LeBron James tipped the ball away at one end, ran well ahead of the pack to grab the deflection, then rose for a fierce one-handed slam.
Later, he dribbled down the middle of the lane and beat four — yes, four — defenders for another score that sent Tyrus Thomas falling over courtside photographers.
That hamstring issue?
It seemed like a non-issue.
James scored 33 points — the best by anyone so far this preseason — in only 29 minutes, before sitting out the fourth quarter and watching the Charlotte Bobcats rally past the Miami Heat 102-96 on Monday night.
D.J. Augustin scored 19 points, Nazr Mohammed added 14 and Stephen Jackson scored 10 for Charlotte, which outscored Miami 31-16 over the final 12 minutes with both teams having their starters turned into spectators. Derrick Brown scored 14 of his 18 points in the fourth for Charlotte, and Thomas scored nine of his 15 in the final period for the Bobcats.
”I think the biggest thing is we found a way to grind it out with our second team,” Jackson said.
The bright side for Miami? Easy. James missed a game and a practice last week after experiencing some cramping and soreness in his right leg, but looked like his two-time MVP self again, making 10 of 17 shots from the field and 12 of 13 from the free throw line.
The Heat were without Dwyane Wade, who remained on the witness stand in a Chicago courtroom testifying in the trial that will decide custody of his two young sons. Wade has been working out as he recovers from a strained right hamstring, and said Monday that his ”goal is to be back and healthy for the beginning of the season.”
There’s a lot of guys in the Miami and Charlotte locker rooms hoping the same.
Charlotte was missing a slew of players, including forward Dominic McGuire (left shin stress fracture), guard Shaun Livingston (left knee soreness), center Kwame Brown (left ankle sprain) and forward Eduardo Najera (sports hernia). Miami was again without guard Mario Chalmers (left ankle soreness), who was scratched about an hour before tipoff.
And Miami’s injury woes got worse during the game, when Mike Miller was lost during the third quarter with a sprained left ankle, which he initially rolled in the final seconds of the first half.
Miami missed 13 of 15 shots in an 8-minute stretch of the second quarter, part of an abysmal 35 percent effort by the Heat in the opening half. Charlotte shot 54 percent over the first 24 minutes. Didn’t matter — the Heat took a 49-44 lead into halftime, thanks to forcing 15 turnovers and turning them into 19 points.
The third quarter simply belonged to James.
He was 5 of 8 from the field, 6 of 7 from the line, with four rebounds and two assists while playing all 12 minutes. By the end, he seemed winded — James crouched to catch his breath in the final minute of the quarter, knowing his night was nearly complete — but his efforts helped the Heat take an 80-71 lead into the final quarter.
”I’ve been dialed up since the first preseason game,” James said. ”I don’t take games off. Preseason, regular season, I play my minutes as hard as I can.”
Chris Bosh scored 14 points for Miami and Udonis Haslem finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Charlotte coach Larry Brown drew a comparison between this Heat team and his club in Philadelphia when Allen Iverson was in his prime. Back then, the 76ers were content to have what often amounted to backup singers with Iverson leading the band. This summer, Miami took a considerably different approach.
”They’ve done an amazing job,” Brown said. ”Not only with Bosh and LeBron, but they’ve surrounded them with some pretty good players. It’s like when I had that group in Philly … they allowed Allen to be Allen. And not only did they acquire two phenomenal players, they got a lot of people around them.”
And as the regular season draws nearer, referees reminded both teams that they are taking these rule changes regarding arguing seriously. Jackson and Bosh each earned technicals for the manner in which they questioned calls in the second quarter, although neither was vehemently complaining about anything at the time.
”What’d I do?” Bosh asked referee Dick Bavetta.
NOTES: The Heat have two more preseason games left, first visiting Atlanta on Thursday, then facing Orlando on Friday in Tampa, Fla. Charlotte’s final two exhibitions are both at home, against New Orleans on Wednesday and Atlanta on Friday. … Amare Stoudemire (Oct. 3) and Kevin Love (Sunday) had scored 32 points in preseason games this year, which had been the NBA’s highs for the exhibition season.