Heat resting up before return to East finals
Dwyane Wade has been battling knee soreness. LeBron James was hobbling after a falling into a courtside cameraman. Chris Bosh remains sidelined indefinitely with an abdominal strain. Mike Miller looks to be in agony whenever he moves.
An extra day of rest doesn't sound like much, but it means plenty right now to the Miami Heat.
Now halfway to their goal of an NBA championship, the Heat took a welcomed - and needed - day off Friday after closing out their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup with the Indiana Pacers.
The East finals open Monday in Miami against either Philadelphia or Boston, teams that will settle their second-round series with a Game 7 on Saturday night.
''We can use it,'' James said after the Heat ousted the Pacers with a Game 6 win in Indianapolis on Thursday. ''Any team in the postseason, any extra day that you can get, it definitely helps us. So we're going to take advantage of it.''
It's not like the Heat were planning to sit at home all day, since most players at this time of year tend to hit the training room on off days. Still, for the first time in a while, Friday provided a chance for the reigning East champs to relax a bit, especially after three hard-fought wins in five days allowed Miami to claw back from what was a soon-forgotten 2-1 series deficit to the Pacers.
Wade and James combined to score 197 points in the final three games of the Indiana series, while the Pacers' starters collectively managed 184. Other Heat players stepped up along the way - Udonis Haslem with 14 points in Game 4, Shane Battier with 13 in Game 5, Miller with 12 in Game 6 - but with Bosh sidelined, it was Wade and James who welcomed the challenge of having to handle much of the offensive responsibility.
''I don't know if they've been required to shoulder as much responsibility as they've had to now, particularly now that Chris is out,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ''And we're making no excuses. We have enough. But they have to give us more and that's what competition will do. You play against good competition in this league and it brings out the best in you - you hope.''
Bosh told ESPN.com this week that he is improving, but stopped short of offering a date for his possible return.
He was hurt midway through Game 1 of the Indiana series, meaning nearly two full weeks have passed since he was diagnosed with a strained lower abdominal muscle. The best-case scenario for recovery for someone with that type of injury is typically 2-3 weeks, though the Heat have never deviated from saying Bosh is out indefinitely.
''I appreciate extra rest,'' Wade said. ''I'm never going to cross my eye on that at all. I feel like it's well-deserved. I think also it gives us an opportunity to get Chris more therapy, more treatment the days that we're off and he moves that much closer to being able to rejoin this ballclub. I thought this was a very physical series ... so the rest will do us some (good).''
The Pacers probably would suggest Wade couldn't get much better than he was in the last 10 quarters of their series.
Wade was awful - 2 for 13 shooting, five points, five turnovers - in Game 3, an Indiana blowout that many thought put the Pacers in control of the series. He started Game 4 by missing seven of his first eight shots. And from there, the 2006 finals MVP was in 2006 finals MVP form again: Wade shot 39 for 57 the rest of the series, putting up 41 points and 10 rebounds in Thursday's clincher.
Since 1992, according to STATS LLC, there's been 52 instances of someone having at least 40 points and 10 rebounds in a playoff game. Of those, 50 came from players listed to be at least 6-foot-6. The other two are by Wade, perhaps generously listed at 6-foot-4.
''Spectacular, from the beginning to the end,'' James said of Wade's Game 6 effort. ''He got in a rhythm early and just kept going.''
James missed a layup with 1:34 left in the first half on Thursday, his left leg crashing into a television cameraman sitting just beyond the baseline. He was shaken up and briefly tended to on the Heat bench, but played all but 28 seconds of the second half and insisted he was fine afterward. And Miller - who has dealt with several injuries in his two Miami seasons - makes running jokes about his health, not even acknowledging things hurt even though he's taken to sitting on the floor during games of late to help stretch his back.
Miller had 10 points in the first five games of the series. His 12 on Thursday came on four 3-pointers, his specialty.
''It's all about opportunity,'' Miller said. ''That's what this team has right now, opportunity.''
The way they all see it, the job is only half done. Miami has eight postseason wins. It takes 16 to win an NBA title. So even though some aches and pains are there, it doesn't change the goal.
''It's a no-excuse season,'' Spoelstra said, a familiar refrain for him in recent weeks. ''And this is a no-excuse team.''
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