Miami Heat, Banged-Up LeBron James Face Tough Question Before Pacers Showdown

Ethan SkolnickNBA Senior WriterDecember 16, 2013

Dec 16, 2013; Miami, FL, USA;  Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) reacts to an injury in the third period as of a game against the Utah Jazz at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

MIAMI — The headband was off LeBron James' head, replaced by a couple of towels, as he sat and stewed about his latest twist of fate.

The Miami Heat star had turned his left ankle, the one that has so often given him trouble, even if he's so often shaken it off. This time, it gave way on a Monday night that he'd been giving the Heat a little of everything, his back feeling looser than it had in some time.

Still, his teammates weren't especially stressed about the misstep.

"He does it once a year," Chris Bosh said later. "So this is his time. It's usually in December, too. You know, got that out of the way, and we can keep moving on."

 

Dec 16, 2013; Miami, FL, USA;  Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) dunks the ball as Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke (3) looks on in the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

They did move on, scoring 70 points in the second half to beat the Utah Jazz, 117-94, and setting a franchise record with 63.4 percent shooting overall. James moved rather well after he returned in the fourth quarter, scoring nine points in less than five minutes, including a driving dunk. That left him, for a second straight game, just one rebound and one assist short of a triple-double, an oddity that didn't escape James' attention.

"I don't know what else I can do," James said of his latest near miss. "I know one rebound that I didn't get, (Derrick) Favors stole it from me and then he turned it over and Rio got the steal. And I know one assist that Ray (Allen), he had a good look that didn't go in. I told him about it."

He laughed.

"Whatever," James said. "As long as we win, I don't care."

Of more concern: the ankle, and what it means for Wednesday when the Indiana Pacers visit, just eight days after they beat the Heat, 90-84, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

"Can't get no worse by playing," James said of his decision to re-enter Monday's game, though it was largely decided. "You just let it get stiff, that's when it gets worse. I'm excited I could go back out there and make some plays, and finish the game off. But I know in the morning, when I wake up, it's going to be pretty sore."

He declared himself day-to-day, which means he might not practice fully Tuesday. That will raise questions about whether he will, or should, play Wednesday. The Pacers have put a premium on the No. 1 seed in the East, and thus the importance of winning the majority of the meetings with Miami. The Heat have consistently downplayed the significance of any result that occurs prior to the spring.

Dec 10, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Miami Heat  guard LeBron James (6) is guarded by Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (24) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Miami 90-84. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

So we'll see if they can stick to that if James is still sore 40 hours after Monday's finish. It's tempting for the Heat to see where they stand, especially after scoring 231 points on 59.2 percent shooting in the two games after struggling so much in last Tuesday's second half in Indianapolis.

Still, it's not worth tempting fate.

The Heat have taken the prudent approach with Dwyane Wade this season, and that's paying dividends. During the two-game homestand so far, during which he's been working with longtime trainer Tim Grover and gotten the requisite rest, Wade has shot 18-of-29 and averaged 25.5 points and 5.5 rebounds; he's looked especially comfortable with his jumper, which he says is the telltale sign of how he's feeling.

The Heat need to take the prudent approach with James, too.

That's true even though their offense is rolling, and they'd like to use it to roll over Indiana.

"I think, for the whole season, we've been in a decent groove," Bosh said. "Of course, some games we've had struggles. But with Wednesday coming up, a big one on Wednesday, I think it's very good for our mindset to come off of a game shooting a good number."

It is, but it's better for their mindset in the long run if No. 6 is right.

Will James play Wednesday?

"We gonna see," James said. "We gonna see."

You'll probably see him out there.

But, if you don't, believe it's for the best.

Remember, it's December.