Updates from Friday, Mar. 21
The Heat announced that LeBron will play Friday night:
LeBron James (back spasms) will return to the @MiamiHEAT lineup tonight.— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) March 21, 2014
Spo on LeBron’s status: “He says he feels better. Hopefully the extra couple days of rest helps.”— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) March 21, 2014
Miami Heat forward LeBron James will miss Wednesday's game against the Boston Celtics due to the recurrence of back spasms, the team announced prior to tipoff:
Tonight’s #HEATgame inactives vs the Celtics - LeBron James (back spasms) & Greg Oden (rest).— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) March 19, 2014
After the Celtics 101-96 win, coach Erik Spoelstra talked about James' back:
Spo on LeBron’s status: “His back was a little sore in the walk-through today and it just didn’t get better, so it was smart to sit him.”— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) March 20, 2014
LeBron James (back spasms) is listed as day-to-day.— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) March 20, 2014
With the Heat on the second night of a back-to-back, it's likely this is more of a precaution than anything. James scored 43 points and grabbed six rebounds in 42 minutes of action in Tuesday night's 100-96 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers and showed little sign of discomfort. Coach Erik Spoelstra will also rest Greg Oden, who played 14 minutes in Cleveland and still struggles playing consecutive games.
James' back spasms coincide with a return to the lineup for Dwyane Wade, who was out Tuesday as the Heat continue monitoring his bothersome knee. Wade has missed 17 games this season, but had looked strong while playing in the previous seven before a much-needed night of rest.
It's likely a similar scenario is playing out here with James. The two-time defending league MVP has had ongoing back issues since the beginning of the season, though they've rarely manifested in ways that have affected his play. James is averaging a customary stat line of 27.0 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game while shooting a career-high 57.2 percent from the field.
The Heat are surprisingly 2-0 in games James has missed thus far, scoring a road win over Portland in December and defeating Chicago at home last month. They should be favored for a third straight win without their best player on Wednesday, with Boston coming into the game having lost five straight. After a promising start, the Celtics have tapered off and are among the cabal of teams competing for ping-pong balls.
More important here, though, is the Heat's continued lack of cohesion. Two championships have bought a lot of leeway, but Wade's constant absences and rotational shuffles have left Miami looking shaky at times. The team lost five of six games following James' 61-point outburst against the Bobcats on March 3, with James playing perhaps his worst stretch of basketball all year.
It's a challenge. When [Wade] was in and out, I knew exactly what I had to do and exactly how to attack the game. His health has gotten better. It's going to be better for the team but it's kind of got me out rhythm as an individual. It's not like our first year playing together. It's something that we figured out in Year One. You can't take it for granted. You still got to try to figure it back out and that's something I'm going through right now.
Both of James' best games this month have come with Wade out of the lineup, so this is at least something worth monitoring. James and Wade cannot trade off days during the playoffs, and their struggles playing together torpedoed their first championship run in 2011. They'll probably get into rhythm by April, but this is just another sign that earning the three-peat is far harder than anyone wants to admit.
Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel suggests that his "injury" is nothing more than a byproduct of the schedule:
Heat in the midst of 4 games in 5 nights, thus LeBron's back spasms. Wonder whether Chris Bosh's injury comes against Memphis or New Orleans— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) March 19, 2014
After Wednesday night's game, the team flies to Miami for a day off before hosting Memphis and traveling to New Orleans for another back-to-back. The Grizzlies are the test of those two teams, and it will be an interesting litmus test for the Wade-James relationship against an elite defense. Memphis is perhaps the best Western Conference facsimile version of the rival Pacers.
The playoffs begin in exactly one month.