For the Miami Heat, Friday night's game against the rugged Memphis Grizzlies represented an opportunity to prove they could go blow-for-blow with one of the best inside punchers in the league and still emerge on their feet.
"Anytime you have a matchup like that, you always want to win," Heat center Chris Bosh said after the Heat's 98-91 victory against Memphis. "Not only to send a message to the team but to send a message to the league, as well. And send a message to ourselves. We have to assure ourselves that when we're locked in, we can play with anyone."
If February's priorities were to find a groove and hit their collective stride, then March's mission for the Heat is to strike back at opponents against whom they've struggled.
Not only did Miami have to overcome a Memphis front line that is one of the toughest in the league but the Heat also had to do it with catalyst LeBron James having his worst shooting night of the season. But with Dwyane Wade taking over and the supporting cast stepping up until James got going, the Heat extended their winning streak to 13 games on the strength of arguably their toughest effort of the season.
James had just four points entering the fourth quarter but scored 14 down the stretch -- including a 3-point dagger that pushed the Heat's lead to four with 24 seconds left. He shot just 4-of-14 from the field, but still flirted with a triple-double on a relatively off night to finish with 18 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds in 42 minutes.
The same Heat team that went 12-1 in February and made winning look easy at times last month entered March looking forward to a chance to respond to adversity. First up was a Grizzlies team that hammered the Heat 104-86 in Memphis in November. On Sunday, the Heat travel to face a New York Knicks team that beat them twice by 20 points earlier this season. A week later, the Indiana Pacers visit Miami having also routed the Heat twice this season.
James stopped well short Friday of buying into the notion that the Heat are in the midst of the redemption portion of their schedule. But James, named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for the fourth consecutive time Friday, suggested the Heat are motivated to prove they aren't the same team that last faced the Grizzlies, Knicks and Pacers.