LeBron James has been booed louder before, like in Cleveland, for example, but a faction of fans here in Rio de Janeiro jeered him Saturday like it was 2010.
Turns out, James isn’t universally loved for his decision to leave the Heat.
Brazil is not lacking for Heat fans, and those loyal supporters voiced their displeasure to James for leaving the Heat during the first quarter of a preseason game in suburban Rio de Janeiro. It was the first time James has faced the Heat since leaving this summer as a free agent.
The Heat fans quieted down soon enough, though, and remained silent until coach Erik Spoelstra pulled his starters and plugged rookie James Ennis into the game, a 122-119 overtime loss for the Heat.
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Ennis is the Heat’s budding talent, and he helped his team come back from a large deficit during trash time on Saturday, but that’s likely not what coach Erik Spoelstra and his coaching staff will be critiquing when they review film of the Heat’s third preseason game.
Dwyane Wade played some his best basketball of the preseason and Chris Bosh looked good at times, but there was a clear gulf between the new super team James has engineered in Cleveland and this refashioned Heat squad that was thrown together on the fly after James jumped ship.
A few of the more alarming observations:
▪ The Heat’s defense remains a few steps slower than its competition. The Cavs shot 57.5 percent from the field in the first quarter with Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao going 11 of 15 combined.
“We have a ways to go with our defense and I think that showed tonight,” Spoelstra said.
▪ The starting lineup and rotation is unsettled and changes with each game. The Heat is 0-3 in the preseason and each game has featured a new starting lineup.
▪ Mario Chalmers looked more comfortable with his new role off the bench, but didn’t return to the game after injuring his hip in the first quarter.
▪ Wade leading the team in three-point attempts is never a good thing. His two three-pointers accounted for all of the Heat’s long-range offense in the first half. The Heat was 2 of 9 from distance at halftime. It finished 11 of 31 for the game.
But it wasn’t all bad for the Heat.
There was the whole James-being-booed thing, of course, and Wade was an active presence after floating through the Heat’s first two preseason games. He had seven assists in the first three quarters, and scored 12 points in the first half.
Bosh led the Heat with 19 points, going 8 of 15 from the field. He also had eight rebounds in three quarters. Playing a different role for the team last season, Bosh had a career low average of 6.6 rebounds per game.
Ennis continued his argument for a spot in the Heat’s rotation.
He finished with 17 points after substituting into the game during the third quarter. Ennis went 5 of 6 from the field, 1 of 2 from three-point range and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line in 22 minutes of action.
Ennis cut the Cavs’ lead to one point with 26 seconds left and Heat rookie point guard Shabazz Napier sent the game into overtime with a pair of free throws with nine seconds left. It was the second game in a row that Napier has extended regulation into overtime with free throws.
“I think his potential showed,” Spoelstra said.
But the Heat trailed 59-44 at halftime, so validating this team with anything too positive would be an overstep.
All in all, it was an awkward and sometimes confusing game between teams full of familiarity.
Pregame, James and Heat guard Norris Cole joked around. Before tipoff, James embraced each Heat starter and also exchanged pleasantries with Chalmers.
Miami’s Chris Andersen and former Heat sharpshooter Mike Miller revisited secret handshakes at midcourt. In the first half, James appeared to set a pick for Cole during one bizarre offensive sequence for the Heat.
“There was certainly a level of strangeness to it,” Spoelstra said.
For his part, James enjoyed playing against his old team.
“For me, it was a special moment to be out there competing against my old teammates,” James said. “There was no awkwardness.”
It was a pro-Heat crowd, which isn’t surprising considering Miami’s close ties to South America and the Heat’s four-year run of dominance in the NBA. There were more LeBron jerseys from his old team than his new one, and Wade received more applause than his former teammate.