LeBron, Heat spoil Paul’s return
A few moments after getting hit in the face, LeBron James was shaken up to the point where he didn’t even bother contesting a jump ball.
It was about the only play he took off all night.
James scored 30 points in another efficient performance, Dwyane Wade scored 20 and the Miami Heat dominated the middle two quarters on the way to an easy 111-89 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.
James shot 9 for 11, giving him 37 makes on his last 47 attempts, and sat out the fourth quarter. It was his fourth straight 30-point game, tying him with Wade as the only Heat players with such a streak in the franchise’s 25-year history.
”He’s off the planet right now,” Wade said of James. ”He’s not even the best basketball player on the planet. He’s surpassed the planet. He’s somewhere else. He’s playing phenomenal.”
It was the first time in James’ career that he scored at least 30 points on 11 or fewer field-goal attempts. According to STATS LLC, it was only the 13th such game in the NBA since the start of the 2002-03 season.
”Just confident in my ability,” James said. ”It was great to see, when you put in a lot of work and you implement it into a game situation. Just play your game. That’s what I’m doing right now. Just playing my game.”
When it comes to this type of roll, James isn’t interested in figuring out how it’s happening.
”Nope,” James said. ”It’s nothing to figure out for me. I go out, see what the pace of the game is bringing and you go out and figure it out on the fly. I don’t predetermine anything. If the defense backs up, I shoot. They come up on me, I drive. My teammates are open, I find my teammates. The game flows for me that way, and I’m just in that comfort place right now where I can go out and just play free.”
Mario Chalmers finished with 18 points and Shane Battier scored 12 for Miami, which improved to 21-3 at home.
The Clippers got Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin back from injuries, but that trio of starters combined for only 23 points. DeAndre Jordan led Los Angeles with 17 points.
”We lost to a good team over there but we’re not going to hang our heads,” Paul said. ”You never want to make excuses but they shot the lights out of the ball. We never really made an impact defensively. LeBron, Mario, all those guys were on a rocking chair all night.”
Miami was without Chris Bosh and Ray Allen, both sidelined with the flu.
James made his first six shots, and his first miss came when Jordan was credited with a block on a play where he also struck the NBA’s reigning MVP in the face, leaving him briefly shaken up.
Jordan won the ensuing tip uncontested, and capped that possession with a dunk to get Los Angeles within 10 at 64-54.
Three minutes later, Miami’s lead was 24 — a 14-0 run put it away, and James took care of the first half of those points within a span of 37 seconds.
He connected on a 3-pointer while getting fouled by Jordan, then made another 3 on Miami’s next possession. Wade followed with two highlight-reel plays, a two-handed slam on a baseline drive followed by an acrobatic turnaround jumper, and Chalmers connected on a 3-pointer to put the Heat up 78-54.
”We just have to stay together,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. ”It’s a test right now. I thought we gave up too much space, too much respect. Obviously, Chris is trying to get back. He’s got to take control of the game and physically right now he’s not capable of doing that.”
At one point in the third quarter, Miami was shooting 69 percent from the field and 68 percent from 3-point range for the game. The Heat cooled down the stretch, finishing at 53 percent from the floor and 56 percent from beyond the arc.
There was plenty of buzz pregame, for good reason – matchup of division leaders, teams looking to go deep into the postseason. And when the Clippers said before the game that Billups (left foot tendinitis), Paul (bruised right kneecap), Griffin (strained left hamstring) and Jamal Crawford (sore right shoulder) were all fit to return, it seemed as if a showdown was highly possible.
That thought didn’t last for long.
”You can write this off that we got everybody back and we were a little rusty,” Griffin said. ”But we have to be better.”
Miami’s lead after the first quarter was 30-29. The Heat — who shot 68 percent in the first half — outscored the Clippers 63-39 in the next two quarters, turning things into quite a rout.
Crawford and Griffin each finished with 13 points for the Clippers.
”When the lights are bright and the popcorn’s poppin’, our guys come to life,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”That’s a great quality.”
Miami now has the best home record in the Eastern Conference, with Indiana losing on Friday night at home to Toronto. … Heat F Udonis Haslem passed the 5,000-rebound mark for his career during the game. … The Heat continue their LA Story at home on Sunday, playing host to the Los Angeles Lakers. … Clippers F Caron Butler said before the game that he still enjoys playing in Miami, noting it was the Heat who ”took a chance” on him coming into the league and it gives him a chance to see the NBA’s ”Godfather” in Heat president Pat Riley. … Clippers backup C Ronny Turiaf got his NBA championship ring from the Heat in a brief pregame ceremony. … Billups and Paul combined to shoot 3 for 10.