LeBron James walked about anxiously inside the Hawks’ visitors’ locker room on Sunday and let out a sigh.
“Is this game ever going to start?” James asked to no one in particular.
It didn’t sound like a player hoping to ease into the season, as many expected after James’ whirlwind offseason tour.
Like everyone playing for the defending champions this preseason, James was ready to get through the team’s first exhibition game and begin the long flight to China. Once the game started, James did his best to make it as quick and painless as possible.
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After a long summer with few breaks, conventional wisdom said James would pace himself in the preseason. Not the case. James played every minute of the first quarter, slashing and dashing to the basket with huge dunks and an array of power moves.
Despite James’ fast start, Miami lost to the Hawks 92-79 at Philips Arena a few hours before flying off to China for a pair of games against the Clippers. James finished the game with 10 points, six rebounds and six assists in 24 minutes. He played about eight minutes in the third quarter before checking out of the game for good.
“He’s the best player in the league, and he came to play even from the beginning,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He doesn’t want to accept mediocrity or try to ease into it. He only knows one way. He probably would have wanted to play more minutes, but from that standpoint we’ll ease him in.”
Chris Bosh, well rested after skipping the Olympics, led the Heat with 22 points. He was 8 of 14 from the field and scored 15 of the Heat’s 21 points in the third quarter.
“Just to be back out there with the guys and playing and getting our legs under us, it’s a good feeling,” Bosh said. “I had a lot of time to let last season marinate but really leave it behind us and get my mind prepared for coming to camp this year.”
Bosh scored the Heat’s first 11 points of the period, including a three-pointer. The Heat’s center incorporated the shot into his repertoire last season and has promised to use it more often this season. He was 1 of 2 from three-point range.
“I’ll take bits and pieces from a lot of guys and see what works for them and see what works for me,” Bosh said.
Ray Allen, a considerably more accomplished three-point shooter than Bosh, came off the bench in his first preseason game with the Heat and finished with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
Allen was 3 of 5 from the field in the first half and dished out four assists. While Allen is new to the team, he seems to already have embraced the role of a team leader. At one point in the first half, he huddled together some of the Heat’s younger players and offered direction.
Rashard Lewis, another of the Heat’s big offseason acquisitions, made his first three-pointer with his new team with 5:40 left in the second quarter. The triple from the corner gave the Heat a 36-33 lead. Lewis, who has struggled with knee tendinitis for two seasons, appeared slightly tentative to begin the game but warmed to contact. He finished with five points and four fouls in 25 minutes.
Second-year guard Norris Cole led the Heat in minutes played with 32. He was 5 of 13 from the field for 13 points and attacked the basket at nearly every opportunity.
Among the players near the end of the Heat’s preseason roster, Robert Dozier received the best look from Spoelstra because of a minor leg injury that kept Udonis Haslem out of the game. Dozier played 21 minutes and had four points and six rebounds.
Heat backup center Dexter Pittman played 18 minutes off the bench and finished with three points, four rebounds and four personal fouls. Centers Mickell Gladness and Jarvis Varnado did not play.
The Hawks led 47-45 at the end of the first half after Lou Williams drained a three-pointer from the elbow. Atlanta signed Williams, previously the star sixth man for the 76ers, in the offseason. In another major transaction, the Hawks rid themselves of Joe Johnson and his bloated contract and brought in Devin Harris from Utah.
Harris (knee) did not play Sunday, but Williams had finished with 18 points in 25 minutes off the bench. Josh Smith led the Hawks with 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting.
Cole started at point guard with Mike Miller at shooting guard. James played every second of the first quarter and finished with eight points. Bosh started at center, and Shane Battier manned the forward position opposite James.
Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony also sat out with injuries.