LeBron James lowered his shoulder with little more than three minutes remaining against the Utah Jazz, dribbled to his left and powered through the paint for yet another dunk. It was as if he wanted to test his ankle one final time.
The Indiana Pacers were scheduled to arrive in Miami on Tuesday, which made pretty much everything that happened on Monday in a 117-94 victory for the Heat against the Utah Jazz instantly irrelevant the moment the final horn sounded at AmericanAirlines Arena — everything except James’ ankle, of course.
James rolled his left ankle in the third quarter against the Jazz (6-21), which turned an uninteresting game against the worst team in the Western Conference into a potential problem for the Heat (18-6). James was dribbling down the court in transition and attempted to cut but his ankle had different plans. Immediately, James’ face turned into a scowl of frustration and anger. Wade checked in, James took a seat on the bench and then slammed his hand against the floor in disgust.
“I turned my ankle, and it will be sore in the morning,” James said. “I’ve been here before, and we’ll see what happens. I know in the morning it will be pretty sore.”
After being evaluated by the Heat’s trainer, James checked back into the game in the fourth quarter and finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Now the waiting begins to see how James’ ankle will respond. That final dunk of the game against Utah was a good sign.
“It was the ankle that he tweaked before, and he said he was ready to go,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “So, we just watched him with a careful eye.”
Chris Bosh joked after the game that James always rolls his ankle in December, so it was destined to happen. Despite the injury, James went 7 of 8 from the field in the second half to finish the game 13 of 17 overall. The efficient shooting came on a night the Heat shot 63.4 percent, which set a franchise record. It also was the highest shooting percentage in an NBA game this season. The Heat’s Big 3 combined for 77 points.
Dwyane Wade said he wasn’t worried about James because “he has super ankles.”
“I know he just needed to tie them up tighter and he’d be back out there,” Wade said. “Obviously, the next day your ankles are always sore, but we’ve got another day before we play, so he’ll be fine.”
Wade had 27 points, going 9 of 14 from the field and 9 of 10 from the free-throw line. It was a positive sign for Wade, who struggled earlier in the month with sore knees. Bosh had 20 points, shooting 8 of 13 from the field. A 19-foot jumper by Bosh with five minutes left in the third quarter put the Heat’s field-goal percentage above 60 percent.
Hours before Monday’s game, Bosh spoke earnestly about rebounding. He said the Heat needed to be more consistent, that “anyone” could be good for one game but that the Heat’s main goal was to limit teams’ offensive rebounds and second-chance points.
That was in the morning. By nightfall, all apparently had been forgotten. The Heat allowed nine offensive rebounds to the Jazz in the first half, and Utah entered the break with 17 second-chance points. It was a topic of discussion in the locker room at halftime, according to Spoelstra.
“We just had to play better,” Bosh said. “It was nothing that we really had to adjust other than our energy. … It’s always a point of emphasis for us. It keeps teams in it against us. They had 17 second-chance points in the first half and we only trailed by three points, so it was pretty obvious what we had to fix.”
The Heat outrebounded the Jazz 25-10 in the second half, including 5-2 on the offensive glass.
Mario Chalmers was 4 of 7 from the field, 3 of 3 from three-point range and finished with 12 points and eight assists. The Heat shot 40 percent (6 of 15) from three-point range after shooting 30 percent over its past six games.
For the second game in a row, Shane Battier didn’t attempt a three-pointer. Spoelstra said that would have to change against the Pacers, who load the paint and give the Heat open looks from the outside.
“I’d be one of the happiest guys if Wednesday night he shoots 10 threes,” Spoelstra said.