The Big Three spent the NBA's version of winter recess basking in the limelight of the world's greatest pickup basketball game. Here are five quick-hitting Miami Heat takeaways from the All-Star Weekend that was.
Erik Spoelstra probably didn't see or hear a thing.
Spoelstra promised to completely disconnect during All-Star Weekend, after coaching the East in Houston last February.
But he'll fly with most of his team—and meet the rest—into Dallas for a late practice Monday.
And he'll have a decision to make.
How hard to push.
Miami entered the break just two games behind the Indiana Pacers in the loss column, and it was clear over the weekend that the Pacers are still taking that top seed extremely seriously.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who said he officially met LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for the first time when the East gathered, emphasized that he had strong regard for the Heat organization, even if the recent chippiness between the squads hasn't always suggested so.
"I don't think it's any more than they're the champs and we want to be the champs," Vogel said. "I don't think there's this tremendous dislike for them, or them or us. We have the utmost respect for them, for their players individually. Their coach, in particular, I have great respect for. We hope to be able to accomplish the same thing someday."
First, though, they want to accomplish their interim goal: home-court advantage throughout the East playoffs.
When was that targeted?
"When we lost Game 7," Vogel said, speaking of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. "In the locker room, we decided. We just know. We know what the odds are. Look at the odds over history of what Game 7's look like, I think it's 80 percent the home team wins. We just know that can be important. But it's not just about Game 7, either. If you win a game on the road, they've got to win twice in your building. And that's really hard to do. We just felt it could be one of the difference makers. It's not everything, but it could be one of the difference makers."
The sense here is that the Heat don't feel quite so strongly. That's been evident by the way Spoelstra was sorting through his rotation for the first four months, giving chances to Michael Beasley and Rashard Lewis, among others. He's also been working in Greg Oden, while pacing Wade, who has missed 15 games to rest his knees and recover from other (migraine, foot) ailments.
The Heat and Pacers play twice more, on Mar. 26 in Indiana, and on Apr. 11 in Miami.
That second game is the third-to-last of the regular season for the Pacers, and the fourth-to-last for the Heat.
Will it still have significance?
Probably not, with Miami already in cruise control, having ceded the seeding...
But come back in a couple of weeks.
Miami has the much tougher schedule out of the break, with games in Dallas and Oklahoma City, while the Pacers play Atlanta—and then get six straight games against likely lottery teams.
If the Heat hang close, they might actually choose to chase.
Alonzo Mourning had an abundance of attributes that made him one of the forces of his era.
None ranked higher, however, than his defiance.
It was that defiance that steeled his spirit on a number of occasions, whether it was throughout his turbulent youth, early in his NBA career or especially after he was diagnosed with a rare, debilitating kidney disease prior to the 2000-01 season.
So it wasn't a surprise, after he was announced Friday as a finalist for the 2014 Hall of Fame class, that he stated his case for induction.
Did he believe, when he got sick, that he still had a good chance?
"I had an eight-year stint, where it was 20 (points), 10 (rebounds) and three blocks a game," Mourning said. "Average. You know. And if I didn't get sick, it would have continued to be 20, 10 and three blocks for another eight more years. I would have had that. I kept myself in excellent condition. It was a very humbling experience to have to stop something that you love, and focus on your health, which put life in a totally different perspective. I tell you, that particular experience just made me appreciate the game even more, so when I came back, I played every game like it was my last. Not that I was entitled to it."
"All I know is, I played the game the right way," Mourning said. "And I feel like I contributed to it the right way. And I think that's all you can ask for, from a player...Nobody can ever question my work ethic. Nobody can ever question my sacrifice. Because I made the ultimate sacrifice. There was a point in time in my career, where the doctor literally had to stop me from playing because he said your phosphorous levels are so high that you could risk cardiac arrest out there on the court. There's a lot of people that don't know that. I was literally risking my life just to play the game of basketball."
Mourning said it would be "extremely special" to get into the Hall of Fame with fellow finalist Tim Hardaway. Hardaway is in his third year of eligibility.
"It would only be fitting," Mourning said of the man who shared the Heat spotlight with him for more than five seasons.
Hardaway, like Mourning, was true to form in his own interview.
"Just get me in is good," Hardaway said, smiling. "Just get me in is good."
Then he relented.
"But with Zo, with Mitch (Richmond)," Hardaway said, referring to his former Golden State teammate, "That's special."
The election results will be revealed at the NCAA Final Four in April.
Dwyane Wade was warned.
At least, that's what Gary Payton said, following the 2014 Hall of Fame press conference on Saturday.
"I told him when I was there, when he was falling so much, that it would take a toll on his body," said Payton, who played for the Heat from 2005 through 2007. "And then he stopped falling after that, but it was already a toll on his body. Now I think he's a guy, who he's just watching not to get hurt. He knows if he gets hurt, it's a bad thing. And it's hard. He's getting older. It's hard for your body to recover like when you're 21, 22 years old. And I think he's understanding that."
Payton said he believes Wade is still among the NBA's elite.
"He just got to get healthy," Payton said. "I like what Spo is doing for him. He's keeping him out of games. He's doing just like what Pop would do with Duncan and Parker and Ginobili. Sit him and rest him. You got a championship you want to win, you want to win three in a row. It doesn't matter, you got probably the best basketball player in the game in LeBron. If (Wade) comes, it just gets a lot better...I like what he's doing."
Payton had something else of interest to say, when asked about Mourning, a former Heat teammate whom he believes will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. They played together on the 2006 championship squad.
"I think he was the main reason," Payton said. "Everybody thinks about Dwyane and all of us making shots, and Dwyane having a great Finals. He was the one who blocked big shots. If it wasn't for them, I don't think we would have had a championship, we would have kind of out there, when we were in Dallas. It was amazing to see the things he could do, and the heart he had. We knew Dwyane was the man, but what (Mourning) did Game 6, it was something that we needed."
That memorable night, Mourning had eight points, six rebounds and five blocks in 14 furious minutes.
LeBron James simply answered a question on the spot.
But there's nothing simple when it comes to the reaction to anything James says.
So, after he told NBA TV's Steve Smith that he would put Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson on his "Mount Rushmore"—and those comments made the rounds before the interview aired—it naturally became a top topic for All-Star Weekend.
Kevin Durant said he would go with Jordan, Bird, Johnson "and Kareem. He's the all-time leader in points...How many championships he got? MVP, he got it all, as far as accolades and the championships."
Which is a perfectly fine foursome.
But let's reverse it.
What if Durant had been asked first, and responded with those four? Would it have created enough of a stir that anybody would have bothered to ask James?
For what it's worth, Kobe Bryant went with Johnson, Bird, Jordan and Bill Russell, saying it's "impossible to do four, though, man. Come on. That's crazy."
Crazy to make too much of any off-the-cuff comment, one that got twisted in translation.
Many at All-Star Weekend mistakenly believed that James had put himself on "Mount Rushmore" at the present time, which is not something that he said.
George Gervin, the former Spurs great, rolled off a list: "Not before Kareem, not before Bill Russell, before Sam Jones. Them guys have won 10, 11 championships. How you gonna jump over them? So what criteria is he using to say he deserves, he wants to be on Mount Rushmore. He's just clowning. You know what I'm saying, he's just clowning."
If so, he's not the only one.
Micky Arison, in an interview with Bleacher Report, spoke highly of Adam Silver just prior to Silver's ascent to NBA commissioner.
And, in his first All-Star press conference with the media, Silver said something that should get Arison's approval. When speaking of market size and competitive balance, Silver used the Heat as an example, but not in the way many have.
"I mean, remember, Miami is not in the top 15 markets in the league and it was only (after) LeBron went to Miami that people started referring to Miami as a big market," Silver said.
This has long been Arison's contention, one he has often made known during revenue-sharing negotiations—that Miami, while one of the league's most attractive markets, is actually a mid-market.
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