Preliminary tests of LeBron James’ strained right leg began inside the post-game locker room in Sacramento and the early signs of distress on the face of the back-to-back MVP cast a pall over an already sullen scene.
He was in pain.
James has rolled plenty of ankles throughout his career, but aggravated groin muscles are rare occurrences for a player whose durability is something of a legend. It was a new hurt, and James walked gingerly around the crowded space of the visiting locker room at the Kings’ outdated Sleep Train Arena. Getting dressed was a struggle.
In addition to the strained groin muscle, James also tweaked his bothersome left ankle against Sacramento, and, for good measure, wrenched his left hand. The injuries added up to a costly blow for the Heat. Not only did the Heat lose 108-103 in overtime to the Kings, but James’ injuries forced him out of Saturday’s game against the Trail Blazers.
James tested his legs inside Portland’s Moda Center before the decision was made to hold him out against the young and talented Trail Blazers.
The Heat’s West Coast road trip was already physically taxing before the game against the Trail Blazers, which entered Saturday tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the West. One day earlier, James played 43 minutes and carried the team while several Heat regular missed the throwaway game against the Kings due to nagging injuries. Toss in the coaches and there were almost as many suits on the Heat’s bench as players in Sacramento.
Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Chris Andersen and Greg Oden were all inactive for the Heat on Friday, and the lack of manpower contributed to Miami’s first loss to a team in the Western Conference in 20 games. The worst of it was James’ injury and a fifth flagrant foul for Mario Chalmers, who is now dangerously close to being suspended for a game based on the NBA’s points system that punishes players for too many flagrant fouls.
Before boarding a charter jet for the quick flight from Sacramento to Portland, James noted that the most important thing facing the Heat at this point in the season wasn’t the Trail Blazers, but rather the need to get healthy. Andersen (back tightness) also did not play against Portland.
Despite the injuries, James made three three-pointers in about 30 seconds in the final minute of overtime against the Kings to keep things interesting. But Sacramento wasn’t letting this one get away. The Kings built an eight-point lead in the extra period and then got a key tip-in from DeMarcus Cousins and four clutch free throws from Isaiah Thomas to hold off the Heat (22-7).
The loss snapped a 10-game winning streak for the Heat against the Kings (9-19). James finished with 33 points, going 12 of 23 from the field, and Chris Bosh had 18 points. Chalmers and Norris Cole combined for 24 points.
The Heat shot 44.2 percent. It was the Heat’s worst shooting percentage since its loss to Indiana on Dec.10 (42.9 percent).
“We had a very poor third quarter,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our offense got us in trouble. A lot of jump shots. It takes a commitment to the energy, the effort, the multiple situations to get to the paint.”
Sacramento outscored Miami 60-38 in the paint.
James said he didn’t know when he strained his groin muscle, but his immobility in the third quarter, along with a general lack of energy from the entire team, allowed the Kings to rally from a 17-point, first-half deficit. The Heat shot 27.8 percent (5 of 18) in the decisive period and were outscored 29-18.
The Heat (22-7) led by four points with 2:42 to play in regulation, but went 0 of 3 from the field and 0 of 2 from the free-throw line from there. It was a particularly poor sequence of events for Chalmers.
He missed the free throws with 1:45 to play and then committed a flagrant foul on Cousins with 1:19 to go. Chalmers now has five points the NBA’s flagrant-foul system and one more will trigger a one-game suspension without pay.
Cousins made both free throws with 1:45 to go and Rudy Gay tied the game with a 14-foot turnaround jumper on the awarded possession. James then missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.
“I went for a box-out, and he flopped,” Chalmers said of Cousins. “He went flying. That’s exactly what happened. He flopped.’’
The physical play made for an exciting ending to regulation, but the Kings pulled away easily in overtime.
“If we didn’t have the necessary energy, then that’s our fault,” Bosh said. “We had our chances, and we didn’t capitalize.’’
Cousins led the Kings with 27 points, including 20 points in the second half and overtime. Gay, who also scored 20 points in the second half and overtime, finished with 26 points. The Kings shot 49.4 percent despite beginning the game 8 of 23 from the field.