LeBron James vows he won’t be rusty after a long layoff.
In the 2009 playoffs, James’ Cleveland Cavaliers finished a first-round sweep of Detroit on April 26 and didn’t start the next round until May 5. Having eight days between games didn’t hamper James in the slightest, as he had 34 points and 10 rebounds to start that next series against Atlanta.
Now James’ Miami Heat, after finishing an Eastern Conference first-round sweep of Milwaukee on Sunday, will have at least five days off before beginning play in an East semifinal against Chicago or Brooklyn. They could have seven or eight days off if the Nets, down 3-1, can fight back to force a seventh game.
“That won’t be a problem,’’ James said of Miami having a long layoff. “We’re a veteran ballclub, and that definitely won’t be a problem for me. I understand what the playoffs are all about. We got an opportunity to get a rest because we took care of business.’’
While some looking for things to write about could suggest otherwise, there is no downside to the Heat having so much time off before they must play again. The main reason is it gives extra time for guard Dwyane Wade to rest.
Wade, bothered by a sore right knee, sat out Sunday’s 88-77 win at Milwaukee. That was the right decision. Considering Wade previously had played in Thursday’s Game 3, he will end up with at least eight days of rest between games.
“It’s big,” Wade said of the layoff. “Obviously, we’re one of the oldest teams in the league, maybe the oldest team in terms of rotation players. Guys have some bumps and bruises coming out of this series, so it’s going to be great to get some rest. But also we have to take this time to continue to stay sharp, to continue to stay in shape as well.”
Wade, who missed seven games late in the regular season due to the knee problem and had looked good in Game 2 against the Bucks before struggling in Game 3, vows to be ready for next weekend. He had tested his knee before Sunday’s game, but it was determined to hold him out.
“There wasn’t any improvement really from how he felt toward the end of the last game,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade being bothered by the knee when shooting just 1 of 12 in Game 3. “But he is making progress. We’ll continue to evaluate him every day …. In the last three weeks and month, he’s been making big strides, and it’s important to keep that in perspective.’’
It’s all about the big picture for the Heat, heavy favorites to win a second straight championship. James reinforced that when talking Sunday morning to Wade.
“I basically told him, ‘Hey, if you’re not feeling it, if you don’t feel like you’re going to be 100 percent or obviously as close to 100 percent … then don’t push it,’ ’’ said James, who had a team-high 30 points in the clincher. “We’ve seen too many injuries already in our NBA season this year …. That kind of crossed my mind.’’
It’s been on plenty of minds. Top players having been lost for the season either late in the regular season or during the playoffs have included Danilo Gallinari, Kobe Bryant, David Lee and Russell Westbrook.
It was just the second of 115 career playoff games missed by Wade. He previously sat out Game 6 of an East final against Detroit on June 4, 2005, due to a rib injury.
Wade had to return then two days later for a Game 7, which Miami lost. But now he’ll have plenty of time to ease his way back.
The Heat will take Monday off from practice. They’re not expected to go back to work until Tuesday or Wednesday.
If the Chicago Bulls close out the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night in Brooklyn, the Heat would know their next foe when they next step on the practice court. If not, they’ll have to wait to see what occurs in Game 6 on Thursday in Chicago.
Regardless of what happens, don’t expect the Heat to be taking it too easy in practice this week.
“The biggest focus for us will be keeping ourselves physically ready, and that’s probably the most abnormal of the circumstances,’’ Spoelstra said of a long layoff. “You’re used to playing every 48 hours or so. That’s the NBA rhythm …. Mentally, I’m not as concerned about our guys gritting their teeth. It’s too far ahead and we don’t even know how long this time will be. But we’ll have to go make sure we strike a balance between our conditioning, staying fit, working at our game, getting after it with pads in practice and also making sure our guys are healthy and we’re not doing too much.’’
If Bulls win their series in six games or fewer, the next round could start as soon as Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena. The Heat had been scheduled that day to host a Game 7, and that is also the day for a possible Game 7 in Brooklyn.
If the Bulls-Nets series goes seven, May 6 is the soonest Miami could play again. That would mark seven days without a game for the Heat.
That likely wouldn’t be a problem for James. He’s proven to be great on second nights of back-to-backs and when he has eight days off between games.