The last time the Heat was in this predicament, with a long layoff following a first-round sweep, Miami’s first game of the next round was an eyesore.
The Heat looked rusty and sluggish in that 93-86 home loss to the Chicago Bulls to begin their Eastern Conference semifinal series last May.
The goal this year: To avoid a rerun of that mess.
The other goal: To make sure LeBron James’ right thigh contusion is fully healed when the next round begins in Miami, either on Sunday or Tuesday against the winner of the Brooklyn-Toronto series.
“The thigh has been better,” James said Wednesday. “I’m very happy we were able to take care of business on Monday and I’ll have this week to get it back to where it was.”
The Heat did conditioning work Wednesday, but James was limited to riding a stationary bicycle and shooting free throws.
“I wanted to get it as calm as I can,” James said of the thigh, adding he was uncertain how much he would do in a more strenuous practice on Friday.
James sustained the injury in a leg-to-leg collision with Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo in Miami’s series-clinching win on Monday.
The Heat will not know until late Friday night whether it will play on Sunday or Tuesday. The Heat will play Sunday if the Nets-Raptors series ends in Game 6 on Friday night and if only one or neither (but not both) of the San Antonio-Dallas and Portland-Houston series goes seven games.
If the Spurs and Trail Blazers series both go seven games, the Heat’s next series would not begin until Tuesday, even if the Nets-Raptors series ends Friday.
The NBA’s reasoning for that: Unless there are three seventh games Sunday, the NBA prefers to have only two games on Sunday to fit into ABC double-header slots at 1 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. If the Heat plays Sunday, there are several scenarios in which Miami would play at 1 p.m. and one in which it would play at 3:30 (if there’s a Spurs-Portland Game 1).
After sweeping Milwaukee in the opening round last year, the Heat had an eight-day layoff before Game 1 of the Chicago series because the Nets-Bulls first-round series extended to a seventh game.
The Heat prefers not to relive the agony of that Bulls opener, in which Miami shot 39.7 percent (31 for 78), 7 for 24 on three-pointers, missed 8 of 25 free throws and was outrebounded 46-32.
Not a single Heat starter made at least half of his shots in that game, with James closing 8 for 17, Chris Bosh 3 for 10, Dwyane Wade 7 for 16 and Mario Chalmers 1 for 5. Off the bench, Shane Battier and Ray Allen each shot 2 for 7.
“I don’t know if that was attributed to rust or not,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Bosh said the Heat can’t necessarily prepare any differently than it did before the Bulls series last year.
“We still won it in five,” Bosh said. “You are going to have to fight some fatigue and a little bit of rust.”
James sees upside to the layoff.
“Our team could use the rest,” he said. “It’s difficult. You try to take things from the year before, but it’s always challenging. We just want to keep the edge and keep our conditioning level at a pretty good level.
“If we’re not playing games, you are never going to be in tip-top game shape. If you go a week without playing, as far as games, you can get a little bit out of whack. Mentally we have to stay sharp.”