Funny how things happen. When the NBA spit out its schedule, few figured the first game of the Heat’s weekend from L.A. as a possible playoff measuring stick with Act 2 setting up as much sizzle, only a Sizzler steak.
Oh, the Staples Center team with all those titles and the tradition of one-name culture-spanning superstars can get the prime Sunday afternoon game. ESPN’s SportsCenter can spend half its Monday morning show on the game, three quarters if the visitors beat the Heat. Plus two or three loud segments of First Take and part of Around the Horn.
But the Los Angeles team with a transplanted nickname, a chance to be back here in June and a two-game winning streak against the Heat was the one playing Friday night. And the Heat acted like it.
You could feel intent in the Heat’s massive 111-89 trouncing, a palpable thing rising from AmericanAirlines Arena court like steam from sewers.
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James might not actually say to Clippers young star Blake Griffin, “You’re not ready for this level of business yet, kid” but he essentially did with 2:20 left in the first half. James faced Caron Butler, swept with two giant strides toward the lane, careened off the late arriving Griffin’s chest and banked home a 16-point lead.
Then, James made the low-five circuit with a scowl.
Passes whipped, whizzed, snapped, nothing lazy. Defense got played with a focused enthusiasm, almost an élan that the Heat seem to keep holstered for playoffs, parts of some regular-season games and all of those few regular-season games that show you where you are.
Also, the Heat let its hot shooting flame without relent until the fourth quarter.
Against the Pacific Division-leading Clippers, the team with the third best record in a tough Western Conference, the Heat shot 67.6 percent in the first half, 57.1 from three-point range. With 6:17 left in the third quarter, the numbers were a ridiculous 69.8 from the field, 66.7 from three-point range.
Score: Heat 81, Clippers 56.
Dwyane Wade played Game 47 of 82, even with what looked like more than a touch of the same flu that dropped Chris Bosh and Ray Allen. Wade donned long white tights. Along with Wade’s slightly slowed locomotion, the effect recalled a tired father or retired grandfather halfway through a sick Sunday.
Then, a first-quarter collision left Wade gimping about during stoppages for a while. He’d hesitate on a jumper, then muster a drive, lift-off and pass launch to set up an open three-pointer. Wade finished with a game-high seven assists.
In going for a loose ball newly cradled by floor-burning DeAndre Jordan, James pounced on Jordan in the way lions jump on cape buffaloes in the wild.
Jordan later popped James in the face as James drove. James stayed down for a minute. The next time down the court, James drained a three while getting fouled by Jordan. That four-point play got followed by another three-pointer. The Clippers called timeout. James stared at the bench while taking a walking in a wide semicircle near there before turning back to the Heat bench.
And in the end, the upstarts lost it.
After a long fast break pass from Wade forced former high school tight end James to treat Chris Paul the way Jimmy Graham treats miniature NFL cornerbacks, Paul exploded at referee Scott Wall. Paul earned his technical foul.
Referee Tony Brothers felt Griffin earned another soon after.
Of course, the Clippers could claim, hey, we’re just getting a full roster back. Paul was in his first game back from missing several with a bruised kneecap. Chauncey Billups last played Dec.3 with peroneal tendinitis in his left foot. Griffin missed Wednesday’s game in Orlando with a strained hamstring.
Everybody needs to get back in rhythm with each other. L.A.’s other team started saying that the first week of the season. And it’s still saying it now, along with a few other not so kind things. The Lakers bring their drama Sunday afternoon for the less relevant game.
The real statement was made by the Heat on Friday night.