LeBron James thought a loss to Orlando would have ruined New Year’s Eve.
But more importantly, it would have raised growing concerns about the team’s recent performances.
Luckily for the Heat, James had another near triple-double and helped the team pull out an overtime win against the Magic on Monday that prevented what would have been a third consecutive defeat.
“It was a must-win to end the trip and the year off the right way,” James said. “We had to figure out how to win on the road again and that was a good start.”
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James has been a marvel of consistency despite the recent road difficulties.
James averaged 27.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.5 assists in December. Those numbers, according to Elias Sports Bureau, have only been reached in a month by two other players in NBA history that played at least 10 games in a month — Wilt Chamberlain (February 1967) and Larry Bird (March 1987). He also takes his 29-game streak of scoring at least 20 points in a game (which ranks second all time) into the new year.
James closed out his dream 2012 year in which he won his first NBA championship, an Olympic gold medal and a third league MVP with 36 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.
“One thing I liked is I saw an absolute competitive desperation in our guys in the fourth quarter and overtime [Monday],” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “In a perfect world, I would’ve liked it where we didn’t have to get pushed that far to the brink. But our guys did not want to lose this game.”
Spoelstra knows his team needs to find more consistency than it displayed during its recent four-game road trip in which poor performances for entire quarters or halves contributed to a pair of disappointing defeats.
“No matter who you’re playing, who’s in the uniform, you’ve got to fight for every win in this league, particularly on the road,” Spoelstra said. “Consistency, we definitely have to work on that. We’re capable of it. Again, we’re looking forward to 2013, and the consistency is hopefully right around the corner for us.”
In all four games of the road trip, the Heat had spurts of brilliance where it looked as unstoppable.
Those were often followed by defensive lapses and cold-shooting quarters that allowed teams to come back and take huge leads often in a matter of one quarter.
Against Detroit, the Heat jumped out to a 15-point lead after the first quarter only to surrender 41 points in the second and never recover. Against Milwaukee, the Heat played a great third quarter to erase a 12-point deficit only to allow the Bucks to score 23 of the first 28 points in the fourth in another loss.
The Heat nearly surrendered a lead as large as 19 points to the Bobcats before closing out that victory late. And against Orlando on Monday, Miami jumped to a nine-point lead in the first quarter before Orlando outscored it 32-17 in the second.
Rebounding and its defense against drives to the basket by an undermanned Magic squad hurt Miami. Second-year center Nikola Vucevic had a record-setting game with a 29-rebound performance. It was the most by a Heat opponent and most in Magic history, topping Shaquille O’Neal’s 28 in a game in 1993.
Spoelstra said the focus of the team must center on its own play and not who is on the other side of the court.
“It’s a whole new season and a whole new trophy everyone is trying to win,” Spoelstra said. “We’re trying to get our game right and play at an elite level consistently. We’ve shown that at times, but we’re not quite there. We have time to improve.”
The Heat play its next three at home against the Mavericks, Bulls and Wizards before playing 10 of the following 12 on the road.
“We know we are going to have to stop teams, especially on the road,” Chris Bosh said. “It is going to be a hell of a grind for the next month. We just have to keep our heads, play our game and get better every day.”