SACRAMENTO — It wasn't especially apparent when LeBron James made the first three-pointer, or the second, or third, that late spree of nine points in 31.3 seconds of overtime nearly saving the night for the Miami Heat.
But after he spoke to the media and revealed that he'd strained his groin sometime way back in the second quarter, James' discomfort became painfully clear.
The simple walk to the shower was a struggle.
"It ain't feeling too good right now," James said.
And so, now, after the Heat dropped a 108-103 decision to the Sacramento Kings—their sixth loss this season to a team currently under .500—there's a cloud over another of the team's highly anticipated showdowns.
After a day's rest, James scored 24 points, with nine rebounds and seven assists in a Dec. 18 victory against Indiana. This time, though, only 20 hours separate James and the Heat from tipoff against the team with the NBA's best record, the Portland Trail Blazers.
Will James play?
"See how it feels tomorrow," James said.
At least his chronically sore ankle, which he tweaked in the first quarter, should not be an issue.
"I stepped on the ref's foot, kind of twisted it a little bit," James said. "I didn't have a problem with it. I just tied my shoes back up, I was OK. I have no idea when I strained my groin, man. If it's not one injury, it's the next one."
Friday, the Heat played without Dwyane Wade (knee), Ray Allen (knee) and Chris Andersen (back), but Wade was held out as part of the Heat's ongoing maintenance, Allen's tendinitis isn't serious and even Andersen said he could return relatively soon.
All three were missed for different reasons, but Miami still should have prevailed. The Heat led by 16 in the first quarter and by 10 at the half before, as Erik Spoelstra put it, "our offense got us in trouble." Miami was just 5-of-18 in that quarter, and James—appearing in some but not overwhelming discomfort—was 1-of-4.
Miami led 88-85 when James went to the line for two free throws, but he missed the first before making the second. From there, Mario Chalmers missed a three-pointer, missed two free throws and was called for a flagrant foul for his contact with an agitated DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins thought it was a shove.
Chalmers thought it was a flop.
"If I could move 285 pounds," Chalmers said, shaking his head.
"It's a tough call," James said. "It's a really tough call. It's a box out, and Rio didn't see it was a blocked shot, so it made it look more than what it was. And it was right after DeMarcus' little scuffle."
That scuffle involved James earlier, when he grabbed a rebound away from Cousins, and the center stood up to challenge him...before walking away.
Cousins (27 points, 17 rebounds, five assists, two steals) made two free throws after the Chalmers confrontation, and then Rudy Gay tied the game with a turnaround. When James missed from deep, overtime ensued.
Gay and Isaiah Thomas outscored Miami 8-2 to start the extra period, and the Kings sustained the lead until the closing minute. James would later outscore the Kings 9-6 in the closing 50 seconds, finishing with 33 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
His greatest pass?
Passing both Larry Bird and Gary Payton to move into 29th on the all-time scoring list.
"Oh, wow," James said. "Two of the greatest, two Hall of Famers, two champions, man. To be able to do that, I don't know if it means a lot scoring, but it shows I've been very durable in my career."
He has been. But even he has nights like this.
He left with a couple of L's.
And a limp.
Ethan Skolnick covers the Miami Heat for Bleacher Report.