IN THE STUDIO where the Miami Heat is searching for a blend of rhythm, flow and pace, the music remains a little choppy. The Heat overcame a flurry of fourth-quarter errors to defeat the 76ers, 97-87, last night in the Wells Fargo Center. If you're looking for a full-blown concern, come back in a couple of months.
Given time, the really sweet sounds will be there. They will come primarily from LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but the trio played last night seemingly bent on involving five at a time. The leading scorer will change from night to night, varying with the opponents and the circumstances. Anyone expecting to see it all come together in Game 2 of the season wasn't paying attention.
Last night's leader was Wade, delivering 18 of his game-high 30 points in the second half. Right behind him came James Jones, profiting mightily from the crisp movement of the ball to add 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting, 6-for-9 from three-point distance. And with performances like that, James seemed perfectly content to be primarily a facilitator, contributing 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds. He turned the ball over nine times, but the issue was never in doubt.
"I think for the first three quarters, we were great," James said. "We did a great job getting into our offense early . . . We covered for each other defensively; the best thing about it is, we tried to help each other."
For most of the evening, the announced sellout crowd of 20,389 lustily booed James every time he so much as touched the ball.
"I've been hearing boos my whole NBA career," James said. "I hear it. No way you can't hear it. It doesn't bother me. They boo you because they love the way you play the game of basketball."
And if the season is going to be something like the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan and the Jordanaires, James is ready for that, too. He's not at all concerned about his younger teammates being able to handle it.
"We'll help them learn on the fly," James said. "Not many guys haven't seen the limelight or seen a lot of press throughout their career. This is a different circumstance, [but] everyone is ready for it. We take it for what it is."
The bull's-eye is on the Heat. That brought nothing more than a shrug from James.
"I've been in front of that bull's-eye a long time now," he said. "Nothing different for me."
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra focused heavily on ball movement, pace and trust in the morning meeting and film session. Before the game, he said: "It's one thing to be able to point it out; now, we have to apply it. Guys want to do it right and help each other; it makes the game easier. That's going to be a little bit of a process."
He said that for much of the game, there was a "tangible difference" from Tuesday night's opening, 88-80 loss in Boston.
"Guys took it to heart; we wanted to come out with a better disposition defensively, to keep the ball in front of us, to challenge at the rim.
"The biggest difference offensively was simply to create a trigger point, to move the ball, to hunt down open shots. Obviously, the way we ended in the fourth quarter [getting outscored, 33-17], we can't afford quarters like that. We have to fast-track this whole process, but the overwhelming majority of the game was good."
Spoelstra said Wade, who found virtually no rhythm in Boston, just coming back from a right hamstring injury and from testifying in a child-custody case in Chicago, was "less anxious."
"He let the game come to him, which seems odd when you have a big game like that - 30 points and four assists. Yet, he was very poised and patient with his attack; when they defended him well, he got off the ball. When there was a hole or a crack in the defense, he had the ability to get to the rim. It also shows how quickly he's able to get back in rhythm coming back from injuries; he's done it before."
Wade said the key is to be aggressive, which doesn't necessarily mean shooting.
"It means just always being on the attack, taking what the defense gives you," he said.
Spoelstra focused all day on rhythm, ball movement, spacing and trust in one another. He said it in the morning, before the game and after the game.
"One thing coach harped about was keeping the floor spaced for me and D-Wade, because we do a lot of penetrating," James said. "When we collapsed the defense, we had shooters ready. Once we have the long ball going like that, it's unlimited what we can do." *
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