The Heat might be spectators for one of the best set of first-round games in NBA playoffs history, but that doesn’t mean the defending back-to-back champions have sat by lazily.
Three consecutive days of heavy conditioning work concluded Friday with a training camp-style practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. The team had a difficult practice Wednesday, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra scheduled a conditioning day Thursday while a large contingent of the Heat’s coaching staff, front office and support personnel attended the funeral Mass of Dr. Jack Ramsay in Naples.
“The last two days have been tough. The last two days are our players’ favorite days — conditioning days,” Spoelstra said sarcastically. “So our practice two days ago was 90 percent conditioning and 10 percent shooting and [Thursday] was a mandatory conditioning day and [Friday] was a training-camp practice.”
Spoelstra has tried his best to make sure the team doesn’t lose too much its playoff edge, but so many days between series makes that task difficult. The Heat swept the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday, and ever since the team has been waiting for the series between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets to end.
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The rugged practice Friday inside the Heat’s training facility was meant to simulate the intensity of a playoff game. All 15 players participated, according to Spoelstra, and Chris Bosh said the general competitive nature of the team made the practice run long. Players don’t like to lose this time of year — not even during practice.
“This probably made us all feel a little bit more normal — to have a fully padded and braced, mouth-guarded practice where guys got after it,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t know if we’ve gotten after it like this since training camp.”
Said LeBron James: “It was great to have what we call a Hunger Games practice [Friday]. We went at it. We had a warmup for about 10 minutes and then it was straight contact from then on.”
Almost fully recovered from a thigh bruise he sustained during Game 4 when he collided with Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo, James participated in the mandatory conditioning Thursday, as well as the five-on-five practice Friday. Like everyone, James said he was extremely interested in the outcome of Friday night’s Game 6 between the Raptors and Nets, but was prepared to miss the game if his family decided a trip to Spider-Man 2 was more important.
“I’ve seen enough of Toronto and Brooklyn, plus the coaching staff will prepare us, so I’ll get to look in the book then, too,” James said.
While the Heat’s first-round series lasted only four games, James received more than his fair share of hard knocks and aggressive fouls. The knot in his quadriceps after the collision with Biyombo was particularly painful.
“This one was kind of hurt really bad, so obviously I’ve been on top of it ever since it happened, and it feels good,” James said. “It feels like I’m heading in the right direction.”
Heat forward Shane Battier returned to practice on Friday after missing two days in a row because of flu-like symptoms.
“I’m almost there,” Battier said. “I’m not feeling great, but good enough. I got tired of staying at home.”
Battier has been replaced in the Heat’s rotation by Rashard Lewis and James Jones, but the shooting expert and defensive specialist has kept a positive outlook on reemerging later in the postseason.
“It hasn’t been fun, but it has been a good exercise in patience,” Battier said. “It has been a good exercise in trying to stay Zen. I think I have the right perspective on it.”
Dwyane Wade was not available to the reporters following Friday’s practice.