Like always, Chris Bosh started this preseason an afterthought. Like always, his smooth and efficient shot didn’t seem to mind.
With Dwyane Wade out of the lineup to rest his legs, Bosh scored 21 points in the Heat’s first exhibition game of the 2013 NBA preseason, a 92-87 victory against the Hawks.
Wade was a late scratch after consulting with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, but his absence hardly mattered after Bosh began the game with nine points in a row. He had 19 points in the first half and finished the game 7 of 8 from the field and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line.
On any other team, Bosh would be a franchise player.
For the Heat, the perennial All-Star is an outlet valve with a great shot and a strong move to the basket.
He did both of those things exceptionally well against Atlanta, which is in the early stages of development under new coach Mike Budenholzer, but still features Al Horford, one of the better interior players in the league.
Bosh’s three-point shot, which was so important to the Heat’s postseason success in May and June, was back Monday. As was his spinning drives to the basket. New to the repertoire was a no-look pass to LeBron James in the third quarter that demonstrated a level of chemistry between teammates that only comes through time on the court.
“Just being back with the guys these past couple weeks now I realize how much we’ve played together,” Bosh said.
Bosh has adapted well over time to the shifting role Spoelstra has asked him to play both offensively and defensively. Still, the challenge of blending in and finding spots with both James and Wade on the court never fully goes away.
“It’s just something until I’m done playing that will always be a challenge every year and will be difficult,” Bosh said. “That’s the name of the game for me. I’ve never been in a situation where I can say, ‘OK, this is what I do and that’s it.’ My advantage is to just be able to go everywhere, and that helps this team out. Coach gives me the challenge every year, and I take it.”
Spoelstra said Bosh’s role would always continue to evolve.
“It won’t be a destination,” Spoelstra said. “It doesn’t stop for him. He has become position-less offensively and he has become position-less defensively. We talk about one through five but Chris, in many situations for us, has turned out to be one through five.”
Bosh said Spoelstra has challenged him once again this preseason to adapt his game to the Heat’s game plan. He spreads the floor offensively and can cover ground defensively like few other big men in the game.
“He has to guard so many different areas of the floor, the more times he’s in it the more comfortable and confident he will feel about it,” Spoelstra said.
Other than Bosh’s standout performance, it was a typical preseason opener not unlike any other. In other words, it was sloppy. The Heat led by as many as 22 points in the second half, but needed two late free throws by Roger Mason Jr. to seal the victory. Mason has only been with the team for a few weeks but already looks like a player who will be sticking around after the preseason.
He had 14 points in 27 minutes in his Heat debut, going 3 of 4 from three-point line while also recording six rebounds and four assists.
“He’s a great fit,” said James, who finished with nine points, five rebounds and five assists. “He’s just a solid basketball player that knows how to play the game. He’s a combo guard who can spread the floor but also handle the ball, he doesn’t make any mistakes, and he fits right in.”
Shelvin Mack came off the bench to lead the Hawks with 13 points. Paul Millsap had 12 points. Horford finished with nine 10 points and nine rebounds.
Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline watched the game courtside. His camouflage pants and red Jordans were a nice touch.
Wade’s plan for the offseason: “I’ll play some, get a rhythm, get tired, try to fight through it, continue to learn the offense and get better with the defense, etc. Same as I’ve probably been doing the last few years. Pick and choose which games and see how I feel from game to game. Coach understands that I know my body.”