Friday night was the dress rehearsal. On Tuesday, the banners go up, the rings come out and the defending NBA champions begin the season against the Boston Celtics.
The Heat played its final game of the preseason Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, losing to the New Orleans Hornets 96-89. Training camp lasted a month but, with a trip to China right smack in the middle of it, it actually felt much longer.
Miami went 4-4 in exhibition games.
Highlights from the Heat’s preseason included but were not limited to:
• Ray Allen checking into his first game in a Heat uniform.
• Dwyane Wade’s successful return from offseason knee surgery.
• LeBron James’ chopsticks competition against children in Shanghai. Yes, LeBron won, because he wins at everything — even chopsticks competitions against the Chinese.
• Mike Miller, letting it fly from three-point range. He was 9 of 15 from distance.
• The audacity of Mario Chalmers and his brilliant signature shoes (Spaldings).
• Shane Battier scorching the nets throughout. He finished (15 of 30) from three-point range.
• Udonis Haslem, in his first game back from injury, taking an off-the-ball charge with three minutes left in a meaningless game in Kansas City.
• Norris Cole’s absurd numbers from three-point range. He was 9 of 11 from distance in the preseason.
On Tuesday, all that will be forgotten, the slate will be wiped clean and defending champs will begin the long 82-game season before the real season, the postseason. While Miami will be the favorites to win the crown in June, there is plenty of room for improvement.
A few of the troublesome trends that need addressing entering the season:
• The Heat averaged 22 turnovers in the three contests entering Friday’s exhibition. The Heat had 17 giveaways against the Hornets, including four from Wade in the first quarter.
Of course, Wade wasn’t the sloppiest with the ball this preseason. That dubious distinction went to Cole. The second-year point guard finished the preseason with more turnovers (22) than assists (16).
Then there was Allen. His turnover numbers (16 in eight games) were high for a veteran.
Mistakes led to Friday’s loss. The night can be summed up in one play:
Down by two points in the third quarter, Dwyane Wade did well to intercept a nervous pass by Al-Farouq Aminu that led to a break. But Wade missed his layup attempt and, moments later, LeBron James missed on his put-back dunk attempt.
James finished with 19 points on 8 of 17 shooting to go along with eight rebounds and four assists. Wade had 15 points on 7 of 19 shooting. Chris Bosh, who was the Heat’s best player this preseason, had 21 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes.
The game was exhibition but it seemed anything but meaningless in final minutes. Wade and Bosh were on the court chasing the comeback that never.
Anthony Davis, the Hornets’ No. 1 draft pick, was a revelation on Friday. He finished the game with 24 points and 11 rebounds in 36 minutes of work. The rookie was 11 of 18 from the field and gave the Heat’s interior defense fits throughout the game. Davis, at 6-10, can run the floor just as easily as he can take on double teams in the paint.
Miller nailed a barrage of three three-pointers in the fourth quarter to give the Heat an 81-78 lead, but the Hornets answered with a three-pointer from Ryan Anderson and determined play from Davis and Greivis Vasquez (18 points and 10 assists).
Of course, in the end, the Heat’s failed comeback was inconsequential. James wasn’t even in the game in the fourth quarter.
He was barely paying attention during the preseason’s final quarter, already focused on the Celtics and the start of the regular season.