Miami Heat

Cavaliers give LeBron James the night off against Miami Heat

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James smiles as he watches from the bench as he sits out the game during the first half of an NBA basketball game between the Miami Heat and the Cavaliers, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Miami. Cavaliers coach David Blatt says he made the decision in part because James logged 45 minutes in Cleveland's overtime loss at New Orleans on Friday night.
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James smiles as he watches from the bench as he sits out the game during the first half of an NBA basketball game between the Miami Heat and the Cavaliers, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Miami. Cavaliers coach David Blatt says he made the decision in part because James logged 45 minutes in Cleveland's overtime loss at New Orleans on Friday night. AP

LeBron James’ record as an opposing player at AmericanAirlines Arena remained at 4-11 after Saturday’s game against the Heat.

After playing more than 44 minutes in Friday night’s overtime loss at New Orleans, the Cavaliers decided to give the four-time MVP his first night off of the season, probably disappointing the majority of Heat fans who wanted to see him take on his old team.

“No physical problem, no injury or anything like [that],” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “We’re just thinking long term and being conscious of taking care of him and taking care of the team going forward. Yes, it was me [who decided to sit him]. He wanted to play, no question.”

Blatt said he had to “force the issue” because the team got to its hotel at 5:30 a.m. Saturday. Blatt said it was tough for James to sit because he knows Miami “is a special place” for him.

James had played in three previous back-to-backs earlier this season.

The Cavaliers come back to Miami on March 19 for the teams’ only other regular-season meeting.

DEFENDING DRAGIC

Goran Dragic’s evolution from being the leader of Phoenix’s high-paced, full-throttle attack to point guard of the Heat’s slower-paced, half-court offense hasn’t gone as smoothly as anyone has really wanted.

But coach Erik Spoelstra isn’t losing patience. He’s had Dragic’s back at every turn and did so again after arguably Dragic’s best performance of the season in Thursday night’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I wish we could all just stand in front of everybody that’s throwing rocks at him right now,” Spoelstra said. “There’s a process to this, and he’s shown great character all season long. He’s embracing what we’re about.

“His commitment to defense — his defense has been really a significant improvement from earlier in his career. He’s learning how to run a basketball team that’s not only a half-court team, but also run in transition and learn how to set up players and be aggressive himself.”

Dragic has improved defensively. He entered Saturday’s game holding the players he has guarded to 7.3 percent below their normal shooting percentage — tops among starting guards in the NBA.

Offensively, though, he’s averaged only 10.8 points and 4.5 assists through the Heat’s first 17 games, both significantly below what he’s averaged in each of the previous two seasons. Where Dragic has really struggled most is with his shooting: 43.1 percent from the field and 27.5 percent from three-point range.

Dragic, though, hasn’t lost his confidence. He’s been working overtime on his jump shot, and Thursday night’s 6-for-11 performance (14 points, seven assists, one turnover in 36 minutes), including a pair of three-pointers on his only two attempts, made him feel like he’s begun to turn a corner.

He made five of his seven jumpers after coming in 6 of 28 on catch-and-shoots (21.4 percent) and 18 of 55 on pullups (32.7 percent).

In Dragic’s defense, the Heat has remained one of the slowest-paced teams in the league (95.87 possessions per game) even after his arrival, while the Suns (102.26 possessions per game) have continued to lead the league in pace.

Part of the reason Dragic looked better against the Thunder was because the Heat pushed the pace often in transition and set up its offense faster than it had been. Spoelstra said the Heat was “choking the life out” of itself in Monday’s loss to Boston.

“We should be running more the way we’re defending and rebounding,” Spoelstra said. “I’d love to get off our rebounds and blocks more transition, three-on-three, four-on-four situations.”

DENG OUT AGAIN

Luol Deng missed his fifth consecutive game with a strained left hamstring, and until he’s able to go through a full practice at full speed trainer Jay Sabol is not going to allow Miami’s starting small forward to get back out on the floor in a game.

Deng initially strained his hamstring against Philadelphia on Nov  21, and he played against the Knicks two days later and made it worse. Now that he has missed two weeks, Deng said Friday the team wants to make sure he doesn’t rush back and reinjure himself.

Deng said he has not had an MRI performed because the injury isn’t considered serious. Deng said even though the team won’t practice Sunday he’s hopeful he’ll be able to play Monday night against the Wizards.

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