MIAMI -- LeBron James and his Miami Heat teammates spent some quality time apart Wednesday, but they remained focused on a common mission: Regroup quickly from a stunning loss to the last-place Washington Wizards.
With the New York Knicks on deck Thursday, the Heat won't have much time to get themselves back together.
James was scheduled to spend part of the day Wednesday in New York at a function to accept his Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year award. The rest of the Heat were in Miami recovering from nagging injuries that now affect almost half of the rotation. Perhaps the Heat's feelings are a bit wounded as well in the aftermath of Tuesday's 105-101 setback that ended their six-game winning streak.
Wednesday offered the Heat a chance to get away from basketball briefly for what coach Erik Spoelstra likes to refer to as time to “hit the reset button” and realign themselves physically and mentally with fundamental priorities.
“We have to respect the game, respect what we're capable of doing,” Spoelstra said before giving his players a day off from practice Wednesday. “Anybody can beat anybody on any night, and it doesn't matter what your resume is. We have to own it right now, not just brush it off. But we do have to move on for Thursday.”
With Carmelo Anthony and the improved New York Knicks set to visit Thursday, the Heat won't have long to let Tuesday's loss linger. Miami opens a six-game home stand looking to improve on an 8-0 record at AmericanAirlines Arena, where they've scored at least 100 points every game.
But offense hasn't been an issue for a Heat team that ranks among the top five in the NBA on that side of the ball. Defensively, Miami remains among the bottom third. And that's been a major concern even as the Heat repeatedly went on late-game rallies to pull out victories before they met a Wizards' team that wouldn't relent down the stretch.
“It's the NBA,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “We can learn from it. You don't become a good team by holding onto certain losses and certain wins. You have to play the game and learn from both wins and losses.”
The Heat (12-4) look to bounce back against a team that handed them their first loss of the season, a 104-84 dismantling on Nov. 2 at Madison Square Garden.
But Miami likely won't be at full strength after absorbing another rash of injuries during the loss in Washington. Starting power forward Shane Battier has missed the past three games with a knee sprain, although he has resumed on-court workouts and will be re-evaluated Thursday. Backup point guard Norris Cole sat out Tuesday with a groin strain and remains questionable for Thursday's game.
Starting point guard Mario Chalmers left Tuesday's game in the second quarter with a jammed finger on his left hand. An X-ray taken in the locker room was negative, but he did not return and said he was uncertain if he would play against the Knicks. If neither Chalmers nor Cole can play Thursday, the Heat would be without a traditional point guard on the roster, barring a roster addition by then.
In addition to those injuries, Spoelstra said Wade (wrist), Udonis Haslem (hip/back) and Mike Miller (back/abdomen) were each banged up coming out of Tuesday's game. The Knicks are also dealing with injuries to key players, with Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert still recovering from offseason surgeries. Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton have been coping with nagging injuries in recent days.
But Anthony has done enough already this season to warrant the Heat's full attention. The 10-year veteran and perennial All-Star is the league's second-leading scorer and has led the Knicks to one of their best starts in team history. Anthony set the tone for what has become one of his best career starts with a breakout performance against Miami.
During that November victory, Anthony had 30 points and 10 rebounds. He shot 4-of-8 from 3-point range on a night when the Knicks were a collective 19-of-36 from beyond the arc and also forced the Heat into 21 turnovers.
James said critics might be surprised that Anthony is positioning himself as a potential MVP candidate, but it's certainly no shock to players who truly know his game.
“Everyone is acting like it's a surprise that he's doing what he's doing. It's not a surprise to me,” James said of Anthony. “He's one of the best players in the world. Always has been. They've got great pieces. They've got Hall of Famers on their team as well, and a good coach that allows them to do great things offensively, and they defend. Melo is a great player, and anytime you have a great player on your team you have an opportunity to win ballgames.”
Wade said Anthony seems to have grown comfortable at the power forward position this season after tinkering with the shift from small forward last season. The Heat believe Anthony, in theory, creates the same sort of matchup problems at power forward that Chris Bosh does at center.
But the Heat don't plan to deviate much from the formula that worked well enough to get them past the Knicks last season in five games during the first round of the playoffs.
“We want to make it uncomfortable for him,” Wade said. “He made adjustments when we played them that first night (this season). You don't want to get him too many open shots, because then you can't stop them once they get going. You're not going to stop him from getting his numbers, but you can make it tough on him to have an efficient night. If he still gets them, then he gets them.”