- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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MIAMI -- When it comes to evaluating the game, LeBron James seems locked in and appears to be in his normal, midseason, Most Valuable Player mode.
Mentally, it showed Monday night.
“He shouldn't have made the pass,” James said on a night when the Miami Heat made their preseason debut with a 92-87 victory against the Atlanta Hawks at AmericanAirlines Arena. “If he could have had it back -- when you let the ball go sometimes -- I've had some turnovers, too, where I was like, aw shhh.
"But he's a good quarterback.”
Oh, you thought James was talking about basketball?
Even as the Heat prepared for a game in which they committed 21 turnovers, James was still smarting from Tony Romo's fourth-quarter interception in the Dallas Cowboys' 51-48 loss to Denver in Sunday's NFL shootout.
An avid Cowboys fan, James was at his sharpest Monday before he ever took the court as football dominated the conversation. On the basketball front, the four-time MVP physically remains a work in progress as he gradually works his way back into condition over the preseason.
Less than a month after he married his longtime girlfriend and then traveled the globe on his honeymoon, James smiled as he admitted he's still trying to regain his legs. James said his conditioning was about “80 percent” of where he needs it to be, but he'd be ready in time for the Oct. 29 season opener against Chicago.
“I just did a lot of traveling,” said James, who spent part of his mid-September honeymoon in Europe and Australia before reporting for training camp last week. “That took a toll on my body, getting married. Everyone that's married, you know what I'm talking about. But it's all good.”
James continued to work through the kinks Monday as he missed seven of 11 shots and finished with nine points, five rebounds and five assists in 21 minutes against Atlanta. The Heat played without Dwyane Wade, who opted to sit out after coach Erik Spoelstra had initially told reporters about 90 minutes before the game that Wade would play. Asked about the mix-up after the game, Spoelstra said Wade was dealing with general leg soreness from camp.
Miami also was missing Udonis Haslem and Greg Oden, who are being held out of action as they work their way back from knee issues. Michael Beasley (calf) and Chris Andersen were held out with minor injuries. Chris Bosh took advantage of extra opportunities and led Miami with 21 points to build on Sunday's Red and White scrimmage, when he had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
James, meanwhile, is pacing himself through the fatigue until his body responds as expected. He likely won't play in all eight of the Heat's preseason games, but said the plan is to get in 15 to 20 minutes of action when he's available.
“That's what I want to see -- I want to see him [James] go hard,” Spoelstra said. “And he did. It's not necessarily how many plays he was making. He was a little bit sloppy with the ball. But he was playing with intensity, getting his wind. And that will help him get his legs back quicker.”
It's rare that James acknowledges any level of fatigue. He's coming off a 20-month period during which he played more than 200 games, won two NBA titles, a total of four regular-season and Finals MVP awards and an Olympic Gold medal dating to the 2012 Summer Games in London.
James was indestructible through two years of nonstop basketball. Marriage, however, is a much different animal. It takes some adjustment. Monday's outing came a day after James missed seven of eight shots in Sunday's public scrimmage.
“It's just a matter of time for me,” James said about his approach to preparing for the regular season. “I felt better today than I felt last Monday, and that was just media day. It's just getting your legs back under you. You break them down during training camp, then you try to bring them back up each week, each preseason game.”
Spoelstra suggested he would juggle his roster throughout the preseason and play with different lineups. The Heat have a back-to-back set Thursday in Detroit and Friday in Kansas City against the Charlotte Bobcats.
After dealing with knee tendinitis and bruises in his knees throughout the playoffs each of the last two seasons, Wade and the Heat appear to be taking a cautious approach and will closely monitor his minutes throughout the season.
James said it's the right approach, especially in the preseason when there's really no need to push it.
“He knows his body better than anyone,” James said of Wade's call to skip Monday's game. “It doesn't make any sense for him to go out there if he doesn't feel it.”
When it comes to Romo's decision-making, James believes he probably should have checked down to a safer throw.
Regarding his own form, James said check back in a week.
“I probably need another week before they [my legs] really start feeling good,” James said. “After going through a camp like we had last week, now it's the rebuild process. Coach has a plan. When I'm on the court, I want to get better. Obviously for myself personally, and for my team.”