As poorly as the season began for the Miami Heat, they have a chance to start the second half atop the Eastern Conference.
Though LeBron James(notes) thinks they still have areas to improve upon, the Heat are within percentage points of the East lead as they return from the All-Star break Tuesday night to host the Sacramento Kings.
After some initial bumps with its new superstar trio during a 9-8 start, Miami (41-15) feels confident the adjustment period is over. The Heat won 10 of 11 entering the break, and they could move atop the East as early as Tuesday if they win this game and conference-leading Boston loses at Golden State.
“We’re still learning each other,” James said. “Our record is really good and we’re excited about our record, but we understand, we’ve still got to continue to get better.”
James especially seems to be getting into a rhythm. Over the last 11 games, he has averaged 27.0 points - shooting 53.7 percent from the field - along with 8.1 assists and 8.0 rebounds.
The Heat’s leading scorer said after some initial hesitation, he and Dwyane Wade(notes) have become more comfortable taking over games and not feeling the need to defer to one another. Wade scored 69 points in the final two games before the break.
“Me and D-Wade were trying to, I guess, shoot less and make sacrifices and it was really hurting our team,” James said. “Until we turned the switch and said, ‘OK, we need to just be ourselves and let everyone else catch up to us on the team,’ it’s then we started winning basketball games. And we knew we were going to be all right then.”
The league’s two-time reigning MVP also is coming off an impressive performance in the East’s loss to the West in Sunday’s All-Star Game, recording only the second triple-double in the event and first since Michael Jordan’s in 1997.
Wade left the game in the third quarter after twisting his right ankle but said the injury wasn’t serious.
“I just rolled it a little bit,” he said. “I’ve got a strong ankle, so I’m not worried too much.”
James has averaged 30.8 points during Miami’s five-game win streak at home. The Heat, 14-2 in Miami since Thanksgiving, have won their last eight home games against Sacramento by an average of 17.6 points.
Evans, averaging 18.3 points, is expected to miss another three weeks. The Kings dropped to 1-6 when he’s not in the lineup with Wednesday’s 116-100 loss at Dallas.
“When he doesn’t play teams tend to score a lot more on us and we tend to turn over the ball a lot more,” coach Paul Westphal said. “He’s a big part, obviously, of us being able to be competitive.”
With Evans not healthy, DeMarcus Cousins(notes) will look to further step up. The rookie is averaging 19.0 points and 13.2 rebounds over the last five games and was impressive in the Rookie Challenge on Friday with 33 points and 14 boards.
Cousins was held to six points and Evans to five in a 104-83 home loss to the Heat on Dec. 11. Wade led Miami with 36 points.
He’s helped the Heat win 13 of 14 against Sacramento, which hasn’t won in Miami since Nov. 10, 2001.