LeBron James was in the locker room, probably watching Ohio State’s comeback victory against Purdue, when the Heat and Spurs lined up for the national anthem.
After the game, James, Udonis Haslem and a few other teammates couldn’t leave the building fast enough. They were all headed to the University of Miami’s home game against No. 12 Florida State and wanted to make it to Sun Life Stadium on time. James grew up a Florida State fan. Haslem supports the Canes, of course.
So it was that kind of preseason game Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich grimaced when he learned before the game that James wouldn’t be playing because of “general soreness.” He wanted the youngsters on his team to go up against the game’s best player. But even without James, the Heat defeated the Spurs 104-101.
It was a day more about filling out the back of the Heat’s roster than concentrating on the stars. Rashard Lewis, attempting a comeback bid after two years of injuries, had his most productive game of the preseason. He led the Heat with 15 points in 20 minutes, going 6 of 9 from the field and 3 of 6 from three-point range.
His three-pointer with 5:11 left in the game tied the score at 95. It was a one-point game until reserve Terrel Harris put the Heat (3-2) ahead by the final margin with 26.9 seconds left.
Lewis entered the game shooting 38 percent in four preseason games. He said he “felt a lot better” Saturday but still has a long way to go.
“I just feel like I haven’t played the game of basketball in so long,” Lewis said. “I’m still trying to get my legs up under me.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Lewis has improved daily during training camp and the team will continue to have patience while Lewis works himself back into basketball shape.
“We understand that it will be a process,” Spoelstra said. “Anytime you miss that much time, you can’t expect to come back and feel in rhythm, particularly on a new team. So, I like the progress that he’s made even if he didn’t hit those threes [Saturday].”
Lewis wasn’t the only player to make a good impression. Heat reserve center Dexter Pittman had his best game of the preseason, scoring eight points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field. Pittman also had six rebounds in 17 minutes.
Pittman had two impressive dunks during the game and at times looked proficient around the basket. At other times, he couldn’t hang on to the ball or committed unnecessary fouls. Still, it was a positive night overall for the third-year player who is hoping to have a more significant role on the team this season.
“It’s just about me getting confidence and playing hard, that’s it,” Pittman said. “I’ve just got to keep going. I put in the work this summer, and when you put in the work, it shows.”
Of the Heat’s returning players, Mike Miller set the tone early. He went 4of 4 from three-point range in the first half and finished with 12 points, four assists and five rebounds.
Miller, who rehabilitated an ailing back throughout the offseason, said he’s not exactly pain free, but, compared with last season, “it’s not even close.”
“But I’ve still got a long way to go,” Miller said. “I’m rehabbing every day and staying on top of it and hopefully I’ll continue to get healthier.”
Reserve guard Garrett Temple and center Josh Harrellson made a big push toward earning roster spots Saturday. Temple had five points, six assists and four rebounds in 26 minutes. Harrellson scored five consecutive points in crunch time, including a three-pointer. He finished with 10 points in 14 minutes.
“I’m just getting a chance to play,” Temple said. “I’m getting an opportunity. It was unfortunate what happened to [Mario Chalmers] but it gives me an opportunity to play and get some run.”
Chalmers (quadriceps), Haslem (quadriceps) and Joel Anthony (hamstring) did not play. Haslem said after the game that he expects to play Tuesday in North Carolina. The Heat plays the Bobcats in Raleigh before heading to Kansas City for an exhibition game against the Wizards.