The Heat was looking at its showdown against the defending Eastern Conference champions Saturday night as a measuring-stick game.
What we learned was that the Cleveland Cavaliers probably have no shot of beating Miami without LeBron James.
Sitting out for the first time this season after he played nearly 45 minutes in an overtime loss in New Orleans on Friday, James watched his former team beat up on his current team, 99-84, and then got taunted in the fourth quarter by the 259th consecutive sellout crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena.
With about 11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Heat fans began chanting in unison “Bron is tired.” James responded by twirling his fingers.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“Was that what they were saying?” Chris Bosh responded when asked about it after the game. “They were probably correct. You get tired when you play two games in two days, especially an overtime game. It’s part of the business.”
Actor Adrien Brody, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki and fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger were among the celebrities there to watch Saturday’s blowout and among the many likely disappointed James didn’t play.
Since James returned to Cleveland, the Heat and Cavs have split their six meetings, with both teams winning three times on their home floor. But only once — the Cavs’ 102-92 win back on Oct. 30 in Cleveland — have James, Dwyane Wade and Bosh all played in the same game.
On Saturday, Wade had 19 points, five rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes and sat out the fourth quarter. Bosh had 14 points, six rebounds and three assists in 36 minutes.
Kevin Love, James’ new Big Three running mate in Cleveland, couldn’t carry the load without James. He finished with five points and eight rebounds on 2-of-11 shooting in 23 minutes.
“It was a good, professional win,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I liked our guys’ approach to it. Obviously, they’re coming off an overtime loss, getting to the city late and James wasn’t playing. That obviously changes things. But you still have to go out there and compete, and I thought our guys approached the game the right way.”
In beating Cleveland for the 10th time in a row in Miami, the Heat (12-6) moved past the Cavs (13-7) in the Eastern Conference standings by percentage points. Of course, there’s a lot of time for that to change before the teams meet again March 19 back here in Miami.
Among the more important developments for the Heat on Saturday was how well point guard Goran Dragic continued to play. After posting 14 points and seven assists in 36 efficient minutes in a thrilling win over the Thunder on Thursday, Dragic went for 17 points and eight assists in 30 minutes and continued to stay hot beyond the three-point line, making three of his four attempts.
Dragic scored 15 points in the first half as the Heat shot 65.7 percent from the field and went into the break ahead 60-42. The Heat eventually expanded its lead to as many as 27 points in the fourth quarter. With 9:58 remaining, Dragic made a beautiful spin in the paint before sinking a turnaround jumper. On the Heat’s next possession, he threw a pinpoint pass to a cutting Bosh for an emphatic dunk that drew a foul.
“It's getting better,” Dragic said of his chemistry with his teammates. “Everybody can see that.”
Heat guard Gerald Green finished with 12 points before fouling out with 5:14 to play.
Hassan Whiteside, who finished with seven points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots in 21 minutes, opened the second half with an alley-oop slam on a dish from Wade. Tyler Johnson, meanwhile, scored 19 points off the bench for Miami.
Cleveland, led by Richard Jefferson’s 16 points, rallied late in the fourth quarter to trim Miami’s lead to as little as 13, but it was with Bosh as the Heat’s only starter on the floor.
The Heat can now rest for a day before Washington visits Monday.