The madness (sort of) set to begin for Heat
It's a preseason game, so it doesn't count. Except, perhaps, to LeBron James.
When the Miami Heat open the preseason at home against the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, it'll mark the first time James will play before 19,000 or so of his newest fans. Predictably, there's a higher-than-usual level of interest, especially after a summer where Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and James decided to team up in Miami.
Tickets were being resold for more than $250 on some online sites, even though the game isn't sold out. Two television crews are coming to broadcast the game, and even the some of the Pistons are saying they're looking forward to this exhibition more than usual.
''We're ready to play the game,'' said James, the two-time reigning NBA MVP who'll don a uniform other than Cleveland's for the first time in his professional career. ''We're going to let the game do a lot of the talking. We know we've got to answer a lot of questions every day from you guys, but when we get out on the court, it's all business.''
So while the atmosphere may be playoff-caliber, the game will likely be anything but.
The Heat plan to use as many of their 19 available players as possible, the Pistons will likely take a similar approach, and suffice to say, neither team will likely be calling plays down the stretch like it's a Game 7.
''Get there early,'' Wade said. ''Not planning on being on the court too long.''
For home Heat preseason games in Miami two seasons ago, the announced attendances were 13,253 and 11,041. Last year, the crowds were 10,064 and 10,096.
It's unknown if all 19,600 seats will be sold by game time Tuesday, but given how the Heat distributed 13,000 tickets to the welcome party for Wade, Bosh and James in less than one hour on July 9, chances are there'll be a demand by tip-off.
''The energy coming from the crowd, their emotion, it's going to boost our energy and our emotions,'' Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. ''But we still understand that it's a preseason game. We're not going to do everything right. We have some kinks to work out and this is the time to do it.''
The hype isn't limited to those in Miami.
Some of the Pistons can't wait to see what all the fuss is about, either.
''Everybody can't wait,'' said guard Richard Hamilton. ''I think the whole NBA, the fans, everybody's excited about what they got in Miami and they can't wait to see how those guys play together.''
Pistons center Ben Wallace said he followed the summer personnel moves that some simply called LeBronathon - ''How can you not pay attention?'' Wallace asked - and knows it'll be a most unusual scene for a preseason game that awaits Detroit on Tuesday.
''Of course, some guys are going to go in there and try to make a statement,'' Wallace said. ''That's the nature of the business. If you don't, you're not a competitor. Everybody's going to go to Miami is going to want to put their best effort out. Those guys should know people are going to be shooting at them.''
Make no mistake, the Heat are taking it seriously.
There's plenty of personnel issues that remain unsettled - Carlos Arroyo will likely start at point guard on Tuesday and Joel Anthony at center, although neither has been anointed as the first-stringer going into the season at those spots - and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra knows he'll have some tough calls to make later this month.
''I want these guys to enjoy it,'' Spoelstra said. ''As much of a reward as we can give them playing in front of our home fans, I want them to do that. I want them to play the right way, the way we've been trying to establish this week, but they've been working extremely hard. I think they're just looking forward to playing against someone else right now.''
Monday marked the first time the Heat practiced together in Miami this season. They returned Sunday from nearly a week of training camp - ''the most competitive, intense camp I've seen since I can remember,'' Spoelstra said - at Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida's Panhandle.
Tuesday may show how much work truly got done at camp.
''It'll be fun to see the progress that we've made,'' Wade said.