CHARLOTTE — There are some statements that are directed at society at large, and others that are meant for a much tighter circle, the sort of circle that gathered around LeBron James in a Time Warner Arena corridor, roughly 20 minutes prior to Monday's tip.
"No letdowns! Let's close this series out! That's what we're here for!"
They were there to sweep the battered Bobcats, and they would succeed in that, pulling away in the second half, 109-98, to earn at least five days off prior to the start of the second round against Toronto or Brooklyn. But while they were at it, they stepped on the social consciousness stage again, stripped off their "White Hot" T-shirts in the center of the court to reveal inside-out warm-ups—the style that the Los Angeles Clippers wore after the release of Donald Sterling's alleged racism-laced tirade.
"I can't imagine what the Clippers are going through," James said. "Obviously, they had to focus on a huge game (Sunday), but you can tell that some of their focus was taken away because of the incidents that's happened with their owner. Like I've stated before, there's no room in this game for an owner like that. For us as basketball players, we're all brothers."
So James and the Heat showed respect to the Clippers, and then—after a sluggish defensive start—they showed just enough to the Bobcats.
Without their offensive fulcrum, Al Jefferson, Charlotte needed Kemba Walker to produce his best performance of the series, and he did with 29 points, five rebounds and five assists. Charlotte even led by one with 7:28 left in the third quarter, before James took over, scoring seven points in 83 seconds, and then controlling the action while playing with the Heat's ultra-active subs. After his four assists in the final 3:03 of the quarter, it was 84-71, and the only question was whether Charlotte owner Michael Jordan would take flight before the finish.
Jordan didn't, rising to his feet with five seconds left, watching the clock count down, and then waiting until James shared handshakes and warm words with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jefferson. Then, near the Bobcats tunnel, he and Jordan extended one hand to each other, as Jordan patted James—who had just posted a stat line of 31 points, seven rebounds and nine assists—on the back, much of which after shaking off a knee to the quad.
"It was just a respect factor," James said of the encounter.
James congratulated Jordan on the Bobcats' surprisingly strong season.
"He told me, he told all of us to stay healthy and keep it going," James said.
Now the Heat go where everyone expected: onward. And, sure, many will downplay eliminating a green 43-win team with a hobbled, and then absent, best player.
But some promising things happened.
First, as James noted, "the last month-and-a-half to two months, we did a horrible job of taking care of the ball," and in this series, they averaged just 9.8 turnovers per game, including eight on Monday.
Second, Dwyane Wade came out of the series feeling better than he did when it started, only feeling fatigue a couple of times, and now able to resume his intensive program with trainer Tim Grover. "I like the progression I made in this series," Wade said.
Third, Norris Cole, who was on the edge of unplayable over the last two months, played with more poise (no turnovers in Game 4) and hitting his jumper. "I like playing when there's more at stake," Cole said after Sunday's practice. If he keeps playing like this, he'll keep getting the chance.
Fourth, Erik Spoelstra rediscovered James Jones, and while the matchups may warrant greater usage of Shane Battier down the line, Jones certainly proved that Spoelstra shouldn't just stash him away. He made seven of 16 three-point shots in the series, consistently creating space for James, and finishing the series at plus-46 in 63 minutes. The entire Heat bench, inconsistent all season, dominated as it did against Milwaukee in the 2013 first round. Now it needs to carry that over.
And, finally, James escaped the series unscathed, except for a few bruises.
"I feel pretty good," he said. "I'm getting to my game. I was able to control my turnovers and be able to shoot at a high clip at the free-throw line. That's very important to me. Those are the two things that I know, when I'm feeling pretty good, I'm getting to the line and making my free throws and I'm not turning the ball over. And also, being able to get my guys involved."
His team got in, and got out.
Yes, it seems that, for Miami, the playoffs haven't started yet, at least not when compared to the slugfests around America. But Miami isn't concerned about providing gripping entertainment, at least not at this stage. It just wanted to advance, as expeditiously as possible.
"It was great," James said. "We got tested by a very young and scrappy Bobcats team. And the way we responded was a championship-type attitude. And we've got to get better. We can't play like we played this round next round."
They can't, whether it's Toronto or Brooklyn, teams currently tied at two.
"I don't think any of us know what to expect from that series," Dwyane Wade said. "Two different styles."
Two different sets of storylines, too.
Against the grizzled Nets, the story will be the Heat's 0-4 record in the regular season, the revival of James' personal rivalry with Paul Pierce, as well as the Boston breakup of Ray Allen with Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Against the youthful Raptors, the story will be the Heat's recent dominance (including a 4-0 mark this season), as well as the return of an All-Star who took his talents out of Toronto.
"I know the boobirds will be out and everything," Chris Bosh said. "If we play them, that will give them extra incentive to come after the game, and do whatever, be more excited than usual. But people do what they want to do. Can't control that. I'm over it. I've moved on, so—"
Not much more needed to be said Monday.
They all moved on, on to Round 2.
That's all they were here for, no less and no more.
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