Grasping the back of his right leg much like teammate Dwyane Wade did a week ago with a hamstring injury three minutes into the Heat's preseason, James alarmed more than the crowd. He jolted his coach and Wade, who quickly trailed James into the locker room to check on him.
The report Wade brought back to the bench was that it was just a cramp. But it was a reminder of just how fragile even the favorites can be. They were fragile for a few minutes Tuesday, trailing Euroleague power CSKA Moscow 44-39 at halftime before surging to a 96-85 win.
"You couldn't help but to hear [the gasp]," said James, who had 22 points before leaving with four minutes left in the third quarter.
"After seeing D. Wade go down in the first couple of minutes of our first preseason game and then to see me grab my hamstring, I knew exactly what they felt. But I'm fine and I could be ready for the next game."
But he won't be.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who admitted he was a little spooked when James called for a trainer and went to the locker room, will not play James on Wednesday night when the team plays in New Orleans.
"I didn't know necessarily what it was," Spoelstra said. "It is not a great sight for a coach."
For awhile there weren't a lot of great sights for the coach, who saw his team struggle with turnovers and CSKA's zone in the first half. Without Wade and with Mike Miller in foul trouble, the Heat had some issues adjusting to the style as James often settled for jumpers going 4-of-10 in the first half.
After halftime, though, Miami turned up its defensive pressure. James and Chris Bosh led the way, plucking off some steals to create fastbreak chances. James scored 11 of his points in the first eight minutes of the second half to get the Heat in control. Miami committed just four turnovers in the second half after giving it away 12 times in the first.
Bosh scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half but was needed for 33 minutes, more than Spoelstra wanted to play him, with the game in doubt until the final five minutes.
Former Duke star Trajan Langdon, who has played with CSKA for the past six years, led the Russian team with 20 points.
"I liked the challenge," Spoelstra said. "We need to face situations like that, things weren't going our way. Them hitting the 3s, them moving us around affected our concentration and focus. It was a good game, they're a skilled team."
Brian Windhorst covers the Miami Heat for ESPN.com.