Even after getting to bed around 4 a.m., and even on a night that it was difficult to summon anything resembling playoff-type intensity for most of the game, beating the lowly Charlotte Bobcats should never be a problem for the Heat.
And, ultimately, it wasn’t on Monday, but the Bobcats made the Heat sweat, hanging around much longer than they probably should before succumbing 99-94 at American Airlines Arena.
It surprisingly took the best percentage shooting night of LeBron James’ career to dispatch a team that entered 5-17 on the road.
James hit his first eight shots and finished 13 for 14 to close with 31 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. His shooting percentage tied Alonzo Mourning for the second-best ever for a Heat player with at least 10 attempts (behind Shaquille O’Neal’s 15 for 16), and the first 13-for-14 performance in the NBA since Andrew Bogut in January 2010.
James said he was fouled on the one shot he missed, but it wasn't called. "I just had it going from the start," he said.
“I knew how important this game was, just as important as any game on our road trip,” James said. “For me as a leader, I cannot ever have a night off.”
James did his damage mostly close to the basket, with only one of his shots coming outside the paint. It was the first time in his career that he did not attempt a shot outside of 15 feet. He’s now shooting a remarkable 55.5 percent this season.
“At some point, you realize, ‘Boy, he’s getting to the rim a lot,’ ” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He did it off the dribble and off attacking. They were trapping in the post. He has a great feel and read for each game. He knew this game was a character game.”
Chris Bosh chipped in 23 points, and Dwyane Wade added 20.
Charlotte led 74-73 before a 10-0 Heat run put the Heat ahead by nine with five minutes left. An 11-4 Bobcats run sliced Miami’s lead to 89-87 with 1:38 left, but a Bosh steal and dunk, off a James assist, pushed the lead to four. James’ layup with 38 seconds essentially settled matters.
Aside from James, the Heat’s performance through three quarters raised this question: Is it possible to have a Super Bowl hangover even if you don’t play in the game?
That’s how it appeared, with Miami arriving home six hours later than planned Monday morning after the team stayed in Toronto to watch the Super Bowl.
So the Heat, predictably, was flat early.
“It’s one of those tough parts — long flight, try to get back situated to home,” Bosh said. “It’s not easy.”
This was hardly a work of art, with Wade opening 0 for 5 and closing 7 for 19, Mario Chalmers shooting 1 for 6, and the Heat shooting just 1 for 12 from three-point range.
Spoelstra said before the game that Wade was dealing with the effects of being kicked in the calf in the Toronto game. But Wade pushed through it to grab a season-high 12 rebounds, including six offensive boards, which tied a career high.
“It’s a sign he’s getting healthier,” Spoelstra said. “That’s how we’re built. We’re not built for one guy to snatch 15 to 18 rebounds.”
Bosh also started sluggishly, shooting an airball on an attempted dunk. He regained his footing and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and finished 11 for 18 from the field.
James also scored 10 in the fourth and Wade had nine.
After the Toronto game, Bosh apologized to fans for the way he has been playing. But he was very good late Monday.
“He’s playing with a lot of aggressiveness,” James said. “We need that out of him.”
Spoelstra made a subtle rotation adjustment, playing only nine players and leaving either James or Wade in the game at all times.
James didn’t miss a shot until his layup in transition failed to drop late in the third quarter. “He’s making it look easy,” Bosh said.
The Heat boosted its home record to 19-3 and extended its winning streak to 10 against Charlotte, a streak surpassed only by Miami’s 13 in a row against Brooklyn and 11 against Philadelphia.
“It’s for suburban dads who are a step slow,” he said, saying his teammates’ reaction ranged from “shock to disbelief.”