camp and it was certainly showing in the way he’s approaching Tuesday’s pregame festivities.

“Winning it was what I dreamed of, I never dreamed of actually having the ring ceremony,” James said. “So I’m just like whatever. I think it’s going to be a special night and I’m going to be excited for it. But the game is what I’m more focused on than actually receiving the ring.”

James has said he wishes that the Heat could’ve had the ring ceremony on Monday so that it wouldn’t come before such a key early-season game. James is, of course, concerned about a team-wide letdown. The Heat were up by 35 points on the Mavericks on their ring night last year. The Heat themselves lost by 42 points on their ring night back in 2006-07 to the Chicago Bulls. But defending champs have actually won 10 of the past 13 years on ring night.

But James’ attitude on the matter is part of what seems like a concerted strategy to move on from last season. He doesn’t even seem like he’s going to spend much time examining his prize.

“Do I look like the type of guy that would wear my ring every day? Nope.” James said. “It will be put up somewhere with the rest of my individual accolades. That’s a team thing. But I’m moving on.”

The “moving on” part is what has caught the attention of his opponents already in the young season. Even with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra trying to take it a little easier on him in the preseason after his summer playing with Team USA and the expected allowances for a deserved victory lap, James has been all business thus far. James has appeared in midseason form throughout the preseason and was routinely one of the last players on the court after practice, putting in work on new phases of his game, including a hook shot.

“He’s more comfortable in his skin, and I think that’s what he is now,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.

"He’s got that off his back. He can breathe and play, which makes him better. He knows he can do it. He knows he can make big shots. He knows he can will a team. He had done it in the past. He just had never done it on a big stage. Now, he’s done it and so nothing changes for him. He’s still the guy that everybody is going after. It’s not like he wasn’t the target last year. He’s the same target. The target’s bigger.”

That may be so, but James seems oblivious to outside expectations now and numb to anything except focusing on being able to shrug off another ring night this time next year.

“Everybody has been gunning for us since I’ve come here, they’ve all gunned for us, so it doesn’t change,” James said. “For me, it’s just the start of a new year.”

Eyeing a repeat, Heat fight 'disease of more'

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
9:02
AM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
Riley/Spoelstra/Allen
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra hope Ray Allen helps Miami avoid a post-title letdown like in 2006-07.


MIAMI – And so it begins.

Tuesday marks the opening of the NBA's regular season and also the beginning of the Heat’s quest to do something that has been done only once in the past decade: win back-to-back NBA championships.

Heat president Pat Riley, who has won five titles as a coach and one as an executive, knows this feeling all too well. In his 1988 book “Showtime,” Riley explains the potentially poisonous effect of winning the title and warns of a post-championship hangover he coined “the disease of more.”

“Dissension tore up the Lakers in the year following that championship,” Riley wrote in reference to the 1980-81 squad that lost in the first round after winning the 1980 title. “Success is often the first step toward disaster. I call it ‘the disease of more.’ People start thinking, ‘I’m really the key ingredient. It was my quality minutes off the bench,’ or ‘It was my brilliant coaching decisions.’ Or ‘It was my outstanding defense.’ People who were quiet during the lean years suddenly want more money, more playing time, more recognition. And they get aggressive and jealous about pulling in their ‘more.’”

Yeah, probably want to nip that in the bud this time around. Heat fans will remember the disastrous repeat campaign in 2006-07, a season that was wrought with overweight players, devastating injuries to its stars and utter disappointment for its faithful. After starting out a woeful 13-17, Riley briefly stepped away from his head coaching position to tend to hip and knee issues. The Heat ultimately lost in the first round of that postseason, just like Riley’s 1980-81 Lakers team.

With the so-called “disease of more” in mind, Riley and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra opened up the Heat’s training camp with a lesson in less. That is, the importance of sacrifice.

“We talked about that the very first day,” Spoelstra said ahead of Tuesday’s season opener. “It’s a big sacrifice to be a part of this team. That’s not just a word ... that’s not an empty word. Everybody lives it in terms of salary, minutes, opportunities, whatever it is.”

The natural reflex is to compare this 2012-13 squad to the 2006-07 one that tried and failed to win back-to-back titles. But Spoelstra, who served as Riley’s assistant coach during that trying season, doesn’t see the connection.

“You can’t even compare,” Spoelstra said. “That team didn’t have its health, so it’s hard to judge. That’s why I don’t compare this year to that year. We came out of training camp and we were already banged up.”

Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade (a member of that 2006-07 team), Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem (also played in 2006-07) and Joel Anthony have all battled injuries and rehab this preseason. Isn’t this squad banged up a bit, too?

“Not like that team,” Spoelstra said before catching himself. “Knock on wood.”

Not surprisingly, Wade agreed with Spoelstra’s sentiment, distancing this team from that one.

“Yeah, it’s different,” Wade said. “That’s two totally different worlds. You can’t worry about that, different times and different team.”

The presence of LeBron James probably has something to do with the different identity. While James is still in his prime and hungry after his first taste of the title, the 2006-07 team’s veteran leader was Shaquille O’Neal, who was 33 years old and coming off his fourth title. James Posey and Antoine Walker showed up to camp out of shape and failed a conditioning exam that got them benched during the season.

However, Spoelstra insists the makeup of this team is completely different.

“Virtually every single person on this team has had to sacrifice, and that’s a ‘we’ concept, not a ‘me’ concept,” Spoelstra said. “If you’re based solely on ‘me,’ you’re not willing to do those things to help you win.”

The Heat’s repeat campaign starts on Tuesday against the Boston Celtics, a rival that has learned firsthand how difficult it is to defend the title. Back in 2007-08, the Celtics and their big three of Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce took down the Los Angeles Lakers en route to their first title in more than 20 years.

The odds of a Celtics repeat were strong. After being the early preseason favorites in 2008-09, the Celtics blitzed to a torrid 27-2 record that marked the best start in NBA history, in addition to a 19-game win streak. Things were good, and then suddenly, they weren’t. Garnett endured a season-ending knee injury shortly after the All-Star break, and the Celtics were defeated by Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals.

So much for the repeat. The Celtics' reign over the NBA was short-lived, much like nine of the past 10 champions who failed to grasp the Larry O’Brien Trophy two seasons in a row.

So why is it so hard? Well, winning a title in the first place is pretty darn hard when there are 29 other teams competing for the same goal. Then there’s that pesky target on the back of your jersey that comes with winning it all. Complacency could set in, as it did with Miami’s 2006-07 squad.

But when asked if there was a mentality change in that disappointing 2008-09 season, Celtics coach Doc Rivers refuted the very premise of a title defense.

“I never have believed that anybody ever is defending the title because that was last year,” Rivers said Monday. “[The Miami Heat] don’t own the team trophy this year. That’s what I tell our guys here. Miami is defending nothing. You don’t give your trophy back. That’s in boxing -- you give the belt back. That’s defending a title. [The Heat] don’t have this year’s trophy, so they’re not defending it. That’s the way we look at it and that’s the way we tried to look at it [in 2008-09].”

Spoelstra has embraced a similar tone with his team. Back on media day, Spoelstra stressed the importance of looking forward and not in the rearview mirror, even vowing never to use the word “repeat” when talking about what’s at stake this upcoming season.

On Tuesday night, the Heat will be forced to look backward for a few moments. That’s when the team will receive some championship hardware during the pregame ring ceremony.

“The hard part is now we have to relive the past,” Wade said of the ring ceremony. “That’s something we enjoy -- getting our rings -- but we have to do it in the beginning of the season. That’s the tough part, reliving the past when we’re ready to move forward. We’ll try to do our best with it.”

Allen readies to meet old 'mates in opener

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
2:18
PM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
Archive
MIAMI -- Ray Allen is firmly a member of the Miami Heat now, but Allen believes he’ll feel a kinship with his ex-Boston Celtics teammates Tuesday when the Heat receive their championship rings before the season opener.

“I’m excited for these guys having spent time with them for last 2-3 months,” Allen said Monday. “But at the same time, they beat me and put us out. I understand the emotions Boston will feel watching the ceremony.”

Despite a breakup that’s been rife with mudslinging, Allen doesn’t totally seem to have his “us’s” and “they’s” straight in the Heat-Celtics rivalry, which most recently includes the Heat’s series victory in last spring's Eastern Conference finals. Allen is very much at the center of the rivalry now after signing with the Heat last summer, after the Celtics offered double what the Heat did.

Once the Heat get their rings and raise their banner Tuesday -- the Celtics are expected to stay in the locker room, as is routine in such situations -- much attention will be focused on Allen going against his former teammates.

“These guys are my friends,” Allen said. “People think I have some sort of animosity or bad blood against them; I don’t. I’ve said it time and time again, we've shared the most special thing in sports and that’s going all the way to the top. That’s always going to be No. 1, closest to my heart. So when I see Paul [Pierce], I’m not going to be angry at him or anyone else. I’m happy to see these guys.”

The Celtics and Allen have lobbed cross words via the media in the preseason. Kevin Garnett said he lost Allen’s phone number, Doc Rivers said ego played a role in Allen’s departure, Rajon Rondo has taken to not using Allen’s name and just calling him "No. 20." Meanwhile, Allen has dragged up stories from as far back as 2009 to show his angst while on the team.

Tired of all the buildup, the Celtics players didn't even want to talk about it anymore on Monday.

“We’re not going to make this into a Ray Allen versus Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett or Rondo thing,” Pierce said. “Right now my focus is playing against the Miami Heat. Everything has already happened. He’s here, he’s happy to be here, you wish him the best for his family.”

“I don’t have a take on [Allen],” Garnett said. “I’m here to the play the game and get the hell up out of here, point blank.”

Allen said he had not yet considered plans to greet former teammates and coaches prior to Tuesday’s game. But he does expect some cold interactions.

“It’s nothing personal, you want to beat the other team,” Allen said. “I think with anybody not on the Celtic team, it’s always frosty. You don’t like the opponent.”

2012-13 schedule reaction: Miami Heat

July, 26, 2012
7/26/12
7:20
PM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
Archive
When the Boston Celtics got their title rings on opening night in the fall of 2008, LeBron James, months after his Cleveland Cavaliers had been knocked out of the playoffs by Boston in a brutal seven-game series, was in the visitor’s locker room at TD Garden, listening to the cheers and Paul Pierce’s emotional speech.

The roles will reverse on Oct. 30, when James and the rest of the Miami Heat get 2012 championship rings on opening night at home against the Celtics, one of the signature games on the first week of the NBA schedule that was released on Thursday.

The first Celtics-Heat matchup of the 2012-13 season already promises to be spicy. The climax of the budding rivalry was the seven-game Eastern Conference finals that ended in June with Miami moving on to a second straight NBA Finals and neither Kevin Garnett nor Rajon Rondo shaking the hands of Heat players hands after the bitterly-contested series ended.

Ray Allen’s departure from Boston and signing with Miami, amid some hard feelings with Celtics management, should only add fuel to the fire. Allen’s first game in a Heat uniform will be on the same court where he played his last game in a Celtics uniform, the Heat’s Game 7 victory.

It is the start of what should be a challenging month to start the season for the champs. The Heat benefited from favorable schedules to start the past two seasons. Last season, it helped them get off to an 8-1 start and they won 16 of their first 21 overall. That will not be the case when they start their title defense this October.

The Heat have eight games against the tougher Western Conference in November alone, most of them on a challenging six-game road trip. In a rematch of their first-round series, the Heat will play the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in their first road game of 2012-13. Miami closes November by hosting the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 29.

The schedule turns in December when the Heat have eight home games, including a Finals rematch with the Oklahoma City Thunder at 5:30 p.m. ET on Christmas Day. Miami will also host the new-look Brooklyn Nets and the Knicks in early December.

Normally, the first Heat-Chicago Bulls game would be one to circle on the calendar, but it appears doubtful that Derrick Rose will be back from a knee injury when the teams play for the first time on Jan. 4 in Miami. Perhaps more interesting will be four days later, when the Indiana Pacers come to town in a rematch of last season’s intense playoff series.

The last time the teams played in Miami, in Game 5, there were several hard fouls including Udonis Haslem nailing Tyler Hansbrough in the head, resulting in a suspension. Dexter Pittman was also suspended for leveling Lance Stephenson.

During the Heat’s championship celebration, a team broadcaster referred to the play as the “greatest flagrant foul in team history,” which further upset the Pacers. Indiana has joined the Celtics and the Bulls as significant Heat rivals.

Miami also has a five-game Western trip in January that culminates in a Jan. 17 game at the Los Angeles Lakers. Dwyane Wade has already Tweeted how excited he is for that game, which is on his 31st birthday. Wade has never had the chance to play an NBA game on his birthday.

The week before the All-Star break in February appears to be the most challenging of the season for the Heat. In a six-day span, they host both the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers and go into the break with a game in Oklahoma City. After getting back, the Heat have a road trip against Chicago and Philadelphia.

As it does every year, the schedule gets more conference-intensive in March and April. The Heat play three games against Philadelphia in the last six weeks of the season, two with Boston, two with New York and two matches with the Bulls when Rose is expected to be back from injury.

Ray Allen's words ... and what they mean

July, 11, 2012
7/11/12
6:11
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive
Ray Allen
Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
Ray Allen stepped to the microphone alongside coach Erik Spoelstra and embraced his new team.

MIAMI -- Ray Allen, the most productive 3-point shooter in NBA history, officially became a member of the defending champion Miami Heat on Wednesday after signing a two-year contract to end his free agency.

It was a tough and emotional decision for Allen, who left the Boston Celtics after five seasons that included an NBA title in 2008. Here are eight storylines from Allen's Boston departure and arrival in Miami, based on some key statements from his introductory press conference.

(Connecting with Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra)
What Allen said: “I had an opportunity to sit down and really discuss basketball philosophy with (Riley). He's got a lot of great stories. I had a lot of questions for him. I followed him for as long as I followed basketball. Same with coach Spoelstra. We talked about every basketball philosophy we shared, to a point where he said, 'Well, I don't know if you're coming, but I'll just tell you this anyway.'"

What it means: Boston simply might have taken Allen for granted, and Miami took advantage. There's no question Allen was feeling a bit underappreciated and overlooked. In Miami, Allen was almost treated like his character Jesus Shuttlesworth on college recruiting visits in that "He Got Game" movie.

(Friction with Rajon Rondo factoring in decision)
What Allen said: “I haven't spoken with him at all. I know when I came down here, I texted Paul (Pierce) and Kevin (Garnett). Those are the guys I had talked quite a bit with over the years ... There are differences. We all have differences. Paul eats Corn Flakes. I might not like Corn Flakes. That's kind of who we are as individuals ... as players we have to put our differences aside.”

What it means: There really was a rift between Rondo and Allen. Boston has gradually become Rondo's team. He's its best player and most volatile personality. The difference is the Celtics still pay Pierce like a megastar and treats Garnett like one. But Allen's ego was compromised a bit.

(The role Allen expects to play in Miami)
What Allen said: “You mean I'm not starting? I wish they would have told me that last week. Going into this process, I never said whether I wanted to start or come off the bench. That was never really an issue. Whatever is going to be best for me in this situation is going to figure itself out. This team won a championship without me. I'm not going to come in and expect for Coach to cater to who I am and what I do. I have to make it work on the floor with my teammates. I always said whether you start or come off the bench, the best compliment is who you finish the game up with.”

What it means: Allen wanted to put to rest any notion that he demanded to be a starter -- or necessarily play starter's minutes -- moving forward. The fact that he made light of the situation showed he has a sense of humor and a willingness to take on whatever role Miami has for him. But there's little doubt that Allen will play a significant role, likely as the first guard off the bench and in the closing lineup at the end of competitive games.

(Could Boston have done more to keep Allen?)
What Allen said: “It's hard to say. It's hard to say.”

What it means: Of course there's more Boston could have done. Perhaps trade Rondo. Maybe guarantee a third year on that reported two-year, $12 million offer. More likely, the damage had already been done before the start of free agency. Allen was ready to move on. Those attempts to trade him took a toll, as did demoting him to sixth man. In reality, the Celtics and Allen were better off parting ways.

(Are “traitor” insults from Boston fans upsetting?)
What Allen said: “I've given so much, not only on the floor but off the floor. I think that there's a sense of sadness and hurt that the people feel. And we feel that, too, as a family. And that's understandable. But we're still a part of that community. Our home is still in Boston. That's not going to change how we feel about the people there. It doesn't bother me. I know who I am.”

What it means: Allen has built up so much goodwill over his decorated career that it will be impossible for him to ever be viewed as a bad guy for long. He'll be like Joe Dumars on those Bad Boys team in Detroit. He's just too likeable and respectable. He made a decision as a free agent. But it'll still be tough for some to buy into his declaration of “always being a Celtic” while playing for the Heat and working for a man in Riley who coached the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks. That basically covers the gamut of Boston's fiercest sports rivals.

(How bad was Allen's ankle that required surgery?)
What Allen said: “Surgery was good. I was walking within four or five days. Not a lot of swelling. Even now, if I do too much on it -- I haven't worked out, I haven't been given the clearance to work out yet -- if I do too much walking on it, it gets a little tender. But for the most part, I'm feeling really good moving forward. The playoffs, I was probably a day away from just having surgery when I decided I was going to play and try to stay along to help the team win. I think one day more, I probably would have had surgery. That's how much it bothered me.”

What it means: No one can say Allen didn't give Boston his all late in the season while playing on an ankle that obviously required serious attention. After having surgery in June to remove bone spurs, Allen says he's about a month from being cleared for serious basketball activity, putting him well on pace to be ready for training camp.

(Attempts from Garnett/Pierce to keep Allen)
What Allen said: “When I knew I was leaning toward Miami, I actually sent a text to Kevin, just to let him know that -- I remember this process in 2008 when (James) Posey left us. And we just really wanted him back and he went to New Orleans, and we didn't get a chance to get Danny (Ainge) to try to give him a little something extra. I didn't want that to be the same case with me in this situation. So I texted Kevin and said, 'Hey, I'm leaning this way and I just want you to know, without getting into the finite details of the deals.' He said, 'Well, Danny will step up to the plate and do whatever you need him to do.' So, I was like, 'We'll see.'”

What it means: Perhaps this was a veiled attempt by Allen to place some of the responsibility for his departure on Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations. It sounds like Allen was at least open to hearing a better offer from Boston after he informed people he was leaning toward Miami. By then, Boston was well into its contingency plan. And rightfully so.

(Recruiting pitch from LeBron James/Dwyane Wade)
What Allen said: “I got texts from both of them. It wasn't me as much that they influenced. But it was the people around me that it excited. It showed them that these guys really like you and want you on their team. As much as they seem bigger than life on TV and just won a championship, they took the time out to reach out and to say something nice about you. The people who care a lot about me and love me, it meant a lot to them.”

What it means: As Allen said earlier, the fact that the Heat won a title and still felt they needed him on the roster to be even better next season carried a lot of weight with him at a sensitive time. The Celtics and Heat have ended the other team's season each of the past three years. There's a history of mutual respect there. Assuming health, jobs on the court just became easier for Allen and his new teammates.

For rehabbing Wade, Allen right on time

July, 9, 2012
7/09/12
4:37
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive
Ray Allen
David Dow/NBAE/Getty Images
Dwyane Wade is going to work on his shooting while he recovers. That new guy might help.

MIAMI -- For nine years, Dwyane Wade's NBA career has largely been defined by overcoming odds off the court combined with graceful skill and athleticism on it.

It's been a virtual spin cycle of knock down, get up, bounce back. Repeat.

But at least one of his characteristics has been understated along the way: impeccable timing.

That was never more the case than Monday, when Wade underwent arthroscopic surgery on his long troublesome left knee to correct an ailment that deeply affected his play during the Heat's march to an NBA title this season.

Well, for LeBron James and the rest of the Heat, it was a march.

For Wade, it was more of a laboring limp. At least by his lofty standards.

Wade repeatedly downplayed the issues with his knee throughout the playoffs. But after ESPN.com's Heat Index first reported he had the knee drained during Miami's second-round series against Indiana, Wade could only do his best to disguise the problem and play through the soreness.

But, privately, he could no longer honestly deny it.

By having surgery, Wade has chosen to attack the problem that has been the cause of so much pain, discomfort and distortion in his game that many have started to question whether the only "prime" remaining in his career is affiliated with late-night dinners at the Prime One Twelve restaurant on South Beach.

From a timing standpoint, Wade's projected rehab and recovery schedule from Monday's surgery is expected to last up to two months. Barring a setback, that timetable should allow Wade to be ready to join his Heat teammates for the start of their title defense when training camp opens in late September.

Heat president Pat Riley sounded more hopeful than absolutely confident that Wade would be completely ready for action when the Heat gather for what is expected to be an earlier-than-usual camp, in anticipation of Miami being selected for one of the NBA's preseason trips overseas.

Somewhat overlooked in all of the analysis of Ray Allen's impending free agency addition to the Heat's roster later this week is the impact the sharp-shooting guard's signing will have on Wade's progress. Like Wade, Allen will also be coming off summer surgery when the season starts. But Allen is already well into the recovery stage from having bone spurs removed from his ankle last month -- just days after the Heat eliminated his former Celtics team in the conference finals.

On the surface, Allen gives the Heat yet another knockdown, 3-point shooter who happens to have made more treys than any player in NBA history. But beyond that, Allen, 36, is also an early-season insurance policy of sorts for Wade at shooting guard. Conventional wisdom would suggest that each player should lessen the physical burden on the other next season.

Minutes, as in playing time, won't be a pressing problem.

Instead, maintenance should -- and will -- be the priority.

In some ways, Wade has already gotten a jump-start on the recovery process. He has had several sessions with noted NBA personal trainer Tim Grover even before the decision to undergo surgery. Wade and Grover have worked together for the past five years, ever since Wade first had surgery on that same knee in 2007.

But the Heat will be in no rush to work Wade back into heavy game action when he's cleared to resume basketball related activities. This is why bringing in Allen was as big a move for Wade as it was to complement LeBron's ability to break down opponents and set up shooters for wide-open looks on the perimeter.

Neither the Heat nor Wade will acknowledge it, but there very well might be concerns that the issues with Wade's left knee could be chronic. That it could require extensive maintenance along with reduced wear and tear. That so many years or relentless and remarkably reckless attacks on the basket might have finally started to catch up to Wade, who refers to it as his "explosion knee ... the one I jump and cut off of to explode and attack."

It's fair to wonder just how much spark and spring are left in a knee that has required two known surgeries, controversial shock-therapy treatments and at least a couple of excess fluid draining procedures over the past five years.

But again, Wade's career has been defined by the cycle.

Knocked down. Get up. Bounce back. Repeat.

But this time, Wade should be motivated less by what he may feel he needs to prove and more by what he needs to preserve at this point in his career.

In other words, his approach needs to be completely different than the last time his knee issues lingered. After sitting out the final months of the 2007-08 season, as Miami wrapped up a franchise-worst 15-67 finish, Wade opted for the shock-therapy treatment a year after his initial surgery in May 2007.

At that time, he was determined to get his body -- which had also endured 2007 shoulder surgery -- right by the time the 2008 Olympics rolled around. Not only did Wade steel his body through rigorous rehab, he also stole the show in Beijing that summer to lead Team USA in scoring and on to a gold medal.

This time around, instead of pushing to get his body prepared for the Olympics, he wisely chose to skip next month's Olympics to get his body prepared for the Heat's title defense. Wade also has talked about hiring a shooting coach to work with him this offseason for the first time in his career.

Which brings it all back to Wade's perfect timing.

There might not be a better shooting coach in the league than the free agent Miami is set to sign when the league's moratorium ends Wednesday.

Well before Allen is worked into the Heat's playing rotation, he could prove his worth in potential offseason workouts with Wade. Few players in NBA history have adjusted their games with age more productively than Allen.

He wasn't always the sweet-shooting "Sugar Ray" we've seen these past five seasons in Boston, where he helped the Celtics win a title in 2008.

There was a time when Allen would drive and dunk on defenders just as seamlessly as he would dice them up from deep with his jump shot. But Allen gradually altered his game to finish with far more finesse than athletic fury.

Right now, it's hard to imagine Wade ever becoming the kind of jump shooter who could consistently beat teams with his range. The same could've been said at one time about Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Jason Kidd and several other elite players who evolved their skills amid declining athleticism and aging.

Wade's track record of comebacks from setbacks suggests he still has plenty left as one of the top-10 players in the league. But his history with that balky left knee also means he shouldn't take anything for granted from this point on.

So as Wade looks to alter his game after another adjustment and recovery process, Allen's presence should offer more than early-season relief.

He'll also be a worthy resource.

For Wade, the timing couldn't have been better.

LeBron on Game 7s vs. Celtics

June, 9, 2012
6/09/12
3:14
PM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
Archive
MIAMI -- LeBron James has stopped watching basketball, using Twitter and has tried to free his mind by reading novels during the playoffs. But that has not dulled his sense of history when it comes to tonight’s Game 7 against his longtime rivals.

James will face off against the Boston Celtics in a playoff game for the 25th time in the past five years. So far the score is Celtics 12, James 12. With a trip to the Finals on the line and the uncertainty of the Celtics' future with the upcoming free agency of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the outcome of this game might just settle the long-running rivalry.

“It's only right, it's only fitting for me that I would play them in the postseason some way, shape or form to get to the Finals,” James said Saturday afternoon. “I did it last year, did it the previous two years in Cleveland. It's been the same for me. I understand what they're capable of, I understand what their makeup is. I've faced every last one of them, those same four guys have been there since I've been playing in the postseason.”

The last time James played in a Game 7 against the Celtics was in 2008, when he and Paul Pierce staged a memorable battle at TD Garden, James scoring 45 points and Pierce putting up 41 in the Celtics’ victory. When James scored 45 points in another elimination game in Boston on Thursday, he became the second player ever to do it more than once in his career. The only other was Wilt Chamberlain, who scored 45 or more points five times in his career.

But even with the momentum, James has such a history of dealing with these Celtics that he knows how difficult tonight could be. Especially with the possibility that it could be the last time this Boston team plays in its current state.

“Those guys are warriors, they're champions,” James said. “They're determined not to let this be their last hurrah or whatever the case may be. I'm not a part of their front office. But they're very determined.”

It’s been such a hotly-contested series with officiating, injuries, lineup switches and performance in the clutch dominating the focus. But James is not alone in letting himself think about the historical perspective. Depending on what happens in Game 7, there could be lots of changes to both teams and that only increases the drama.

“I tell players that all the time, there are no guarantees for next year,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.

“Every year you have to play like this is the last time this group you're with will ever play together. And most of the time that's going to be true whether you win or lose. It's at stake for both teams, you can never take any season for granted. Hell, we win this series, it may not be the same Miami team next year. So I think we understand that, but I think they do, too. And so I think both teams feel that type of pressure.”

LeBron has the right look

June, 8, 2012
6/08/12
2:26
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
This stoic glare never left LeBron James' face during his monster night in the Heat's Game 6 win.

BOSTON -- It started with the look.

The cold, piercing stare. The blink-less glare. The expression that didn't require an explanation, a motivational speech or anything other than confirmation from his Miami Heat teammates who knew this night would be different.

Had to be different. Or else their season was done.

The Boston Celtics didn't get a glimpse of that ultra-focused, determined, do-or-die look from LeBron James until he was on the court for Game 6 on Thursday with the Heat on the brink of playoff elimination.

But James' teammates saw that look on his face long before the Heat -- fueled by a relentless performance from the league's MVP -- forced a Game 7 on Saturday back in Miami with Thursday's 98-79 victory against the Celtics.

“Y'all see that look he had on his face tonight?” Heat guard Mario Chalmers told a group of reporters after the game. “He had that look on his face since last night at dinner. We knew he was going to come out ready to play. That's why he's the MVP. I call it his ugly look.”

Ugly never looked so good.

Heat players are around James every day, including many who have been in Miami since James arrived in the summer of 2010 to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They've seen hundreds of James' games dating back to some of his best performances while with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But few have left them as mesmerized as the display James put on Thursday, when the Heat absolutely had to have one of those historic nights just to keep their season alive, to quiet the skeptics, to outright silence his critics.

For at least a night.

Playing 44 consecutive minutes to start the game, James finished with 45 points on 19-of-26 shooting to go with 15 rebounds and 5 assists. That laser focus didn't relent until he was comfortably back in the Heat's locker room, knees wrapped in ice, feet soaking in tubs of cold water and fingers flipping through the pages of the latest novel he's reading in his spare time.

By most accounts, James' business-like demeanor didn't lighten up until he was approached by a team media relations staffer when it was his turn to go to the postgame news conference podium and discuss his dominance.

“Let me finish this chapter first,” James said as he turned a page in Suzanne Collins' "Mockingjay." “I can't leave right in the middle of this. I've got to finish up this last page.”

James then laughed.

Heat rookie Norris Cole shook his head as he stood nearby. Cole has been responsible for carrying everything from James' lotion and garment bags to his food to the bus after games. He has also been the butt of James' pranks when he's in a joking mood. But Cole hasn't had much to do lately.

“He didn't even have any special requests today,” Cole said, referencing his rookie responsibilities leading into Thursday's game. “He's normally a loose guy. His face didn't never break the whole time. He didn't crack a smile. His expression was the same all day. He showed when it's time to take care of business, he can take care of business with the best of them. That's what we needed.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he had a feeling James was in for a big night, one that would answer naysayers who were ready to write off Miami, and especially James.

“Nobody likes getting thrown dirt on your face before you're even dead,” Spoelstra said. “He came out with an attack mentality right from the get-go.”

It was obvious from the 10-0 run James ignited midway through the first quarter that put the Heat ahead 22-12. James scored in a variety of ways during that spurt when he accounted for eight of those points. He made a turnaround jumper, converted a conventional three-point play with a layup and free throw and also drilled a 3-pointer.

It was a two-minute stretch that set the tone for the Heat as well as sent a resounding message to the Celtics. Through it all, James' expression never changed.

“LB was in a groove and he never looked back,” Celtics center Kevin Garnett said.

“He hit a lot of shots he hasn't been hitting all series,” Boston forward Paul Pierce added. “I've had that feeling before and sometimes there's nothing you can do about it.”

All you can do is watch, and see how long James could carry on this defiant and dominant act.

It was difficult to avoid being a bystander at times. Different players were impressed by different things.

Heat reserve James Jones said the durability James showed by playing such a long stretch without a break stood out.

“To be able to play the game the way he played it, you can't have these huge emotional swings, those big highs and lows,” Jones said. “You could tell he was a little more focused because of the magnitude of this one. Even in the huddles, he had this energy, this activity. He was upbeat like there was no question he could play every minute and every second if we needed him to. Very few guys can do that. He's one of them. That's what makes him who he is.”

And it's also who James was since he felt the Heat allowed a game to get away on Tuesday, when Boston won Game 5 in Miami. After the game, James, Wade and Udonis Haslem -- the Heat's most vocal leaders -- could be overheard through the locker room doors to the training room having a heated discussion about breakdowns. It was one of those periodic accountability sessions the team's leaders have after things fall off track.

James has had his game face on since then.

“We talked about it in Miami,” Haslem said. “We talked about it the next day after we lost. It was nothing that needed to be said after shootaround [Thursday] morning. It was nothing that needed to be said before the game. We said everything we needed to say a few days ago. We understood what was at stake right now. I think it showed.”

But the Heat insists their work isn't done. It might require an encore performance on Saturday from James to put away Boston and get to the NBA Finals against Oklahoma City.

Heat forward Chris Bosh will be looking for that, well, look in James' eye again heading into Game 7.

“In shootaround and on the ride over, before the game, usually, you can feel it when it's a little more quiet than usual,” Bosh said. “That's when you can really tell that guys are really, really ready to play. I look in everybody's face before the game and this game was different than all the others. LeBron answered like he was supposed to, and now we get to try to do it all again.”

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