MIAMI -- LeBron James powered the Miami Heat to their first undefeated week of the season with victories over Milwaukee, Dallas and Charlotte.
But Miami is still battling several issues as it tries to carry the momentum into a stretch that opens with Tuesday's visit from the Atlanta Hawks followed by a two-game set against the Orlando Magic, with Wednesday's game in Orlando and Saturday's return matchup in Miami.
In this weekly feature, we examine five things we learned about the Heat (7-3) over the past week that are worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
1. Wade weary over knee issues
Despite the best efforts and intentions of Dwyane Wade and coach Erik Spoelstra to frame the Heat star guard's early exit from Saturday's game in Charlotte as otherwise, it's difficult to see Wade's decision to leave the bench in the third quarter for treatment on his knees as anything but a bit of a setback.
Wade deserves credit for stepping up and trying to play a night when three rotation players, including guards Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers, were unavailable. But the truth is that his knees just aren't ready to carry the burden of back-to-back games. At least not yet.
The bottom line is Wade still doesn't trust his knees yet. Those very same knees delivered him through a masterful effort in Wednesday's win over Dallas, when he had 17 points, eight assists and a career-high eight steals. But a night later, they deceived him, forcing him to abort an attempt to play his first back-to-back set after he started 1-of-7 from the field and had four points midway through the third.
“You've got to push through stuff, so I tried to do as much as I could,” Wade told reporters in Charlotte as he shrugged off questions about any potential regrets. “I'll be ready Tuesday.”
The bigger question is what about Wednesday? Should Wade be as willing to try so soon again on the second night of a back-to-back set after playing Tuesday against the Hawks? Not at this point in the season. Until he gains more trust in his knees, Wade will be better off listening to his body.
2. NBA takes offense to Chalmers' MMA tactics
A day after Spoelstra said he needed to see more evidence of point guard Mario Chalmers' intentions for connecting a forearm shot to Dirk Nowitzki's face Friday, the league evidently had seen enough.
For the second time in as many weeks, Chalmers was hit with a Flagrant-2 penalty for planting his forearm into a marquee player's neck -- both times while trying to fight through a screen. The hit on Nowitzki landed Chalmers an immediate ejection in the fourth quarter Friday. That came eight days after a similar shot on Blake Griffin during the Heat's Nov. 7 win against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Chalmers claims neither blow was dirty nor intentional. The league sided with instant replay's side of the story. The solution is simple for Chalmers: Aim lower. Off to the most productive start of his six-year career, Chalmers has caught the attention of the NBA for the wrong reason. He has a reputation for being feisty and an annoying defender on the court, but has hardly been viewed as a dirty player.
Now, he no longer enjoys the benefit of the doubt and could face suspension with every ensuing flagrant foul penalty. And there's only 72 regular-season games left on the schedule.
3. LeBron heating up amid search for cohesion
Having scored at least 30 points while shooting 70.2 percent over the past three games, it's safe to say LeBron James has emerged from that back problem to rise head and shoulders above the competition.
That lofty status is familiar for James, who admits he has had to be more aggressive on offense, in part, as a result of so many moving parts in the Heat's lineup this season. Among the Heat's opening-night starters, James is the only one to play in all 10 games this season.
Chalmers missed Saturday's game in Charlotte to serve a one-game suspension, Wade missed the second game of the season with knee soreness, power forward Udonis Haslem has missed the past four with back spasms and Bosh sat out one after the birth of his daughter. James said he has grown accustomed to dealing with the adjustments, which is made easier by the Heat's depth.
Still, James looks forward to the time when the Heat can be consistently whole.
“That's always been the thing with us over the years, ever since we first got here [in 2010],” James said. “We haven't really seen us at full strength for a full year. We've had guys in and out. But the makeup of our team allows us to have that, though, where guys don't have to go about putting too much pressure on themselves. They can sit out and other guys can step in.”
4. Big Three not taking opportunity for granted
James, Wade and Bosh aren't talking much about their respective future, but they also aren't taking their time together these days for granted. With all three players holding the right to opt out of their contracts after the season, the focus remains on extending this championship ride as long as possible.
That's why it's still surprising to Miami's marquee players that the last team to beat them in a playoff series bailed on its championship roster so quickly. But that's exactly what the Dallas Mavericks did after defeating the Heat in six games during the 2011 Finals.
Both Wade and Bosh said they're still stunned the Mavericks didn't bring back the core of their title team around Nowitzki. Instead, Dallas struck out on big names in free agency the past two seasons, with top targets Dwight Howard and Deron Williams taking and keeping their talents elsewhere.
“Yeah, I'm surprised -- especially going for a sweepstakes that didn't pan out the way they thought,” Bosh said of the Mavericks. “They'll always have that feeling in the back of their minds, you know, just what if? When we came together, I couldn't imagine winning one championship here and then not bringing the band back together. They totally dismantled the team and I'm sure they felt like they never really had a chance to defend their crown. I'm sure they learned a lot of lessons, good or bad with that.”
5. No more overlooking Lewis
And that has been enough to keep Lewis slightly ahead of Beasley at the back end of Spoelstra's rotation, although injuries and absences elsewhere have afforded both players extended minutes recently. After tying his season high with 11 points Friday against Dallas, Lewis responded the next night with a team-high nine rebounds to go with his nine points against Charlotte.
Lewis is shooting 50 percent from the field, including 47.6 percent from 3-point range. He has seen his playing time increase in each of the past five games, from eight minutes on Nov. 7 against the Clippers to a season-high 33 minutes Saturday against the Bobcats.
Beasley's stock isn't the only one rising among Heat reserves. Lewis said he's finally beyond some of the knee issues that have limited his play and conditioning over the past three years.
“We're going out there with a lot of confidence,” Lewis said. “On this team, we always have to be ready when coach calls our name. I've just got to take advantage when I get opportunities.”