No LeBron, No Problem
Declaring in the third-person that, “It's OK for LeBron to take one [game] off,” LeBron James proceeded to sit out against the Spurs as part of the preseason "maintenance" program. James got the night off after playing in the Heat's first five preseason games. The plan from here is to get back onto the court for Wednesday's game in New Orleans against the Pelicans, then sit out of Friday's preseason finale at home against the Brooklyn Nets.
James had put together a string of explosive moments in his previous three games after getting off to a sluggish start in the preseason. He entered camp just a few days after wrapping up his globe-trotting wedding and honeymoon. After saying he needed time to get his legs back and into proper condition, James gradually played his way into shape.
Instead of playing, James joined Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in reflecting on their matchup in last June's NBA Finals, when the Heat rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to win their second straight title. Before the game, Popovich told reporters he's still haunted by the epic Game 6 overtime loss that turned on a huge 3-pointer from Ray Allen at the end of regulation.
“It still goes through my head every day,” Popovich said. “The other night, I dreamt about LeBron. Another night, it might be Ray Allen.”
Obviously, those moments represent sweeter dreams for James.
“I'm right with him,” James said, referring to Popovich. “I think about it a lot, man. One play here, one second there – changes the whole format of the game. I think about it almost every day, too. I know I had nightmares in  when they beat us up pretty bad when I was in Cleveland. So it's great going against a group of guys like that and a coach like that.”
Bounce-back effort for Heat's offense
James' absence allowed the Heat to move James Jones into the starting lineup at small forward, and Jones' hot start from 3-point range set the tone for Miami's bounce-back performance. The Heat made 10 of 18 attempts from beyond the arc in the first half and knocked down 13 for the game. It marked the third time in six preseason games they've drilled at least 10 treys.
The Heat responded from their all-time, preseason-low 62 points in Thursday's loss to Brooklyn with their most impressive overall outing in preparation for the Oct. 29 season opener against the Chicago Bulls. Still, a slew of injuries, strange illnesses and absences have made it difficult to establish consistency and cohesion since the Heat returned from their first week of camp in the Bahamas.
Miami has yet to display a consistent rotation, although it's becoming clear how the overall roster will shake out. It appears Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, James, Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh will open the season as starters. The second unit will most likely consist of Shane Battier and Ray Allen as the first two off the bench, with Norris Cole and Chris Andersen rounding out the top nine in the rotation.
Pep in Wade's step
The revolving door that has been the Heat's rotation this preseason featured Wade's return on the night James sat out. Wade has played in every other game during the preseason as part of his own maintenance program, and he responded with a spry, energized effort. He finished with 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting with seven assists, four rebounds and three steals in 27 minutes.
“I'm getting better every day,” Wade said. “But I'm not where I want to be. And when the season starts, I won't be where I want to be. But as the season goes on, I'll be better and better.”
A week ago, I suggested that it was way too soon to worry about Wade electing to sit out to rest his knees in spots during the preseason. Nights like Saturday only validate his strategy. Wade said he will approach this season on a day-to-day basis when it comes to pushing his body and knees.
Obviously, Wade won't skip every other game this season. But it would be smart for him to consider sitting out the second night of back-to-back sets or wisely monitoring his minutes in stretches when Miami plays three games in four nights or four games in five nights. Pride and ego may sometimes get in the way, but it's far more important for Wade to save as much tread on those tires for a healthy run into the playoffs than it is to go out in the regular season trying to prove he's still a top-10 talent.