Because of his size and strength, LeBron James often withstands hard fouls. But because he remains upright, flagrant fouls aren’t called.
For a second on Wednesday, Wizards forward Maurice Evans looked like a helpless defensive back trying in vain to keep a 6-8, 250-pound tight end out of the end zone.
During a fastbreak attempt in the second half, Evans jumped on the back of LeBron James to prevent an easy basket. Although Evans’ foul appeared to be intentional, and possibly flagrant, no such call was made. Instead, James was assessed a technical for complaining a little too vociferously about the play.
Such is the life of the NBA’s physical anomaly, James, the player with the size of a forward, speed of a guard and body-type of a football player. James often doles out just as much contact as he receives and doesn’t make a habit of complaining, but on Wednesday he voiced his displeasure after the game.
“I don’t know if Mo Evans’ intention was to be dirty,” James said. “I watch a lot of basketball. I see a lot of basketball every day. Every time someone gets grabbed around the neck, it’s an automatic flagrant foul.
“If I’m wrong, tell me I’m wrong. But it seems like every time I get hit hard or a hard foul, and all I get is two shots and they take the ball out.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said James’ unique physical gifts, along with the speed of the game, makes it difficult for officials.
“He’s so big, so physical, so fast and then the combination of all those things coming at you and then there’s contact, it’s not easy [to officiate],” Spoelstra said. “He absorbs a lot more contact than people realize. He’s big and tough enough that he shrugs it off, but you guys go in there and see him in the locker room. He’s got ice packs on pretty much every part of his body.”
During an average game, James fights through body checks, hacks and fouls that would send most players crashing to the court. In physical contests such as the Heat’s 123-107 victory against the Wizards, James almost feels abused.
“Sometimes it’s unfair because of how strong I am,” James said. “I can take punishment of course, but at the same time, I just feel like it’s unfair sometimes.”
The Heat’s four-game trip is against some of the bottom feeders of the NBA, who have no chance of making the playoffs. With the regular season almost over, Cleveland and Washington seemed to approach their games against Miami as a consolation prize — one last chance to make a statement before the offseason begins.
On Wednesday, Dwyane Wade said teams out of the playoff race are “playing free.” The Heat likely will face a similar scenario Friday night against the woeful Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves (17-58) are in last place in the Western Conference but a visit from the Heat provides motivation former Heat player Michael Beasley and All-Star Kevin Love.
The Heat’s defense has waned since its five-game winning streak — the Wizards shot 49 percent on Wednesday — and Spoelstra has implored his team to approach its final trip before the playoffs with the same intensity it displayed in recent wins against the Lakers and Spurs. The Heat plays the Nets on Sunday before returning to Miami.
“This road trip is important for us,” Spoelstra said. “We all understand that. These next two games are as critical as they can be going down the stretch and all we can focus on is the next one and Friday in Minnesota during the spring — let’s go do it.”
Despite the level of competition, it has been a demanding back-to-back for the Big 3, and especially James, who played 44 physical minutes Wednesday after logging 43 minutes against the Cavs, his former team.
Before the trip, James said he wouldn’t mind a little downtime before the playoffs, but, entering Thursday night, Miami was tied with the Celtics in the standings — 2½ games behind the Bulls — and fighting for second place in the Eastern Conference. The Heat held an optional practice Thursday in Minnesota to give its stars time to rest.
Wizards rookie John Wall was suspended one game without pay for his role in a scuffle during Wednesday’s game. Heat forward Juwan Howard was handed a $35,000 fine and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas was fined $25,000 for their actions, the NBA announced.
Wall was playing tight defense on Ilgauskas, who while protecting the ball appeared to elbow Wall in the face at least once. Wall then swung his right hand at Ilgauskas.
Wizards center JaVale McGee tried to separate the two and was pushed by Howard. Wall and Ilgauskas each received a flagrant foul-2 and were ejected. Howard was called for a technical and ejected for escalation.