LeBron James and Chris Bosh weren't too shaken up by their loss to the Celtics.
BOSTON – With ice on his knees and a smile on his face, LeBron James congratulated teammate Dwyane Wade on the completion of his first preseason game. Then he mocked a cameraman who nearly stepped on him because the guy was wearing shoes that weren’t made by Nike.
It was the loosest James has looked, at least with more than his teammates or family present, in weeks. It was a complete turn, in fact, from the grimacing figure who explained before the game that nothing about his new humor-filled Nike commercial was supposed to be a joke.
Neither was one of the most anticipated opening games in NBA history, but yet the Heat seemed to take their 88-80 loss to the Celtics in the most light-hearted manner.
It was easy to understand why after taking a step back; simply getting the game out of the way seemed to serve as a massive stress relief to a clearly uptight team.
Miami certainly played tight for much of the game. James and Wade combined for 14 turnovers. At times, Chris Bosh looked overwhelmed by the moment and was generally outplayed at both ends of the floor. The Heat shot 37 percent for the game, and only 27 percent in the first half.
Regardless of the lip service or the references to the Olympics, most of these players still aren't used to playing with each other. They also didn’t seem all that comfortable with the level of scrutiny they will compete under. These are problems that, in all likelihood, will disappear in time -- but they’re still problems.
“Sorry if everyone thought we were going to go 82-0,” a smirking Wade said. “It just ain’t happening.”
Well, he’s right about that. Basic math dictates that the best Miami can do now is 81-1. But the point is some of the Heat apparently felt like they were supposed to go undefeated. And the weight of those expectations showed in their often unsteady play, especially during a 9-point first quarter and a generally nervous first half.
“We know that a lot of people are watching; we know a lot of people are really putting us under the microscope,” said Bosh, who went 3-for-11 from the field and scored just eight points.
“We knew it was going to be like that. Dealing with it is another thing … But sometimes you just have to get your nerves out and just play ball afterward.”
Afterward, in a sense, starts Wednesday when the Heat play their next game in Philadelphia. Under league rules, the stats won’t carry over.
Wade gets to leave his 4-for-16 shooting performance at TD Garden in Boston.
James gets a chance to play more of a team game. He said he felt like he was being too unselfish at times Tuesday, but it was hard to tell. He dominated the ball during parts of the second half and finished with only three assists.
That period of James pounding the ball, however, was the best offensive stretch of the game for the Heat. Now they know how the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost plenty of games to Boston when James scored more than 30 points, felt.
Bosh will get a chance to show some interest in attacking, which he didn’t display against the Celtics as he settled for contested jumpers for most of the night. Bosh had one of the plays of the game when he put the ball on the floor and dunked off a drive in the first quarter, but he must not have liked the sensation because he didn't sustain that aggressiveness.
It isn’t a surprise the Heat’s interior defense has the potential to be a weak spot. The Celtics picked at them inside, and Bosh didn’t do much about it in his first try.
Boston went to Shaquille O’Neal on the first play of the game because it was probably the first item on the scouting report. Then they hammered away with Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis (who combined for 23 points and 15 rebounds) in the second half.
But this was just the first attempt. Most of those cracks are fixable -- save for the potential interior defensive issues -- and the improvement can start immediately. And that is the central reason there wasn’t much disgust on Heat faces in the wake of dropping to 0-1.
“I already imagine we’ll be much better tomorrow,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “When we were going through our planning in July and August we knew it wouldn’t necessarily hit on all cylinders right away.”
The Sixers aren’t the Celtics, of course. And the next real test comes at the end of the week when the Orlando Magic visit Miami on Friday.
On the other hand it is only October. Though the Heat felt they played terribly in their first outing together, they were down only three points with 75 seconds to play. That doesn’t have any meaning in the standings, but it seemed to resonate inside the locker room.
“This is a work in progress,” James said. “We all know Rome wasn’t built in a day.”