Heat's lack of size continues to be no laughing matter
MEMPHIS - About an hour before the Heat's telling performance of the season, the standard reporter asked the standard question.
"If Dwyane [Wade] can't go, does anything change on the court?"
LeBron James, with no idea a heartbreaking 97-95 loss was about to unfold, got that look on his face that said he was about to give the standard answer.
Then a voice rang out with a clear, brief answer.
It was Wade, smiling, heading for a Gatorade, saying, "Hell yes you gotta change up if I'm not playing."
Who knew such a tough night and revealing battle could be ushered in with a joke?
This Heat loss - which cannot mask the glaring roster issues that have dogged them all year - underscored more impressive points about LeBron and Chris Bosh than many of their wins.
Among the most important, on a night when Wade was indeed out with a wrist injury and Udonis Haslem was carried off the floor in the third quarter, was this fact: LeBron and Bosh played, simply, like superstars.
First the numbers: LeBron's double-double line was 29 points and 11 assists. Bosh's double-double line was 20 points and 10 rebounds.
More to the point, both men played like leaders - like warriors. They made clutch shots. They poured themselves into the game. They brought out greatness in some of their teammates.
With about 30 seconds left and their team down five, LeBron and Bosh helped will the Heat to a tie, all game long other players had responded to the two stars.
Eddie House scored 20 points on 6-of-9 three-point shooting. The disappearing Mario Chalmers appeared for 11 minutes, long enough to make a nice move for a key basket down the stretch and a big block a little later.
House's six threes were the most in his career with the Heat. Zydrunas Ilgauskas' 10 rebounds were the most of his career with the Heat.
In small ways and big, the Heat played together. Truly together.
How strange such a grand go in Memphis ended in a loss after Rudy Gay hit an amazing shot as time expired - a shot made over a with-everything-he-had LeBron James matching him almost inch for inch as they leapt upward.
The shot fell, the Heat lost, and so no one was enjoying any of the great things to be mined from the misery. How could they? This one hurt.
"You would rather as a player get blown out of a game than lose like that," LeBron said.
"This is a tough one," a demoralized-looking Ilgauskas said after the game in barely a whisper. "This is a tough one to swallow. Not just because we lost, but because we lost Udonis."
That happened toward the end of the third quarter, when Haslem went down and didn't get up. He writhed in pain. He clutched his foot. He turned to someone and said, "I think I broke it."
"When a guy is carried off we all know what that means," Bosh said. "We've played enough games to know it's not a good sign."
Haslem's departure - for now from what the Heat are calling a severe foot sprain - also was an ominous reminder of what the Heat lack.
A reminder of what they'll lack even when both Wade and Haslem return.
The Heat remain too small. The roster is not right. They risk being an immensely talented team pushed around by lesser-talented foes.
"They have a lot of size," Spoelstra said, not adding that, lately, it seems everyone playing the Heat has a lot of size. "Some of the rebounds that they got, it just looked like they were tipping them over the top of us, two or three times even on one possession."
LeBron said after the game this has been a problem all season, and that it needs to change.
To drive the point home, on Saturday the Grizzlies pulled down 15 more rebounds than the Heat. Memphis dominated second-chance points - 23 for them vs. only seven for Miami.
All of that adds up to a loss that masks Bosh and LeBron stepping up with Wade gone - that aforementioned "hell yes" - and showing mettle and a winner's edge.
It was enough to mask the impressive number of Heat turnovers (only six) and the fact they held a team with some fine scorers to 47.5 percent from the field and 9.1 percent - yep, nine-point-one - from the three-point arc.
Afterward, the Heat felt the hurt. For their teammate. For themselves. For having to watch Gay sink that shot. For what it must feel like to give so much and come up short by so small a margin.
That hurt also masked something promising, something brimming beneath a team still looking to figure out each other, to play to their potential, to be what they promised to be.
LeBron, asked about whether he'd want the "process" to be easier, said this:
"I would rather it not be easy," he said. "You have to go through growing pains to be great at the end of the year."
Saturday was one such night of pain, lots of pain. Amongst it were some hopeful signs that real greatness, given a few roster tweaks and a little luck, might still be in this team's future.
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