Miami Heat Index: LeBron James

Daily Dime: Farewell to cramps

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
3:54
AM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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SAN ANTONIO -- Late Thursday night, LeBron James took a long seething ride out to the Miami Heat's distant resort in Texas' Hill County.

He was furious that he'd just lost an NBA Finals game because of a stupid case of cramps. Of all the things that could cost his team a game, all the mistakes and decisions and bad luck that have cost him past Finals games, how in the world could he be derailed by cramps triggered by an air conditioning failure? This went through his mind again and again.

How in the world, James raged, could something as common as an HVAC unit on the fritz in sweltering San Antonio break and not be fixed? Everyone heard a report on the ABC broadcast that the arena temperature reached 90 degrees in Game 1. The reality was that one of the gauges fetched midgame showed a reading of more than 100 degrees in the fourth quarter when James was carried off the floor.

You did not want to be around James that night. Or, for that matter, the next day.

When he first played in the Finals in San Antonio back with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007, his team made the mistake of staying in downtown along the Riverwalk. He was kept up half the night after losing Game 1 that June because of Spurs fans' long-running tradition of stalking the streets and honking their horns deep into the night after playoff victories.

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Miami on pest control in Game 6

May, 29, 2014
May 29
8:57
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- The Indiana Pacers have coveted the Miami Heat’s undivided attention all season.

And if they didn’t gain it completely over the first four games of the Eastern Conference finals, they certainly have it now after stubbornly avoiding elimination by any means necessary -- and at all costs -- to force Game 6 on Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

After racking up $40,000 in player fines over the past three days for flopping violations and complaints about officiating, the Pacers have officially become a clear nuisance to the Heat. Add in the reaction to Indiana guard Lance Stephenson’s shenanigans that have included blowing into the ear of LeBron James during the Pacer’s 93-90 victory Wednesday, and it would be an understatement to say Miami is annoyed.

At this stage, the Pacers fall somewhere between pesky mosquitos invading a picnic and a group of petulant children acting out at a toy store in the mall.

“It’s the Eastern Conference finals,” Heat center Chris Bosh said Thursday of the irritant Indiana has become. “I’ve never seen anything like that at a level of basketball like this. I treat it like the kids, for all of us who have kids. If they throw a tantrum on the floor, just leave them alone and they’ll stop. We just have to concentrate on what we’re doing and leave all those other extra-curricular activities alone.”

[+] EnlargeLance Stephenson
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesAfter doing his best to get under Miami's skin, what will Lance Stephenson do for an encore in Game 6?
Bosh missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds on Game 5 that would have ended the series and advanced Miami to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season. Now back home for Game 6, the Heat get another shot to rid themselves of their Pacers problem.

But much like any pest, the Heat know these Pacers won’t go away easily.

And a strong case can be made that Indiana is a more dangerous threat now that, as the No. 1 seed in the East, they escaped what would have been a demoralizing and more embarrassing ouster on their home court. With James coming off the worst playoff game of his 11-year career, an outing reduced to 24 minutes, five fouls and a career-low seven points, Miami enters Game 6 with a Game 7 mentality.

Despite everything that went wrong the previous game, the Heat took some solace in knowing they overcame several challenges to still have a shot to win it at the end of Wednesday’s game. But the three-point loss produced three key concerns Miami worked on Thursday to address.

With James sitting for extended stretches of the first three quarters, the Heat didn’t attack the paint and the rim nearly enough and finished with just eight free-throw attempts. With reserve center Chris Andersen, Miami’s leading rebounder and most active big in the series, sitting out a second straight game with a bruised thigh, the Pacers corralled 16 offensive rebounds to extend possessions.

But the most disturbing stat for the Heat was seeing Indiana convert Miami's 17 turnovers into 21 points.

In other words, Stephenson’s sideshow may have gotten under Miami’s collective skin. But the Pacers were far more productive as a team in knocking the Heat out of rhythm after they won three straight games to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.

That, in part, explains why James seemed to be more annoyed with questions after Thursday’s practice about Stephenson’s actions than he is with the feisty guard’s play during the games.

“I’m not going into [Game 6] worried about Lance or his antics,” James said. “I’m just trying to win a game. For me, I move on and that’s why I’m able to stay to the grind I’m in and be better the next day.”

James said several factors contributed to the Heat’s loss beyond picking up his fifth foul early in the third quarter. Pacers forward Paul George torched Miami for 37 points and six steals in his best game of the series, and Roy Hibbert and David West combined 29 points and 22 rebounds.

“We just didn’t get to the free-throw line,” James said, voicing similar concerns that George expressed after games in Miami earlier in the series. “We were aggressive, we shot the ball well. We just didn’t get to the line. I feel like we played well enough to win. They made some big shots. It’s the two best teams in the Eastern Conference for a reason. They’ll make adjustments. We’ll make adjustments.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra suggested that any tweaks at this point in the series would be minimal, and primarily mental. From a personnel standpoint, Andersen remains questionable for Game 6 and the Heat likely will continue to rely on smaller lineups to stretch the floor with shooters.

Miami was 15-of-31 from 3-point range in Game 5, with six different players knocking down at least one from beyond the arc. The shooting display was highlighted by a breakout performance from Rashard Lewis, the once seldom-used veteran who was 6-for-9 on 3-pointers.

If the Heat were haunted or frustrated by the one 3 that didn’t fall at the end, Spoelstra wanted his team to use Thursday’s light practice and film session to dissolve any hard feelings or lingering issues.

“I wanted that frustration and anger and emotion today,” Spoelstra said. “[Friday], it’s [about] clear heads. We didn’t want to leave it all to [Friday]. It still comes down to the main thing being the main thing. It’s two contrasting styles. Who can get the game on their terms? Can we impose our identity on the game and play it more on our terms?”

The Heat aim to find answers quickly and keep the Pacers from gaining more confidence and traction.

Fewer than four percent of teams in NBA history have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win a series. A Heat loss sends the series back to Indiana on Sunday for Game 7 -- the exact scenario the Pacers have targeted since their Game 7 of the conference finals last year in Miami.

A victory sends the Heat back to the Finals, where they attempt to become just the fourth franchise in NBA history to win three consecutive championships. If the last game was filled with bizarre moments, expect the intensity and desperation to reach even higher levels with so much at stake Friday.

“We’re at home to close out a series -- that’s the best scenario for us,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “So we’re in a good position. We’ve seen it all, they’ve seen it all. Everyone has their own tactics and antics. What we have to do, what we’ve always done, is focus on the task at hand, focus on basketball.”

That means focusing like never before on these attention-seeking, pesky Pacers.

What's 'app' with LeBron?

May, 2, 2014
May 2
12:39
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- Earlier this season, when Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant was on a historic run of high-scoring games, LeBron James didn’t need to search far for updates on his friendly rival’s performances.

“It’s like I’ve got a K.D. app on my phone,” James recently joked of the nightly texts and updates relatives and friends constantly sent his way.

Samsung
Somewhere, an idea was born.

And it culminated Thursday, with James and Samsung partnering to release an interactive mobile application that offers users exclusive insight into aspects of the four-time league MVP’s life on and off the basketball court as the Miami Heat attempt to win a third consecutive NBA title.

The “LeBron” app is loaded with behind-the-scenes videos, statistics, photos and personal messages from James, who led the Heat to a first-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats. James averaged 30 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals against the Bobcats.

“What we're doing is providing this exclusive link to Samsung owners,” Samsung chief marketing officer Todd Pendleton said. “And we're trying to have a good cross section of exclusive content in the app, from LeBron being the superstar athlete that he is to LeBron being at home with his family, and everywhere in between.”

On Thursday, the app featured an inside look with James at the Heat’s first practice as they await the winner of the Brooklyn-Toronto series to determine their second-round opponent next week. James said the release of the app is timely because he’s in the midst of his self-induced social media blackout.

James typically stops communicating with his fans on Twitter, Instagram and other social media during the playoffs. After making an exception to post his feelings about Donald Sterling controversy over the past week, James said he will resume his “zero dark thirty” approach to social media.

So, in essence, the Samsung “LeBron” app will offer the only personal insight into his playoff journey.

“I go dark in the playoffs on social media, but I felt I needed to step up [this week] with what’s been going on,” James told ESPN.com about the launch of the app. “So this is going to give my fans an inside opportunity to see what I do throughout the playoffs, from writings to videos to pictures.”

The “LeBron” app is divided into four sections.

The first area focuses on James’ play and performance in games, which includes in-game highlights, postgame press conference footage and pregame workouts. Another section provides James’ statistics and is synced with the NBA’s official real-time tracking and box scores.

Samsung
A third breakout in the app offers a look at James’ fashion sense and gives fans a peek into his closet and wardrobe selection process for games and functions. James is also giving fans a virtual ride with him inside the vehicles he drives to games and his choice of pregame meals. Another highlight of that section is a link to the "LeBron Radio Channel" and the personal playlists blasting in his headphones.

“We'll be updating that as frequently as he provides new tracks that he’s listening to,” Pendleton said. “It’s a good way to relate to LeBron and understand what he’s doing.”

The final section is called "Journey" and is centered on James’ family life and charitable work, from his Akron, Ohio, hometown to his current life in Miami. The app coincides with the recent release of the Samsung S5, but it can be supported by other Samsung devices.

“He’s the biggest superstar in the country, if not the world,” Pendleton said. “And so, it’s an obvious fit for our marketing to extend that into an application that’s exclusive to our users.”

James, who helped design concepts of the app and has granted it unique access to his personal and professional life, suggested users will feel as close to him as any defender he faces on the court.

“The fans are going to see a lot, and I mean a lot,” James said. “They're going to feel as one with me throughout my journey through the playoffs. I'm glad we're able to get this done. It’s going to be great.”

Heat Reaction: Grading Pacers-Heat

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
10:09
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Wade's absence leaving Heat out of rhythm

April, 5, 2014
Apr 5
1:33
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- About two hours before the start of Friday’s game, Dwyane Wade pushed himself through a rigorous workout on the AmericanAirlines Arena court that offered the only recent glimpse of progress amid his most extensive injury absence of the season.

The Miami Heat certainly could have used a few of those shots on a night when they ultimately ran out of firepower in a 122-121 double-overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. In a game that saw the teams combine for 243 points, 192 shot attempts in 58 minutes and 21 lead changes before the final buzzer, there was another number that resonated when all was settled.

Wade missed his 24th game of the season on Friday, including his fifth in a row as he continues to work his way back from a nagging hamstring strain. Wade’s teammates and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra continue to temper their level of concern about Wade's status, but there has been no indication as to when the team’s second-leading scorer might return to action.

Before he carried the Heat for nearly 48 minutes and led Miami with 34 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four steals and a block in the loss, LeBron James said he’s seen enough from the workouts to believe Wade could be back in the lineup relatively soon. James revealed that in addition to the hamstring injury Wade suffered late in the March 26 loss to Indiana, he also is still dealing with soreness from the strained Achilles he sustained in March 19 loss to the Celtics.

The Heat (52-23) have seven regular-season games remaining, with Sunday’s matchup against the New York Knicks the first of six consecutive against teams that are battling for playoff position.

“He’s been looking better and better every day,” James said of Wade, who has not spoken with the media in recent days. “Obviously, testing out that Achilles is something he didn’t want to push too far, or the hamstring. So he’s been strengthening and conditioning. I think he’s getting back to where he needs to be, and probably within the next week he should be back on the floor.”

Both the hamstring and Achilles injuries are in Wade’s left leg. The majority of the games he’s missed this season have been the result of his continued recovery and rest regimen from an offseason procedure to heal his right kneecap of multiple bone bruises.

Relegated to a navy suit jacket, white shirt and tan pants, all Wade could do Friday night after his workout was stand near the bench and watch a win slip away from the Heat on multiple occasions. The Heat led 115-111 with 3:27 left in the second overtime period, but the Timberwolves used a 10-3 run, sparked by Kevin Love’s relentless play on both ends of the court, to take a three-point lead.

Minnesota (38-37) made enough free throws the rest of the way to hold off the Heat, whose final shot to win it failed when Ray Allen was forced into an errant jumper while defended by Love. James said it took him a few moments after the game to get over his frustrations from not getting the ball for the final shot. James expressed a similar sentiment after Spoelstra called a play for Chris Bosh to get the last shot with two seconds left in the 84-83 loss to the Pacers.

“It’s a little frustrating, being in this position again and not being able to get the last shot,” James said. “It happened in the Indiana game and tonight as well. It’s a little frustrating, but I’m over it.”

The Heat scored 29 points off 18 Minnesota turnovers and won the rebounding battle 52-46. But the Timberwolves eventually outlasted the Heat with a balanced offense that had six players score in double figures, led by Love’s 28 points and 11 rebounds.

The Heat believe these are the kind of games that will get them prepared for playoff intensity, but there’s still some level of concern about the team’s overall rhythm with so many key players rolling in and out of the lineup. Allen had 10 points in his first game back after missing five with a flu-like virus.

The Heat won’t rush Wade back, but the sooner he’s available, the sooner they can develop some sense of continuity for the postseason. Wade’s teammates expect him to need a few games to get back into the flow after missing so much time.

“He’s got to get his rhythm, and that’s going to be the main thing,” point guard Mario Chalmers said. “Hopefully, he’ll hurry up and get out there. I think we can figure it out. But as a player, you always want to have that rhythm going into big moments like the playoffs. With D-Wade, he’s a big rhythm player, but it’s easy for him to find his rhythm. So we’re not too much worried.”

Bosh said there are too many unsettled aspects of the Heat’s game to feel overly confident about their level of play the past few weeks. As competition gets tougher, Miami can’t afford to be short-handed. They also don’t want to risk trying to figure everything out once they’re in the playoffs.

“We need everybody,” Bosh said. “As far as rhythm and timing and the sets we run, team chemistry, we need some games under our belt for that. You always have to be concerned. Every team around the league is concerned. If you don’t have any concern, you’re probably going to get beat in the playoffs, quite frankly. I want us to play our best basketball. We have a lot of improving to do. We still have a long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long way to go. And it’s not going to be easy at all.”

Temp Check: Heat praise HOFer Mourning

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
9:56
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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LeBron's Take

From the time he entered the league as the No. 1 overall pick in 2003, LeBron James set incremental goals: to become the best player on his team, develop into one of the top players in the league and ultimately lead his franchise to multiple NBA championships.

Reaching the Basketball Hall of Fame wasn’t necessarily on his to-do list.

Although James is essentially a lock for a spot in Springfield when his playing days are over, the Miami Heat superstar experienced firsthand Wednesday just how humbling the call to the Hall can be for an accomplished player. Former Heat center Alonzo Mourning, now a team executive, will be among those inducted this year when the class is officially announced at the NCAA Final Four this weekend in Texas.

Mourning is a first-ballot Hall of Famer who is also the first player in Heat history to earn the honor.

To collectively congratulate Mourning, James and the Heat welcomed one of the most intimidating defenders in league history into the team huddle to bring Thursday’s practice to a close.

“I think it’s an amazing feat for such an individual,” James said of Mourning, a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year who won a title with Miami at the end of his career in 2006. “With his pro career being shut down for a little bit because of the injury he had with his kidney, to be able to come back from that and win a championship with this franchise, it means a lot.”

Mourning played a key role in recruiting James to Miami four years ago. In one of his first public duties as vice president for player programs, Mourning was part of the Heat’s front-office contingent that went to Cleveland to make a formal recruiting pitch to James during the 2010 free-agency period. When it was Mourning’s turn to speak, he talked to James about the Heat’s loyalty and how the team stuck with him through his kidney transplant and return to the court after his recovery.

Heat forward Chris Bosh said Mourning didn't do much talking Thursday when he was surrounded by the team. Instead, it was Miami’s current players who showed their gratitude for what he’s done on and off the court, which now includes charitable and political fundraising efforts.

“He’s also hosting luncheons and stuff with the president and playing golf with every important person in Miami, and now he’s a Hall of Famer,” Bosh said. “I just think it’s a testament to the hard work he’s put into the game for so long, and the work he continues to put into the community. I think he can set a great example for a lot of basketball players out there to see what you can do after basketball.”

Progress Report

The Heat have won four straight games since veteran forward Udonis Haslem moved into the starting lineup and helped boost the team’s slumping defense.

The opportunity had been a long time coming for Haslem, who had fallen out of the primary rotation and went without playing at all in 13 of 14 games at one stretch midway through the season. Haslem admitted Thursday that the diminished role and constant inactivity was frustrating, but he never lost faith that he would get another chance to contribute in a key role at some point down the stretch.

Haslem’s latest opportunity came after center Greg Oden struggled early in a March 26 loss at Indiana and was replaced as the starter entering the second half of that game. Since then, Haslem has shot 60.8 percent from the field over the past four games, averaging 7.3 points and 4.0 rebounds.

Haslem’s best work has come on the defensive end, where he has been assigned to Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe and Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas in recent games.

“It’s just [been] hard,” Haslem said of waiting for a shot to play. “You root guys on, tell guys what you see when they’re out on the floor, you continue to stay encouraged. But it’s just humbling experiences and unfamiliar territory for me. It’s the first time I’ve been through it, so I just had to figure it out.”

After being a starter on the Heat’s 2006 championship team, then playing a key rotation role on Miami’s title runs each of the past two seasons, Haslem remained confident he had something to contribute.

“We’ve got a lot of good players,” Haslem said. “So I just sat back and watched and looked for ways I could be effective if I did get in the game. When my opportunity came, I knew what to do.”

Injury Report

For the Heat, Dwyane Wade (hamstring) participated in most of Thursday’s practice but remains questionable for Friday’s game. Greg Oden (back) did conditioning work but did not go through practice. Ray Allen (flu) practiced and is expected to return from a week-long absence. The Timberwolves were without center Nikola Pekovic (ankle) for Wednesday’s home win against Memphis.

Did You Know?

Haslem and Allen confirmed Thursday they made a wager with one another over Saturday’s NCAA Final Four matchup between Florida and Connecticut but wouldn’t divulge what they bet. Haslem set a school scoring record with 27 points in Florida’s loss to Michigan State in the 2001 NCAA title game. Allen was UConn’s third-leading career scorer when he left as a junior to enter the 1996 NBA draft.

Quote Of The Day

“I think he just goes out and plays hard. It’s tough to enforce [in basketball]. In hockey, you can go punch somebody and be an enforcer. In basketball, it’s a little different. If you think about punching, it’s a flagrant 1 [penalty[.” -- Chris Bosh, on Haslem’s recent impact on the team.
LeBron James and Chris Bosh discuss grabbing the East's No. 1 seed after their win against the Raptors and the Pacers' loss against the Spurs.

New East leaders looking to stay in front

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
1:31
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- Chris Bosh was leaving the locker room at halftime of Monday’s game when he stopped and leaned back to catch a glimpse of a hallway television monitor on his way to the court.

The Miami Heat star forward passed by just in time to see how badly the Indiana Pacers were struggling at home some 1,200 miles away against the San Antonio Spurs. Whatever Bosh had just heard from coach Erik Spoelstra during his halftime talk with the team had faded toward the back of his mind.

At stake now was a different reality for Bosh and the Heat.

"I saw that they were down [by] like 14," Bosh said of his halftime peek at the Pacers. "It was more incentive for us to take care of business tonight."

Despite all of their recent issues -- which included starting a 19th different lineup because Dwyane Wade was forced to miss his 22nd game of the season Monday -- there was still an opportunity to seize for the Heat.

Miami then tightened the defensive reins and held the Toronto Raptors to just 32 points on 40.6 percent shooting in the second half to close out a 93-83 victory. The win for the Heat (51-22), coupled with the Spurs' blowout of the Pacers (52-23), moved Miami by mere percentage points into sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time this season.

Less than a week ago, a dejected Bosh sat in his locker after the Heat’s 84-83 loss in Indiana essentially dropped the Heat three games behind the Pacers with a dozen to play. Bosh, pointing toward the fourth and final regular-season matchup between the teams on April 11 in Miami, was adamant that night the race for the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs was not over.

"We’ve got a date with them later on," Bosh said last Wednesday. "And we still have a schedule to play, and they do as well."

Since then, the Pacers have lost three in a row.

The Heat have won three straight.

So basically, Miami spotted the Pacers a win in Indianapolis last week, essentially a three-game lead in the standings and a handful of nights with Wade and Ray Allen unavailable due to an injury and illness, respectively, and still ended up snatching away the top spot in the East.

The Heat now control their destiny over the final two weeks of the regular season, and it’s not a team that forgot just how much that means as they pursue a third consecutive championship. The Heat beat Indiana in Game 7 of the conference finals last season in Miami, then rallied from a 3-2 deficit against the Spurs by winning the final two games at home to capture the title.
[+] EnlargeHeat
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsFirst, Chris Bosh and LeBron James beat the Raptors. Then, they saw their team move into first in the East.

After hearing from afar the Pacers frequently talk about how vital it was for them to claim -- and maintain -- the No. 1 spot in the East this season, Bosh spoke from experience and wisdom Monday.

"When the Pacers were talking, 'Hey, No. 1 seed, home court,' I was like, 'It’s August. Let’s calm down a little bit,'" Bosh said of Indiana’s publicly stated goal from the outset of the season. "We know how it is. It’s a marathon. That’s one of the conversations you have to have amongst yourselves. And it’s a reason to go out there and play hard every day. But, you know, saying to everybody, shouting it from the mountaintop, that’s not our style."

Not anymore, at least.

The Heat like to believe they’ve come a long way since the fireworks and pyrotechnics that provided the backdrop from that highly publicized -- and criticized -- pep rally to commemorate the official free-agency signings of Bosh, Wade and LeBron James in the summer of 2010.

And after scoring a game-high 32 points against the Raptors on Monday, James also showed a mature perspective to avoid making too much of one night of prosperity in the regular-season standings. The Heat aren’t too far removed from their worst stretch in the season, when they lost seven of 11 games at one stage and finished 10-8 in March.

James, a four-time league MVP, two-time Finals MVP and two-time champion, was asked how it felt for the Heat to finally overcome some of their recent struggles to move into first place in the conference.

"It doesn’t feel like anything," James said. "The standings are what they are. We want to play the best we can. The fact that we are in first place is pretty cool, but we have so much work to do. We have guys that need to get healthy, so we haven’t even talked about it. And we probably won’t talk about it."

Meanwhile, the statements were a bit different coming out of Indiana.

The Pacers have lost five of their past six, went 8-9 in March and rank as the league’s lowest-scoring team for the month. Players have addressed friction in the locker room and on the court, with center Roy Hibbert telling reporters after Monday’s 103-77 loss that the Pacers haven’t been worthy of the No. 1 seed.

"Good for [Miami]," Hibbert said of being overtaken in the standings. "We don’t deserve it."

Hibbert then raised concerns about some of the team’s deeper issues.

"We’ve been in a downward spiral and we’ve been splintering a little bit," he said. "We’ve had plenty of players-only meetings and plenty of sitdowns as a team with coaches, and we’ve had some upper management in here, so I don’t know. Maybe we should all go to group therapy or something."

While the Pacers might sound like a team falling apart, the Heat are still trying to come together and establish some semblance of continuity heading into the playoffs. James said before Monday’s game that he’s grown tired of worrying about the constantly changing lineups and rash of injuries that have kept as many as four primary rotation players out of action in recent games.

That’s one of the reasons the Heat didn’t feel as if they accomplished much Monday. They remain very much a work in progress despite being 73 contests into an 82-game season.

"Our work now is just beginning," Bosh said. "We know we can still lose [the No. 1 seed]. That reality is there. What’s most important overall is making sure we take care of the next game. We do that, we’re in the driver’s seat."

That position still isn’t quite a comfortable fit just yet.

A five-game homestand that continues with visits from the Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks this week should give Miami a chance to build rhythm and momentum, but next week features a brutal stretch of four games in five nights against playoff hopefuls Brooklyn Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Indiana and Atlanta Hawks.

"What I do like is the process of it," Spoelstra said. "We were all extremely frustrated -- you could read it on our faces, body language after the Indiana game. What can you do? You’ve got to get together, address it, try to improve on it. It was painful, but we had to put it behind us and take care of business."

Despite swapping positions Monday, both the Heat and Pacers know the top spot in the East will likely be decided by one more business meeting next week in Miami.

Trip to Detroit exactly what Heat needed

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
11:21
PM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The Miami Heat really needed a win Friday night, and the Detroit Pistons really needed a loss and, in a nice harmony, they both got one.

The Heat were 7-8 in March heading into a road weekend against the Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks and are dealing with a rash of injuries that had them dusting off the end of the bench just to field a starting lineup. They were missing three starters and their top sub as Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, Greg Oden and Ray Allen were all out.

But they are not yet in the territory in which they can blow off games. They didn't on Friday, playing with great energy to rip the Pistons 110-78. LeBron James made sure to set the tone for it, racking up seven assists in the first few minutes of the game on his way to his first triple-double of the season in just three quarters of work.

Despite a damaging loss to the Indiana Pacers earlier in the week, the Heat are right back in the game for the top seed in the Eastern Conference after the Pacers went down in Washington by failing to score 80 points for the third time in four games.

The Heat are back to just a game behind the Pacers in the loss column -- though they’re pretty much assured to lose the tiebreaker based on their record against conference opponents -- and Indiana hosts the red-hot San Antonio Spurs on Monday.

"We can’t worry about what Indiana is doing. We’ve got to focus on ourselves," James said. "If we take care of business, we’ll see what happens."

The Pistons were not trying to lose, at least theoretically, but it really was the best outcome for them. The only intrigue left in the regular season is whether Detroit can finish with at least the eighth-worst record in the league. If so, they will not have to send their first-round draft pick to the Charlotte Bobcats as part of a deal to rid themselves of Ben Gordon two years ago.

If they end up with the ninth pick or lower, the pick conveys and they’re out of the first round in what is generally considered a deep draft. They slipped firmly into eighth earlier in the week when the Cleveland Cavaliers passed them by hitting a buzzer-beater on their floor.

On a night when they got a sellout crowd because they were honoring the Bad Boy teams’ back-to-back championships 25 years ago, the Pistons showed little to no fight as the Heat blitzed them. It was a summary of the season after an offseason investment in the roster built up a false hope for this underachieving Pistons team.

Coming off a five-game run during which they failed to crack 100 points, the Heat piled up 18 assists in the first half before the Pistons forced a single turnover and rolled to 92 points in just first three quarters.

Pistons owner Tom Gores stayed in his courtside seat until the bitter end, though at some point his thoughts had to be turning toward his alma mater, Michigan State, and its concurrent Sweet 16 game. Gores has already fired his head coach and hinted he’ll make changes at the end of the season to his front office.

Gores warmly greeted team president Joe Dumars as he was introduced alongside Isiah Thomas as part of a proud halftime ceremony in which the two-time champions were honored, though many expect Dumars to either lose his job or lose his decision-making powers within a month or so.

Thomas took the microphone to speak for the group and did so eloquently. Thomas is brilliant at two things, for sure: playing point guard and turning on the charm. As a basketball executive -- as his time with the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks showed -- he’s not as successful.

He spent long minutes embracing his former teammates as well as Heat players and coaches, including James. Thomas gave Heat forward Shane Battier a special shout out, calling the former Pistons ball boy an honorary Bad Boy.

It was a special moment for Battier, who played what he believes will be his final game in his hometown on Friday. He plans to retire at the end of the season, and, as a tribute, the Heat held their morning walk-through at Country Day School, at which Battier starred as a teenager.

"That was an all-time moment, and this was an all-time day," Battier said. "I was giving out a lot of his fist bumps, winks and kisses [to the crowd]. If I had some roses, I would’ve thrown them."

Thomas has officially been out of the NBA since 2008, though he not-so-secretly was an adviser to Knicks owner Jim Dolan for years. With Phil Jackson taking over in New York and Thomas' influence there essentially at an end, sources say that Thomas has been campaigning to find a role with the Pistons or Cavaliers, who fired their general manager in February.

Whether those feelings will be returned is yet to be seen, as both Gores and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, both Detroit natives, have a relationship with Thomas, but the Pistons and the Cavs really have their eye on another soon-to-be former Piston.

Chauncey Billups, who is likely headed toward his own retirement after knee surgery ended his season, is the apple of both the Cavs' and Pistons' eye for a role in their respective franchise's leadership. While there might be some interest in getting Billups to follow in contemporary Jason Kidd’s footsteps and go right from player to coach, Billups has been hinting openly for years he’d rather graduate to the front office at the end of his career.

All that is for later. For now, the Pistons might need to worry about avoiding embarrassment Saturday in Philadelphia, where the 76ers are poised to set the NBA record with their 27th consecutive loss as the Pistons come to town. If they play with the same effort they did in front of their largest home crowd of the season and the most decorated players in their franchise history, that record might not get set.

Meanwhile, the combination of the Heat win and Pacers loss had Miami feeling good about itself after what’s been a rough month.

"You have to move on in this league," James said. "As much as we wanted that game [in Indiana], you have to move on from it and learn from it, and we did that."

Heat's woes grow after 7th loss in 11 games

March, 23, 2014
Mar 23
1:39
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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NEW ORLEANS -- The fact that LeBron James took his normal window seat in the left corner, alone in his own thoughts, at the very back of the team bus late Saturday night wasn't the least bit surprising.

It was when and how he did it that told the story of another frustrating night for the Miami Heat.

Even on a freshly sprained right ankle to go with his lingering sore back, James was the first player to leave the Heat’s postgame locker room, head through security checkout and onto the transport waiting in the docks of the Smoothie King Center.

His head buried beneath the hood of his sweatshirt, James sat for what would be about a 30-minute wait as the last members of the team dragged themselves out of the arena after the Heat stumbled through a 105-95 loss to the lottery-bound New Orleans Pelicans.

The scene was symbolic.

James is hurt, tired and frustrated as he waits on this team to get its act back together. And after seeing the two-time defending champion Heat lose for the seventh time in their past 11 games at a time when they’re supposed to be gearing up for another postseason run, enough was enough.

“It’s too many excuses; everything is an excuse,” James bristled as he rushed through his postgame session with reporters before fleeing the locker-room scene as other Miami players were still showering. “We do something wrong, it’s an excuse. We don’t get a stop, it’s an excuse. We turn the ball over, it’s an excuse. What we’re doing right now ain’t good enough.”

[+] EnlargeLeBron James
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsLeBron James hurt his ankle and then saw his team lose 105-95 to the lottery-bound Pelicans.
For the second time this week, and 12th time this season, the Heat (47-21) found themselves staggering back to their feet after being decked by a team with a losing record. After scoring 43 points and tweaking his back during Monday’s four-point win in Cleveland, James figured he could take a rare night off and rest for just the third time this season.

The Heat then lost the next night for the second time this season to Boston, another lottery-bound team in the midst of a rebuilding process. After that setback, Dwyane Wade said the “jury’s still out” on this Miami team; Chris Bosh told reporters “it’s not troubling, it’s upsetting” how the Heat were playing -- and that they were running out of time to get things turned around before the playoffs.

Miami retreated home and caught a huge break against Memphis when center Marc Gasol left the game in the second half with an ankle injury. The Heat ended up escaping with a 91-86 victory before catching a plane to New Orleans for their fourth game in five nights.

Yes, that represents a particularly tough stretch for any team trying to conserve what it can for the postseason. And that’s especially the case for the Heat, who have played the equivalent of four NBA seasons over a three-year span that has included three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.

But as James repeated over and over in short-burst answers Saturday ...

“That’s an excuse, too."

He was then asked about the Heat’s constantly changing lineups; Saturday's was Miami's 18th different starting group this season as Wade and Greg Oden sat out to rest their knees.

“We’ve always had lineup changes,” James said of the Heat, which went through 15 different sets of starters during last season’s 66-win campaign. “Guys who are on the floor need to produce. It’s that simple. It’s very frustrating. We’re all frustrated. We just got to all get on the same page. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’ve got to figure it out.”

The Heat aren’t accustomed to these desperate and surly searches for answers. The locker room Saturday had a unique feel to it, something along the lines of frustration this team hadn’t experienced since early in the first season of the James, Wade and Bosh experience, in 2010-11.

New Orleans on Saturday night felt a lot like Dallas that night in November 2010 -- Bumpgate night -- when James and coach Erik Spoelstra forcefully ran into one another during a heated timeout on the way to a loss to the Mavericks dropped the Heat to 9-8. That meltdown led to an extended, closed-door session among players. Even the coaching staff was locked out of the postgame locker room that night.

But there’s one key difference this time around: communication.

It flowed freely and intensely that night in Dallas.

According to Bosh, that’s hardly been the case during this current tumultuous stretch.

“I haven’t heard nothing, just nothing,” said Bosh, who took his routinely constructive criticism to a new depth Saturday. “We just show up and do whatever. [After] a loss, nobody’s upset. [After] a win, nobody’s happy. There’s no passion. There’s nothing. If you’re frustrated, say you’re frustrated. Give reasons for that. We just need some dialogue around here. We’ve been keeping things in for a whole season now. And we’re running out of time. We need to let it out and have some urgency.”

Bosh responded to his own challenge.

“We’re going to have to draw the line in the sand somewhere,” he said. “We don’t talk about it. We’re not expressing ourselves in the locker room or on the court. So I figure I’ll be the first one to say it. We suck. And if we don’t play better, we’ll be watching the championship at home.”

If the Heat were as defensive and emotionally charged on the court Saturday as they were in the locker room, the result might have been different. Instead, second-year star Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans took a bunch of random Pelicans -- players many casual fans likely don’t know or might have forgotten were in the league -- and hammered Miami. And New Orleans (29-40) did it with three of their best teammates -- Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson -- sidelined by injuries.

Davis finished with 30 points and 11 rebounds -- both game highs -- plus three steals and two franchise records. He became the first New Orleans player to score at least 28 points in eight consecutive games, and also the first to post at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in three straight contests.

Some of Bosh’s words might ring hollow because Davis was largely the responsibility of the Heat’s front-line players. But Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen had no answers for his youth, athleticism and skill level. And Davis’ versatility would have created a matchup nightmare for the unavailable Oden.

About 90 minutes before the game, Spoelstra said Davis would soon be a league MVP candidate.

“I probably shouldn’t have said that,” Spoelstra quipped after watching Davis underline the endorsement with his performance. “He’s a very good, young player that can do virtually everything on the basketball court. His age belies his game.”

When Davis wasn’t outworking the Heat’s big men, Evans was driving past Miami’s guards and either scoring in the lane or setting up teammates for easy baskets. Tack on another team that shot at least 50 percent from the field against Miami’s once-vaunted defense.

Seven of Miami’s past 11 opponents have shot between 49 and 52 percent from the field. And add another opponent that shot well above its season average from the 3-point line -- the Pelicans shot 51.2 percent from the field overall, and 41.2 from beyond the arc.

James was long gone from the locker room by the time those numbers were presented. Bosh, at least, wasn’t done with his assessment.

“No offense to the Pelicans, but we’ve been losing to sub-.500 teams for a month now,” Bosh said. “Defensively, we can’t stop a nosebleed. This team got everything they wanted. The only person that’s going to help us out of this is the person staring back in the mirror. Until we recognize that ... we’ll keep getting the same result. We need that competitive drive back. We don’t have it.”

Somewhere between Bosh’s extensive, brutally honest evaluation and the triteness from James that spoke volumes stands a stinging, sobering reality for the Heat.

With 14 games remaining, they’re a team headed toward the playoffs playing their worst basketball of the season. The communication and accountability have slipped. The losses have piled up. The excuses, as James points out, are many.

The productive reactions are few.

The Heat headed home for Monday’s game against Portland, and a marquee showdown awaits Wednesday in Indiana against the Pacers, who hold a three-game lead over Miami for the No. 1 seed in the East.

James didn’t want to address the extent of the ankle injury he suffered in the game when he inadvertently stepped on Andersen's foot while driving to the basket. James crumpled to the court near the baseline and had to be helped back to the Heat bench.

He refused to come out of the game and closed with 25 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

“Put another injury on my list ... it is what it is,” James said dismissively. “I’m not using it as an excuse. I don’t have time to take off. We don’t have time to take off.”

James then took off in a different way.

Straight toward the bus.

Before 61, James' top regular-season games

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
1:01
AM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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Over the past 11 years, LeBron James has played 958 regular-season and playoff games and never had a night like he did on Monday against the Charlotte Bobcats.

There are a lot of numbers ahead in this story that will put some perspective on James’ career-best 61-point night but none will articulate it better than that one. In those nearly 1,000 games, James has won four most valuable player awards, gone to four NBA Finals and won two championships, but he has probably never been hotter than he was in the Miami Heat’s 124-107 win.

Until Monday, the truly greatest scoring effort of James’ life may have actually happened in high school when he scored 52 points for St. Vincent-St. Mary in just 29 minutes in a game in which he was matched up against future NBA player Trevor Ariza of Weschester (Calif.) High School at a game in Trenton, N.J., in 2003. He had 35 points in the first half that night.

James put up 37 points in the second half against the Bobcats in what will go down as one of the finest shooting performances of his career. His 10th career 50-point game, James was so efficient by hitting 22 of 33 shots he did it in 41 minutes, the second-fewest minutes he has played in those 50-point games.

Ultimately, James greatest performances come with the attachment of playoff pressure. His 45-point exposition in an elimination game in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals in Boston may be at the top. Right along with that is his masterpiece Game 7, complete with his championship-icing jumper in the final minute. There’s also his 48-point game in the 2007 conference finals in which he scored his team’s last 25 points.

When it comes to raw achievement, however, Monday’s effort ranks at the top of the finest regular-season games of his career.

Here’s at look at his five greatest regular-season games:

5. March 20, 2005: On a Sunday afternoon in Toronto, James had what would stand as his best scoring game for nearly nine years as he put up 56 points with 10 rebounds and five assists. Less than three months after his 20th birthday, he became the youngest player ever to score 50 points in the NBA, breaking a mark that had been held by Rick Barry since 1965. Brandon Jennings broke that mark five years later, beating out James by about a month.

James made six 3-pointers but did a lot of damage at the foul line, going 14-of-15. He scored more than half of his team’s points and the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Raptors, 104-98. The next day, Cavs coach Paul Silas was fired.

4. March 5, 2008: As he exited the game for the final time after he became just the third player since the NBA-ABA merger to have a 50-point, 10-assist game the crowd gave James a standing ovation and chanted “M-V-P.” What made that special was the game took place at Madison Square Garden. A young fan even ran past security and up to James while he was in his team’s huddle in the fourth quarter.

He had 30 of his 50 points in the second half and finished with 11 assists and eight rebounds. He made four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help the Cavs finish off a 119-105 win.

3. Feb. 20, 2009: There was a three-minute stretch in this game in Milwaukee that may go down as the hottest James as ever been. He started it off by nailing a 33-foot shot at the buzzer of the first half. Then he scored 16 points in the first 2:50 of the second half and at one point made 3-pointers on four of five possessions.

His Cavs teammates bounced on the bench as each time down he seemed to go farther and farther back behind the 3-point line. He finished the quarter with five 3-pointers and scored 24 of his 55 points as he carried the team to a 111-103 victory over the Bucks. He also had nine assists and five rebounds that night, though he missed seven free throws, which cost him a chance at setting his career high.

2. Feb. 4, 2009: In one of the greatest games ever by an opponent at Madison Square Garden, James became the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 to score 50 points in a triple-double as he put up 52 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists as the Cavs beat the Knicks, 107-102. It happened the same week Kobe Bryant had set a record by putting up 61 points at the Garden.

Or so it appeared. The next day, the NBA reversed a scoring decision and took away a rebound that was awarded to James in the final minute, so history will not view it as a triple-double. He had 20 points in the first quarter and made 16 of 19 free throws in the game.

1. March 3, 2014: Already holding the record for most points scored in a game for the Cavs, James became the single-game record holder for the Heat with his first 60-point game. He tied a career high with eight 3-pointers as he broke Glen Rice’s team record of 56 points.

He had the best-scoring quarter of his career, putting up 25 points in the third. He did it on only 33 shots but took nine free throws, his fewest attempts in the 10 50-point games of his career.

In a career as decorated as James’ has been over the past decade-plus, it takes something beyond remarkable to rise above all his previous achievements. Monday was a masterpiece, one that may linger at the top for the rest of his career.

Heat Reaction: Grading Bobcats-Heat

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
11:21
PM ET
Gutierrez By Israel Gutierrez
ESPN.com
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KD well past tired of talking about LeBron

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
7:55
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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NEW ORLEANS -- As the NBA’s leading scorer, Kevin Durant doesn’t hesitate to take any shot on the court. But off it, he wouldn’t mind taking a few less questions about rival LeBron James.

Asked during Friday’s All-Star media day session to gauge on a scale of one to 10 how tired he is of having to face comparisons to James, the Oklahoma City star ventured well off the charts.

“Um, about a 25,” Durant fired back. “It’s every day, I mean. You should really focus on how good LeBron James is. I think people should appreciate that more than always comparing guys. In our world, you want to compare everything. You judge everything. That’s just how we are.”

Durant was asked at least 10 questions about either LeBron or the Miami Heat during his 30-minute session with reporters in advance of Sunday’s All-Star Game. At one point before responding to a question, Durant asked the inquiring reporter if he was from Miami.

Durant has emerged as the clear frontrunner to potentially unseat James as the league’s Most Valuable Player this season. Durant has led the Thunder to the league’s best record entering the break at 43-12, and is in the midst of the most prolific all-around season of his career.

Averaging career highs in points (31.5) assists (5.5), steals (1.5), shooting percentage (51) and both field goals attempted and made, Durant has been on one of the most remarkable runs in recent years. Seemingly every step of the way, he’s either been directly asked about James or sees himself compared to the four-time league MVP and two-time NBA champion.

Even James has spent much of the season publicly marveling at Durant’s exploits on the court, which included leading the Thunder past the Heat in Miami during the first of their two regular-season showdowns. Durant is equally complimentary of James’ exploits this season. While Durant has played his best stretch in the past six weeks since Russell Westbrook has been sidelined with a knee injury, James has also delivered some of his biggest performances in games Dwyane Wade has missed.

James has scored at least 30 points in 11 games since Jan. 1 and is averaging 26.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists this season while shooting a career-high 57.1 percent from the field. Although both James and Durant traded highlight performances while leading their respective teams to consecutive wins on the road leading into the break, Durant insists it’s OK to appreciate them individually.

“Let’s just sit back and judge basketball as we play it; not just LeBron and myself, but other guys in the league, too,” Durant said. “Just enjoy it, because it’s here today and gone tomorrow. A lot of people take it for granted.”

Durant likely won’t be able to avoid the LeBron subject anytime soon. He has finished second in MVP voting to James on three occasions and also lost to James and the Heat in five games in the 2012 Finals. James and Durant are likely to be among the players in the mix for MVP of Sunday’s All-Star game. And when regular-season play resumes next week, one of the first marquee matchups on the schedule is Thursday’s nationally broadcasted meeting between the Heat and Thunder in Oklahoma City.

James said Friday he has no problems addressing questions about Durant, his workout partner in the offseason. It was mentioned to James that Durant is having his best season coming off a summer during which the two weren’t able to spend time together working on their respective games.

“It just happened that way -- what a coincidence,” James said. “When we both worked out a few times, we came into the season better prepared, better trained, better mentally. I don’t mind [Durant questions] at all. I’m a truthful guy. I don’t sugarcoat nothing.”

LeBron James fires machine guns at range

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
8:49
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- What kind of gift do you get for a four-time league MVP and two-time NBA champion who happens to be one of the wealthiest athletes in the world?

Apparently, an opportunity to act out video-game fantasies by shooting live, military-style firearms.

That’s what Miami Heat star LeBron James experienced in the wake of his 29th birthday when wife Savannah James secured the couple a reservation at a high-end Miami shooting range after the team returned from its recent West Coast road trip.

Mike Pryor, general manager of Lock & Load Miami Machine Gun Experience & Range, confirmed to ESPN.com on Monday that James and his wife visited the location last Tuesday. Video of James firing multiple rounds at a target in the indoor facility surfaced on the Internet on Monday and went viral.

“They made a reservation, they showed up and they had a good time just like anyone else,” Pryor said Monday. “We’re all Heat fans here, so it was fun to see somebody like him come in. He’s a decent guy. He was super-gracious to everybody here, from our employees to some of the clientele that was here.”

The Heat did not practice Monday after Sunday’s home win against the Toronto Raptors, and James was unavailable for comment. James is typically active on his social media accounts, frequently posting photos and messages to millions of his followers about his ventures on and off the court. But James was quiet about his New Year’s Eve trip to the gun range located about 10 blocks from the Heat’s arena.

James is known to be an avid video-game player and routinely posts messages on his accounts about his preference for sports and military-style video games. Pryor said he was not sure if the video footage of James shooting in the gallery was recorded and posted by someone who was with the Heat star or by someone else at the range that day.

But James is shown wearing a light-colored baseball cap and gray shirt as he holds and fires several rounds into a distant target. Pryor confirmed the guns both James and his wife tested were an H&K MP5 and an M249, which are both used in military combat. The couple received brief training from the range’s staff that includes former military personnel and retired police officers, Pryor said.

The Jameses left without signing up for a membership.

“He had a chance to work with some of our specialists,” Pryor said. “We’ll talk with them about different firearm options and go over safety measures. He was into it and had a great time. It was good for him and it was good fun for us. We also have a great deal of respect for him and his privacy. He didn’t come here for a media event. They both came here to have a good time.”

Pryor said the range opened in August and has occasionally hosted professional athletes and celebrities but none as visible as the 6-foot-8 James, who was recognized immediately when he entered the facility. That level of visibility isn’t always the case with James, who was carded last weekend at the bar of the team’s downtown Orlando hotel the night before the Heat played the Magic.

Pryor wouldn’t be surprised to see James return.

“It’s possible, but we just don’t make a spectacle of it,” Pryor said. “We’re almost like a restaurant. We want them to experience what they came to experience without having to deal with a lot of hassle. We’re in Miami, right in the entertainment district. So we kind of expect things like this.”

LeBron, Heat limping into Blazers tilt

December, 28, 2013
12/28/13
3:52
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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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."

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