Let’s call the roll: Mario Chalmers? Suspended. Ray Allen? Sick. Udonis Haslem? Injured.
How in the world was the Miami Heat going to survive this road game without two starters and a key reserve? Well, there was that LeBron James guy, who makes everything right.
James did most of the scoring, most of the assisting and all of the dominating in a 97-81 victory against the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday night. Isn’t that how it always is?
Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said James would be a whole lot of fun to watch if you weren’t with the other team. He was surgical as ever, finishing with 30 points (on 13-for-18 shooting) and seven assists.
The Heat’s winning streak against the Bobcats is now at 13, reaching back to just about the time James left Cleveland for South Beach. No coincidence there.
This was a night when circumstance gave the Bobcats some hope. The NBA suspended starting point guard Chalmers on Saturday for hitting Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki along the head with a forearm. Allen, Miami’s 3-point specialist, was nursing a bad cold. Starting power forward Haslem was down with back spasms.
All that should have worked in the favor of Charlotte (5-5), as would Miami big man Chris Bosh committing five fouls in 16 minutes.
Except it was all moot because James has the widest skill set in the NBA: A player who can excel offensively as a point guard and defensively as a power forward.
Clifford expected that with Chalmers out, James would be that much more impactful as a playmaker. He said as much before the game: “His passing is what separates him,” Clifford warned. “If you don’t help (defensively) he’s at the rim. Help too much and it’s corner 3s.”
As if to prove Clifford’s point, the Heat made 50.7 percent from the field and 40 percent from the 3-point line on a night when Miami was shorthanded and secondary star Dwyane Wade played 23 minutes, none in the fourth quarter.
The final margin was a bit misleading, in that the Bobcats were down by as few as six in the fourth quarter. Point guard Kemba Walker carried what offense Charlotte had, scoring 22 points and making 3 of 5 3-pointers.
The Bobcats got to .500-plus on two foundations: Great defense and getting to the foul line. In that regard this game illustrated how well Miami robs teams of their strength. Miami’s shooting was far above what the Bobcats have been allowing (44 percent from the field) and Charlotte’s 20 trips to the foul line were nearly 10 short of the season average.
There was never a doubt who was central to all that for the Heat on Saturday.
“He’s just very smart in the ways he moves the basketball,” Walker said of James, the reigning league most valuable player.
“You’ve always got your eyes on him. And he’s always got his eyes on his teammates.”
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell
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