After winning back-to-back chips and putting themselves in a position to be recognized among the greatest NBA teams of all time, the burden was on the rest of the NBA to stop Miami from three-peating. The talent is still there. The experience is invaluable, and the psychological edge that Miami holds over every team in the league is called "LeBron James."
James tweaked his ankle late in the second quarter when he landed on a referee's foot after missing a layup and will be re-evaluated in Portland before the game. Despite the janky ankle, LeBron was still able to drop 33 points and his 11 O.T. points kept Miami in it.
After playing 44 minutes, James wasn't sure he would play on the second night of a back-to-back set for the Heat. "It's not feeling too well right now,"said James. "I don't know what happened in the first half. I played [much of] the second half and overtime, and strained my groin. I'll see how I feel on our trip to Portland tonight and into tomorrow. But it ain't feeling too good right now."
King James was already carrying a crew of wounded warriors through this first half of the season. While a younger, stronger Indiana has risen to the top of the Eastern Conference, Miami is still a formidable 22-7 despite resembling a MASH Unit. Dwayne Wade's grandfather-like knees are acting up again. Jesus Shuttlesworth's knees are frequent flyers too, and high-energy guy Birdman Andersen is nursing a bad back.
Fans were hoping to see LeBron's Heat go head-to-head with LaMarcus Aldridge's hot-shot Blazers squad. If James is unable to go tonight, the game won't be indicative of anything other than how vulnerable Miami will be in the playoffs if James' game is compromised by nagging injuries. People forget LeBron's in his 11th season, so statistically he's already on borrowed time. With the influx of high school dudes and fab freshman over the last 20 years, NBA careers are ending at a younger age. The players are in supreme physical condition, but the other side of 30 is the other side of 30. Mother nature doesn't usually discriminate in that regard.
James has battled through a sea of nagging injuries, including a sprained ankle against Utah on Dec.16 and a sore back in the first month of the season. ESPN reports that he also suffered a mild injury to his left hand against the Kings. Usually LBJ would just hop in the booth and put on his save-the-world suit. He always keeps a confident game face and his performance never indicates any physical limitations or impediments. But that ankle was really giving him hell in the third-quarter when DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas were horsing cats.
"LeBron James is concerned about this one," Heat beat writer Brian Windhorst said on ESPN. "He doesn't know how his groin injury is going to respond to treatment. He hasn't had alot of experience with this kind of injury. With all of those injuries coming together, the Heat may keep him out tonight. "
It was a glimpse into what the Kings could be if their young guns came to ball on a nightly basis. Seeing The King on his knees, head held low fighting considerable pain, is also a reminder that an athletic career is like an eye blink. It's Paul Walker and Vin Diesel racing one country mile.
LeBron's only getting older and after so many years of banging boards, bodies and basketballs, it's inevitable that the 29-year old will never be the physical freak he was at 22. I mean, it's milestone time. LBJ just passed Larry Bird and Gary "The Glove" Payton to move into 29th place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. When you start hunting down immortals, it usually means your prime is behind you.
Don't get me twisted. His overall game, basketball IQ, court vision, leadership and puppet-master maneuvers still sets him apart from every other court-wrecker. However, the usually unflappable champ expressed some frustration after Friday's loss, as the injuries keep stacking for the Heat, since getting off to the best start in franchise history through their first 28 games.
"If it's not one injury, it's the next one," said James, who also chipped in eight rebounds and eight assists. "So hopefully I can get through this one."
The Trailblazers won't shed tears for LBJ if he can't go. Without LBJ's size and tenacious D, Aldridge might drop 45. It's a good bet LeBron plays every game for the rest of the season, but for the first time in LeBron's career an injury may turn him into a cheerleading spectator. What if the groin never really gets right and LeBron misses a crucial playoff game? Playing with such an inury is much easier said than done, to just play through that situation.
At the very least, it's something to keep an eye on as the Heat look to become the first team to three-peat since The Shaq and Kobe Lakers. It may seem far-fetched, but the fact that LeBron may even be sitting out because of injury is something totally new to Miami. The chinks in the Heat's armor become more visible. The three-peat becomes less feasible and opponents gain a Bobby Brown on coke kind of confidence, with James chilling on the bench.