LeBron James under the weather is better than no LeBron James at all.
That was James’ thinking when he decided to play despite flu-like symptoms, and he scored 21 points to help the depleted Miami Heat close out a six-game road trip with a 97-88 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night.
”Me at 50 percent or 60 percent is better than me not playing at all,” he said.
The Heat, playing without Dwyane Wade for the second game in a row because of a left foot injury, led by as many as 15 in the third quarter and were up by nine with 5 1/2 minutes to play. The Suns cut it to two before Miami scored the game’s final seven points.
Chris Bosh scored 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting for the Heat.
James, who missed the morning shootaround, made only 8 of 20 shots but still reached 20 points for the 11th time in 11 games this season. In the first quarter, he went to the locker room, where he said he got sick, then received some fluids that helped.
”I can’t remember the last time he missed practice or a shootaround, so when he missed today, obviously that makes you wonder and you know that it’s pretty serious,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”We knew yesterday that he hadn’t had any food and he went the whole day and in the late afternoon he was able to down some Gatorade, but that was about it.”
Markieff Morris scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half for Phoenix, which was coming off a loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday night. Shannon Brown and Michael Beasley had 14 points apiece.
James may have been sick, but he had enough energy to lead the final surge that lifted Miami to its fifth straight win in Phoenix.
”I set my shooters up as much as possible,” he said, ”but if the game is close down the stretch I feel like I can make plays individually, to help us win.”
Morris’ tip-in with 8:39 to go tied it at 79, but Ray Allen banked in an 8-footer, Brown was called for an offensive foul, and Mario Chalmers stole the ball from Sebastian Telfair, leading to James’ fast-break layup. The Heat were off on a 9-0 run, capped by James’ reverse dunk with 5 1/2 minutes to go.
Phoenix then rallied again. Telfair sank a 3-pointer, then Goran Dragic knocked the ball loose and gathered it in for a layup to cut it to 90-88 with 2:11 remaining. Phoenix had a chance to tie but Beasley missed an open 14-footer.
Bosh made a pair of free throws, James hit a driving layup, then Miami made three of four free throws in the final 30 seconds to finally put it away and finish the trip 4-2.
Bosh said he knew he had to up his scoring with Wade out.
”I know that my role has changed a bit and I have to be a lot more aggressive so it’s just a matter of making shots when I’m open,” he said.
After his starters got off to another sluggish start, Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said there would be a change in the lineup, although he didn’t say what that would be.
”We have to make some adjustment,” he said. ”We can’t keep playing like this. We have to do something where we can make an adjustment and we’ll see what can happen from here.”
Dragic said the team will follow Gentry’s lead.
”I mean, he’s the coach so whatever he says, he is going to run this team,” Dragic said. ”You know, something is not clicking for us and we have to find some solution. If that is he has to change some players in the starting lineup then we have to do that.”
James had a dunk on a lob pass from Mike Miller and sank a 3-pointer in a 19-4 outburst that broke a 56-56 tie and put the Heat up 75-60 after Norris Cole’s steal and layup with 2:52 left in the third quarter. But James went to the bench and the Suns’ reserves brought Phoenix back with an 11-0 run to end the quarter, reducing Miami’s lead to four entering the fourth.
Morris scored the first six points of the run. Miami committed two turnovers in the final minute of the quarter, leading to Brown and Telfair each sinking a pair of free throws.
Bosh had 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first half. Beasley had 12 points and five first-half rebounds.
NOTES: Dragic had eight points, four assists, three steals and no turnovers in the first quarter. … The Heat have one more six-game road trip, Jan. 1-17, a journey that concludes with a game against the Lakers in Los Angeles. … This was Miami’s first trip to Phoenix in two seasons. The teams played only once, in Miami, in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. … Miami had 19 turnovers, compared to 17 for Phoenix.