Always candid Chris Bosh left little doubt. In his mind, there was no chance LeBron James would miss one of the most important games of the regular season.
James sprained his left ankle Monday night in a game against the Utah Jazz, which left some question as to whether or not he would be healthy enough to play against the Indiana Pacers when the two teams face Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
It will be the second time the two best teams in the Eastern Conference have met this so far this season.
At practice Tuesday, James and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said James’ playing status would be a game-time decision.
Bosh didn’t buy it.
“He’s going to play,” Bosh said. “He’s just fooling everybody.”
For James and the Heat, though, Tuesday’s questions about the reigning MVP’s left ankle turned into another opportunity to discount a regular-season game against the Pacers, the top team in the East. The Pacers are two games ahead of the Heat in the Eastern Conference standings.
“I’m going to sit if I’m not feeling comfortable [Wednesday] with my ankle,” James said. “It don’t matter who we’re playing. Obviously, if it was a playoff game, I would play, so it doesn’t matter if it’s the Pacers or not.
“We are a long-term team and I’m a long-term player and I’m going to try my best to police myself on this one. If we’d played [Tuesday], I wouldn’t be able to play, but we’ll see how I feel [Wednesday].”
James didn’t practice Tuesday morning and stayed off his feet as much as possible throughout the day, but the injury on Monday appeared to annoy him more than anything. After twisting his ankle in the third quarter against the Jazz, James reentered the game to finish with 30 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
He ended his scoring with a thunderous driving dunk through the lane, but paths to rim against the Pacers likely won’t be so easy. Led by 7-2 center Roy Hibbert, a defensive player of the year candidate, the Pacers’ defense is the best in the league and held the Heat to a season-low 84 points last week in Indianapolis.
Despite Hibbert’s interior presence, the Heat actually outscored the Pacers in the paint (42-38), but abnormally poor shooting from three-point range by the Heat’s sharpshooters allowed the Pacers to surge ahead in the fourth quarter. The Heat shot 19 percent (4 of 21) from three-point range.
Many of those three-point attempts for the Heat were wide open, but the atmosphere inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse and, perhaps, the game being the final of a four-game trip conspired to rattle the timing of the Heat’s shooters.
One of those shooters, Shane Battier, still appears to be a little shaken. Battier went 1 of 6 in that first meeting against Indiana and said several of his misses would haunt his dreams.
Hyperbole aside, the shooting performance seemingly has triggered one of Battier’s occasional shooting slumps. He hasn’t attempted a shot from outside since the loss. One of the main reasons Battier is starting at power forward is because of his ability to make three-pointers, especially against teams like Indiana.
“I just haven’t had shots,” Battier said. “We’ve been scoring. I just haven’t received the ball in those positions, so, I don’t know.”
Overall, the Heat was shooting 30 percent from three-point range in the six games before Monday’s blowout of the Jazz. Miami was 6 of 15 (40 percent) against Utah, but that uptick in statistics wasn’t the reason for the blowout. The Heat shot 63.4 percent from the field by attacking the paint. Led by James, the Heat had a season-high 10 dunks and 60 points in the paint.
A little more muscle and a little less gamesmanship might be formula worth considering against the Pacers. After all, head-to-head matchups between the Heat and Pacers could decide the top of the Eastern Conference standings and home-court advantage for the playoffs.
“I think throughout the regular season that first spot is going to be, it’s going to go back and forth,” Bosh said. “We don’t have to worry about anything else, you know. As the season goes on, we’re always going to be looking at what they’re doing, they’re going to be looking at what we’re doing and these games are important because who knows what it’s going to come down to.
“So, we want to come out and win this game. It’s going to be an interesting thing. It’s not what we expected from the East, but we can’t worry about that. We’ve just got to take care of our business and make sure that we’re doing what we’re supposed to do so we can give that one seed a shot at the end of the day.”