Posted Jan 6 2012 9:57AM
ATLANTA -- LeBron James and Dwyane Wade weren't in pain last night. No, the real pain was felt by those at Philips Arena who paid good money to see the Hawks play the 2009 Toronto Raptors.
Yes, that was Chris Bosh and role players on the floor for the Heat, and plenty of unrest in the stands, all because a pair of aching box-office players decided to rest than risk it.
And then the hometown Hawks suffered the most embarrassing loss of the year, by any team, falling 116-109 in triple-overtime in a game that made you seriously question whether they can recover from the shame.
If this were a playoff game, would Wade and James have played? Perhaps. But since this 66-game grind is more an endurance test than anything, there was no chance of seeing either racing down court and dunking lob passes. Those highlights must wait another day and, unfortunately for Atlanta folk, another city.
Miami had good reason to play it extra careful. The teams with most to lose, meaning those with championship aspirations, will weigh their situation entirely different than say, the Kings. Every boo-boo will be X-rayed twice before getting medical clearance.
As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, it's all about "understanding the big picture."
For Miami, that wide-angle view is about the NBA Finals and nothing else, certainly not a January date in Atlanta. With Miami off to a 7-1 start, keeping two of their stars benched is something the team can afford because of the cushion it made for itself.
"Thankfully, they aren't debilitating injuries," Spoelstra said about Wade's foot and LeBron's ankle. He added that both had a "great desire" to play, but in the context of preserving the two stars for the long haul and keeping the ultimate goal alive, there was also a "great desire" to have them sporting suits for the Hawks.
No doubt, the contenders just can't afford a minor injury turning major. Not with a shortened season. Not with so many games coming at them at once, in a hurry. Not with the tight travel, rapid turnaround time and all other traps that come with the unique 2011-12 schedule.
"We're weighing everything, the schedule ahead, rest, how much treatment we can do and what the recovery time will be," Spoelstra said.
"We look at all of it. The most important thing is how long do we think we can really take care of these injuries, where it doesn't linger and it's not something that can be worsened by playing, especially on consecutive nights."
All around the league, coaches are adjusting and tweaking their methods. It's all because of the schedule. Coaches are giving players rest in order to keep them fresh for the next night, when normally those players would stay on the floor. When you add the scepter of injury, then the gameplanning gets even more careful and somewhat conservative.
It just so happened the Heat didn't need either player to finish off the Hawks. Bosh went for 33 points and 12 rebounds and hit a 3-pointer near the end of regulation to force overtime. Mario Chalmers had 29 points, eight assists and seven rebounds and Terrel (one 'L') Harris grabbed 14 rebounds off the bench. It was quite compelling to watch and a credit to Spoelstra for pulling it off.
"You have to be ready to play and we were," Bosh said. "For myself, I just tried to be the best leader I could be and put some trust in the others by encouraging them to shoot and do whatever necessary for us to win."
The Hawks might not live this down. Triple-OT is a tough way to open a back-to-back-to-back (they fly to Charlotte, then return home for the Bulls) and Hawks coach Larry Drew was powerless to prevent an epic collapse. It was only the 10th time in league history a team went scoreless in overtime, as the Hawks missed all seven shots in the third overtime.
These were the same Hawks who handed Miami its first loss of the year just days earlier, with LeBron and Wade on the floor. That's how crazy it works in the NBA.
"There was a total mental letdown," Drew said. "I didn't see that sense of urgency I saw down in Miami."
Joe Johnson missed 13 of 20 shots, on the heels of a 3-for-17 disaster in Chicago. Without Wade and LeBron, the $121 Million Man was supposed to be the best player on the floor. But he wasn't even the best Johnson on the floor; that was Ivan Johnson, a Hawks rookie free agent from Cal State San Bernadino, who scored 13 point before fouling out.
If the next two nights are anything like this, put the Hawks down for three straight losses, easy. Losing to the Heat, said Reggie Miller on the TNT telecast, "was a black eye for the Hawks."
Charles Barkley then chimed in: "I wish I could punch them in the other eye."
Well, Barkley can save his swing; the schedule might get the Hawks instead. Drew emptied his bench (all except Jerry Stackhouse), not only because of the length of the game, but because he needs fresh bodies for the next 48 hours.
That's the way coaches must coach. Without an extended training camp, aches can turn into injuries. And injuries can lead to potential disaster.
Look at the Grizzlies. They'll be without Zach Randolph for as many as eight weeks, no thanks to a partially torn knee tendon. You think they won't feel it by March when the playoff positioning begins to take shape? They already do. The Spurs are dealing with Manu Ginobili's fractured hand, which will interrupt his otherwise great start to the year.
So Miami was wise to play it safe, confine LeBron and Wade to nice-looking suits, and let others do the heavy lifting. As for the Hawks? They did suffer a massive injury, actually: a badly bruised ego.
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