Newly elevated starter Udonis Haslem was a pregame scratch on Monday after coming down with the flu.
Rashard Lewis started in place of Haslem at power forward, and Shane Battier once again came off the bench in a reserve role. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who recently reshuffled his starting lineup, said that Haslem hadn’t been able to eat 24 hours before the game and was told to stay home to avoid spreading his illness to teammates.
“We had to bar the doors,” Spoelstra joked.
Lewis started for three consecutive games after Battier injured his knee on Nov. 24. Lewis managed just five points during that stretch and was replaced in the starting lineup by Haslem after the Heat’s loss to Washington. The Heat was 1-1 with Haslem as a starter before Monday’s game against the Hawks.
There’s more to passing for LeBron James than just finding the open man. James shared some of his secrets after Monday morning’s shootaround. He was ranked 10th in the NBA in assists (6.9 per game) before facing the Hawks. His career average is 6.9 assists per game.
For James, the placement of the pass is just as important as the pass itself. Spoelstra compared James’ vision to that of a Super Bowl quarterback.
“It’s not always just finding the guy who’s open,” James said. “It’s also when it gets to him, where he’s at, where the ball is placed where all he has to do is catch and finish or catch and shoot.”
And knowing his teammates’ tendencies is just as important as knowing how to read defenses.
“Everyone likes the ball in different places, and I have to understand that,” James said. “I know where D-Wade likes the ball and where Shane likes the ball, Ray [ Allen], [ Chris Bosh] — certain bounce pass or chest passes that you can give to people.”
James always has disliked being compared to the game’s former greats. The topic came up after the shootaround, and James bristled when asked whether he was more like Magic Johnson than Michael Jordan.
“I don’t compare to Magic; I don’t compare to M.J.; I don’t compare to Oscar Robertson,” James said. “Just like I don’t think those guys compare to anyone else. But you guys [reporters] need to compare me to someone, so I’ll let y’all figure it out.”
When James first came into the league, many believed he would the NBA’s next Jordan. But James is arguably a better dribbler and passer than Jordan and the two have different body-types. James is built more like Johnson, another great passer, but James is stronger and more rugged.
“I play with more force, and he was more savvy and flashy and strides,” he said.
A historian of the game, James offered an interesting perspective on why fans feel the need to always identity “the next Jordan.”
“Ever since his really, really dominant years, everyone has been trying to find [Jordan],” James said. “Is it Grant Hill or is it Penny Hardaway? Is it Vince Carter? Is it Harold Miner? Tracy McGrady? Who is the next Michael Jordan?
“Anytime someone comes in with any kind of athletic skills, who can run and jump, they always want to put that tag on someone before they get into their game and see what exactly they’re good at.
“The comparisons are great and I’m humbled by it because [Jordan] is a hero of mine and somebody I always look up to, but I’m who I am. Hopefully, the comparisons will be, who’s the next L.J. not M.J.”