SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- If there is any benefit to playing a tough back-to-back set on the road, it's that the Miami Heat won’t have long to stew over the sting from Friday’s overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings.
Up next on the schedule: Saturday’s stop in Portland to face a Trail Blazers team that is tied with Oklahoma City for the NBA’s best record at 24-5. Arguably the league’s most surprising team, the Blazers will be catching a Heat team that will be limping into Portland.
LeBron James strained his right groin and also aggravated his sprained left ankle in Friday’s 108-103 loss to the Kings, and said he wasn’t sure if he would play in Saturday’s showdown between the two-time defending champions and the upstart Blazers.
The Heat are also dealing with injuries issues that kept Dwyane Wade (knee rest), Ray Allen (knee soreness) and Chris Andersen (back) out of Friday’s game against the Kings. James has yet to miss a game this season despite dealing with a variety of nagging ailments that also include his early-season battles with back spasms.
James is slated for treatment throughout the day Saturday, and will be reevaluated before the game against the Blazers. Regardless of the injury report, Heat center Chris Bosh said Saturday’s game still sets up as a significant test for both teams as they try to carry momentum into the new year.
“They’re pumped up, and they feel that they have a pretty good chance this year,” Bosh said of the Blazers. “I’m sure that they’re using this game -- just like we are -- as a measuring stick for where they are, and just to get up there and compete. We’re playing one of the best teams, record-wise, in the league and it should be a lot of fun.”
Miami has split the first two games of the trip after beating the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas. But the Heat will try to regroup from Friday’s loss that ended a six-game winning streak -- and also stopped them one victory short of tying the Boston Celtics’ record of 20 consecutive regular-season victories against Western Conference opponents.
The Heat squandered a 17-point, first-half lead and saw the Kings close the gap on a flagrant foul Mario Chalmers committed when he shoved DeMarcus Cousins with 1 minute, 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter and Miami ahead by four. Cousins made both free throws and Rudy Gay’s jumper on the ensuing possession tied it at 89 and forced the extra period.
Despite the injuries -- and poor play in the third quarter, when the Kings outscored the Heat 29-18 -- Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said there were no excuses for the loss. Miami lost despite holding a sizeable lead and converting 23 Sacramento turnovers into 23 points. But that’s behind the Heat now.
The next challenge on the schedule looms even larger.
“We’ll have to rest up and get ready,” Spoelstra said. “[Saturday] night at 7:30 [PT], we’ll have to lace them up.”
Wade, who is expected to be back in the lineup against Portland, said the Heat have a chance to respond to increasingly difficult opponents.
"Four games on the West Coast, and they get tougher and tougher as we go along," Wade said, with the trip ending Monday against Denver.
"But this should be a great test for us. Right now, we’re just trying to find ways to win. And that’s what the season is about. You’re going to have some impressive nights and everything is going to go well. But sometimes it’s not. And you just have to find a way. That’s what this team is great about -- just finding a way."