Originally Published: November 19, 2013

1. Star Power Not The Lone Source For Heat

By Michael Wallace | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- LeBron James insists there is no additional burden carrying this team under the circumstances.

Yet it's hard to fathom James or the Miami Heat sustaining this current level of production when they don't really know who's going to be available on a nightly basis.

A combination of injuries, illnesses, childbirth and a suspension forced the Heat to start their sixth different lineup in a season that's only 11 games old for Miami. Despite all of the moving parts, the two constants so far have been the ultra-efficient play of James and a productive bench that fills the ever-changing gaps in the rotation.

Chalmers-James
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsMario Chalmers and LeBron James celebrated taking charge against the Hawks.

On Tuesday night, that meant overcoming the unexpected absence of Dwyane Wade, who said he arrived at AmericanAirlines Arena intending to play but was instead held out to continue to rest his balky knees after meeting with coach Erik Spoelstra and the team's medical staff.

"We don't ever want it to seem usual," James said of the Heat, who piecemealed their way to a 104-88 victory against the Atlanta Hawks. "We want guys in the lineup. But health is No. 1 for our team, for sure. That comes before anything. When guys go down, we have enough to step in and play ... more than they've done in the past."

At some point, it's going to be vital for Miami's primary rotation players to reestablish the level of cohesion and chemistry they had on the way to back-to-back title runs the past two seasons. But for now, the all-hands-on-deck plan seems to work just fine for the Heat. All they needed Tuesday was plenty of cheerleading from Wade, a season-low 13 points from James and a boost from everyone else to win their fourth straight and seventh of their past eight.

"We're finding a way to have the same kind of continuity on offense and defense, no matter who we're putting out there," said Chris Bosh, who had a team-high 19 points on a night when Miami got points from 12 of the 13 players who saw action against Atlanta. "But it's still early in the season and there are things we still have to learn as we go along. But I think chemistry is always going to be good with this team. We're using this as a positive because we can figure out what works and what doesn't with groups."

Spoelstra referred to it as a luxury to be able to call on Michael Beasley and Rashard Lewis at a time when Ray Allen and Udonis Haslem needed a week off to recover from the flu and back spasms, respectively, before returning to the lineup against the Hawks. The Heat have also benefited from the luxury of catching opponents equally short-handed. That was the case Saturday, when the Bobcats were without Al Jefferson. The Hawks on Tuesday were missing Paul Millsap and Lou Williams.

Beneath the surface of their recent success, there's no denying the Heat are balancing two far different realities. James is ascending amid one of the most productive stretches of his career. Meanwhile, Wade is ailing to the point where he required a night off even after two days' rest.

Both the Heat and Wade have gone out of their way to avoid referring to his breakdown in Charlotte on Saturday as a setback. He left that game in the third quarter after reluctantly agreeing to play on consecutive nights coming off Friday's 36-minute performance in a win over Dallas.

Wade has been dealing with chronic soreness in his knees the past few days and wasn't certain he'd be available for Wednesday's game in Orlando, although he was scheduled to make the trip with the team. If Wade sits, he will have had a full week between games, with the Magic visiting Miami on Saturday to complete the home-and-home set.

Speaking to reporters before Tuesday's game, Wade suggested his sore left knee still needs more time to recover between games. He's dealing with the aftereffects of the shock-wave therapy treatment he received over the summer after both knees were problematic in last season's playoffs.

"It's still early. I'm going to try to do what's best for my body," Wade said Tuesday. "I'm not a percentage guy, but I'm around 70 [percent], some days 75, just trying to get consistent with it as much as possible. As time goes on, hopefully the treatment I got this summer will take over a little more and some of the discomfort I have will go away and I can be a little more consistent. It's a slow climb."

Meanwhile, James' game has been rising at a steady rate. Entering Tuesday, he had shot 70.2 percent and averaged 34 points in the Heat's previous games. But that kind of production wasn't necessary against the Hawks, yet the Heat still shot at least 50 percent from the field for the seventh time at home this season. They also forced 24 turnovers and scored 22 points off the Hawks' miscues.

"The depth is important," Spoelstra said of dealing with potential concerns about the constant lineup shuffling. "As long as it's the right fit out there and guys are committed to getting off to a good start -- our guys are comfortable out there. They're gaining confidence. We need it."

The Heat will also eventually need Wade to get healthy. That might take another month or two before he gets to the stage when he feels good enough to be a consistent threat.

"One thing you can't recreate is how you feel the next day," Wade said. "Your body has to get used to that pounding."

At the same time, James is growing used to having his legs back under him and feeling close to normal again.

"I've been fortunate enough to be in the lineup a lot," James said of his durability despite playing through recent back pain. "And I don't take that for granted. I'm able to do some things on the floor I couldn't do at the start of the season."

Plenty of things.

Including things such as sitting the fourth quarter and watching fill-ins find their way to victory after another lineup tweak.

Dimes past: November 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 17 | 18

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