The decision for LeBron James to play against the Pacers came just a few minutes before Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was required to turn in his pregame lineup card.
After two straight days of treatment on his sprained left ankle, James met with Spoelstra and the Heat’s training staff 45 minutes before tipoff and the group decided there wasn’t a risk of further injury. James rolled his ankle in the third quarter against the Utah Jazz on Monday.
“I’m nowhere near 100 percent … but I’m good enough where I can be productive,” James said. “If I felt like I was going to hurt the team tonight, I wouldn’t be playing.”
In the past, James has missed games two days after twisting his ankle, but he admitted he had extra “incentive” to play against the Pacers despite lingering soreness. The Heat trailed the Pacers by two games in the loss column of the Eastern Conference standings entering the game.
“I love games like this and I would hate to sit this game out, so I’m here,” James said.
James started the game defensively on Pacers forward Paul George, but picked up two fouls in the first quarter. The second foul, a hand-check call on Lance Stephenson, sent James to the bench for Rashard Lewis with 2:59 left in the first period and the Heat trailing the Pacers 19-16.
“If I’m in the lineup, I don’t think Spo can keep me off him,” James said of guarding George before the game. “I love the individual matchup, and as much I could I was trying to be on him. I had a questionable call that kind of took me off him and I couldn’t be as aggressive as I wanted to, but he’s a very good player.
“His ball handling, his shooting, his confidence has made him into the player he is today, so I love the matchup.”
James checked back in less than two minutes into the second quarter with the Pacers leading 34-24.
Dwyane Wade was asked before the game whether he can relate to the Pacers’ focus on winning the East, considering the Heat couldn’t get past the Pistons early in Wade’s career.
“When you’re the team that’s chasing and you’re the hunter, obviously, you focus on it a lot more,” Wade said. “I think it’s a little different for us. We respect every team that we play, especially great teams like the Pacers. But their mentality is they want to beat the Heat. Our mentality is we got to take care of the whole league.
“It’s just a different kind of mindset that we have to deal with than they would. But they feel like we’re the biggest challenge and who they want to focus on, and rightfully so. We’ve been there before. We understand their mindset and they’re going to give us everything. All the games we play in the regular season and the playoffs, it’s going to be a great battle every time.”
• Pacers coach Frank Vogel missed Wednesday morning’s shootaround with an apparent case of food poisoning, according to the team. Vogel coached from the bench during the game, however.
• Shane Battier on defending Pacers center Roy Hibbert: “When you deal with size, you have to be really definitive in your rotations and your defensive movements. That’s the biggest weakness of being a smaller team. You’re just … at the end of the day, Roy Hibbert is 7-2, and you have to mitigate that with great awareness and sharpness in what you’re trying to accomplish defensively.”