Even though most of his players — and staff — were suffering from extreme jet lag, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t take it easy in the team’s first practice since returning from its weeklong tour of China.
The Heat arrived in Miami on Sunday evening, and Spoelstra gave everyone Monday off and then pushed back Tuesday’s morning practice to noon.
Once on the practice court at AmericanAirlines Arena, however, the brief respite was over.
“We didn’t waste any time getting back to work,” Spoelstra said. “We did take [Monday] off, and we had a 16-hour flight. I counted that as an extra day. Guys had a lot of time just sitting around. They had a lot of energy [Tuesday]. We went after it. I didn’t put the brakes on.”
Sleep on the back end of such a long trip with such a drastic change in time is the biggest problem. For the most part, players slept for good portions for the lengthy flight, but the 12-hour difference between China and Miami plays tricks on one’s internal clock.
The Heat returns to a normal schedule Wednesday — so it says.
“I’m not back just yet. I know it’s going to take a few days,” said LeBron James, who said he woke up at 3:30 on Tuesday morning and couldn’t force himself back to sleep. “You just try and work it off. It takes four or five days before you’re all the way back.’’
Spoelstra called the Heat’s trip “cool’’ as both Miami and the Los Angeles Clippers were more than warmly received in a country that is in love with basketball.
Fans were falling over themselves to get a glimpse of current and former members of the Heat on the trip, and Spoelstra compared the fan reaction during the exhibition games as something one would see during the NBA postseason.
“The crowds were amazing,” said Spoelstra, who said he was awed by visiting the Great Wall. “The atmosphere for two preseason games was terrific. I like those trips. The travel is never easy, but the benefits outweigh that.”
Shane Battier is an extremely popular figure in China because of his shoe contract with Peak. Battier has traveled to China numerous times and is referred to as “Mr. President.” He said he was goofed on by teammates as his overacted commercial was played almost on a constant loop on the English channels players frequented.
“I think they were sick of that commercial by the end of the trip,” said Battier, whose image is plastered on billboards throughout China. “It was on every day, probably every other commercial break. They were making fun of me. I was looking very angry, very intense.”
The Heat split two exhibition games against the Clippers in China, winning in Beijing and losing in Shanghai before heading back to South Florida.
Although the trip was rough on the bodies, both Spoelstra and Battier figure the NBA is going to hold regular-season games in Asia eventually. The game, the reasoning goes, is too popular, and there is just too much money to ignore.
“It will happen,” Battier said. “I won’t be playing, I’ll be long gone, but it will happen. And it will be very difficult. It’s a long trip, no question. But the passion and the enthusiasm for NBA basketball is too great.’’
“If I continue to keep progressing, I want to play,” said Wade, who had offseason knee surgery. “I have to be smart about it as well. I want to play Thursday and keep getting my legs under me. I want to be ready for opening night.”• James said he “had nothing to do” with the special Marvel Comic in the upcoming ESPN The Magazine titled, “LeBron: King of the Rings.”
The premise is after Miami wins the 2013 championship, James is forced to win titles without Wade and Chris Bosh (who leave because of the luxury tax). James does so with a cast of characters that include Battier (as a zombie who doesn’t count against the cap because he’s deceased), a “395-pound Eddy Curry” and a Mike Miller so beat up he uses a walker and a neck halo.
The comic continues with James nearing retirement — although Pat Riley used DNA lifted from James’ headband to clone an entire team made up of LeBron James as the Heat wins yet another championship. An aged James eventually returns to Cleveland where he leads the Cavaliers to the title as well.
“I love comic books, and I heard it’s pretty good,” James said. When asked if it could be the next Marvel movie hit, James said, “I haven’t read it yet. Let me check it out first.”