PHILADELPHIA – A historic debut, a wonderful Italian vacation and a preventative maintenance program combined to make for one giant outlier game Wednesday night.
If you wanted to make a bet on the Philadelphia 76ers over/under for wins at most sports books leading up to the start of their season the number you had to work with was 16. And the smart money was on the under.
The Miami Heat, you may remember, not only finished last regular season 41-4 but those four losses were to teams that made the playoffs. The last time the Heat lost a regular-season game to a losing team -- and the Sixers are probably headed there soon -- was last January when they had an epic collapse in two-point loss in Portland.
Which already makes the Sixers' 114-110 win in their season opener a candidate to become one of the most memorable games of the regular season. Even if the Heat wanted to forget it by the time they reached New York later in the evening.
All you really need to know to understand the breadth of this game is that Michael Carter-Williams, a spindly point guard from Syracuse who was regarded as a project because of his shooting and turnover woes in college, had the most steals in his debut than any rookie in league history. He had nine of them including one on the game's first possession, which he turned into a stunning dunk seconds later.
Add to that in the third quarter the Heat set a building record for points in a quarter with 45 -- the Wells Fargo Center is 17 years old and has had four different official names not including the unofficial "Spectrum II" so this was not a mark to ignore -- and the game starts taking on a supernatural quality.
There's almost no need to point out that the Sixers made their first 11 shots and later missed 11 in row to get it. The Heat made 31-of-44 shots in the middle quarters but missed their first seven shots and 12 of their last 13.
Bottom line, this wasn't a normal game.
That makes it hard to take much away from it other than Michael Carter-Williams, or MCW for short, has confidence beyond his years. You don't sniff a quadruple-double in your first game against the two-time defending champs without some moxie. His career high at Syracuse was 24 points, but he put up 22 Wednesday with 12 assists, seven rebounds and those nine steals. It should be equally noted that Carter-Williams had only one turnover in 36 minutes against a pressure defense that forced Derrick Rose into five the night before.
"I definitely felt more confident," Carter-Williams said. "Everything was clicking."
On the flip side, there was also something learned about LeBron James. It is hard to look at James' line of 25 points, four rebounds and 13 assists without an approving nod. But it was not his typical effort. He was clearly winded over the game's last few minutes. Several times he didn't run up the court after a change of possession. In two crucial plays in the closing stretch, James looked dead-legged as he turned the ball over and struggled to create space or get lift on a drive a moment later.
This is not some sort of hidden issue. James said last week he didn't think he quite had his legs where he wanted them and then repeated it after the game.
"I'm getting there," James said. "In the next couple weeks I'll be where I want to be."
It's not something with which to be concerned. James got married in September and went on a well-earned honeymoon to Italy during the same time he usually would've been going through one of his "hell weeks" with Kevin Durant. So he's a little behind his normal conditioning and in this game, on the second night of a tough back-to-back, it showed up.
"He wouldn't want to make an excuse for that because that's taking away from what that team did," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
It wasn't an excuse, but it is true.
The Heat should be able to do just fine as James rounds into form, and considering they got 22 points and 10 rebounds from Chris Bosh and 19 points from Ray Allen, they probably should've won this one. But 19 turnovers and 26 Sixers fast-break points -- and to be honest, Philadelphia botched a handful of other fast-break chances -- forced James to work harder than he should have.
The margin for error was tighter with Dwyane Wade sitting to rest because: 1. It was the second night of a back-to-back and the Heat are prudently trying to save Wade's knees as much as possible in the regular season, and 2. Because the Heat were playing the Sixers.
It appeared that it came as late news to Wade, who didn't sit on the bench because he hadn't brought a suitcoat with him to the arena. It is interesting the Heat are concerned enough about Wade that they want to sit him in the second game of the season. He has typically used "maintenance days" or even weeks to deal with maladies over the last few years.
This was a first in that he was being rested before he had the chance to get run down. But considering the circumstances, it was easy to understand the Heat's reasoning here, and the shocking loss will not likely change their plans on the Wade matter.
It's not everyday, after all, you run into a MCW buzzsaw.
"There's nothing to explain really, they jumped on us and we weren't ready for it," James said. "He had a great game, couldn't think of a better way to start your NBA career."