Kobe Bryant is still king in China and Yao Ming is the game’s legendary forefather in this up-and-coming country, but LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat have carved out names for themselves here.
The Heat represented the NBA as its defending champion during the league’s China Games, splitting a pair of preseason contests with the Los Angeles Clippers in Beijing and Shanghai. On Sunday in Shanghai, the Heat lost to the Clippers 99-89 at Mercedes-Benz Arena before boarding a plane for the long trip back to Miami.
“I think it has been a good week for us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It has been a week where we have spent an inordinate amount of time together. We were able to take every bus ride together, eat virtually every meal together and experience some cultural activities together.”
The people of China love basketball, but they are still getting used to the game. For example, the court was like a slip-and slid- thanks to the arena’s staff leaving huge bay doors to its loading dock wide open for hours before and during the game.
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Mercedes-Benz Arena is located on the Huangpu River and moisture and humidity from the busy waterway blew into the arena throughout the game. The bank of the river is less than 300 yards from the loading docks.
Arena personnel dried the entire court with towels during every timeout but it was still a hazardous 48 minutes for the players. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh played limited minutes and it was probably for the best.
James finished with 11 points in 20 minutes, going 5 of 8 from the floor. His alley-oop from Wade in the first quarter was the Heat’s highlight of the game. After that, the team took a relaxed approach to the game. James, Wade and Bosh sat for most of the second quarter while the Heat emptied its bench of training-camp players.
Wade had seven points in his second game back from offseason knee surgery and played less than nine minutes. Bosh had 11 points in 20 minutes. Reserve Rodney Carney led the team with 15 points, including a trio of three-pointers.
Heat regulars Joel Anthony, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, James Jones, Mike Miller and Dexter Pittman did not play.
Chris Paul returned to the starting lineup for the Clippers and had four points in 21 minutes. Blake Griffin scored 13 and DeAndre Jordan had 18, pounding the Heat inside in the first half.
Logistically, a trip to China in the middle of training camp isn’t what’s best for preparing for the start of the season, but, all things considered, the trip was worthwhile.
For the Heat, the week wasn’t about performances — although the team will certainly be working on its interior defense after Sunday’s effort. Most Americans go to China for one reason, business, and the Heat did its part to foster growth in the game and in the NBA.
“The NBA is the second biggest sport in the world as to participation of players, so our brand is extending throughout the world and it isn’t just because of the players,” said Heat president Pat Riley. “The NBA is doing incredible business.”
The superstars are, without question, the biggest draw in China. Fans chanted “LeBron! LeBron! LeBron!” with about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter but the reigning MVP never re-entered the game. The Heat’s Big 3 didn’t play in the fourth quarter.
That didn’t stop the crowd in Shanghai from having fun. While not as manic as their countrymen in Beijing, the fans in this southern city of China did the sport proud. And, man, do they love the song Gangnam Style. Cheers for the Korean rap tune rivaled screams for the players.
Back to business
The Heat was scheduled to arrive in Miami at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. After a few days to recover from jetlag, it’s back to the business of training camp and the preseason. The Heat must cut down its roster by five players.
“We knew that when we accepted this a year ago that there would be some issues from the standpoint of continuity and really training camp type of work, that kind of stuff that you need at the beginning,” Riley said. “But I think the experience far transcends any of that right now.
“When we get back home, I think we can hunker down. I know coach wants to do that and I know the players want to do that.”