Heat roll, and LeBron says they can play betterBy TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer Monday, Apr 22, 2013
They might have even seemed downright ominous.
“We know we can play a better game,” James said.
His assessment came after the defending NBA champion Miami Heat pretty much did whatever they wanted in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
James scored 27 points on 9-for-11 shooting—finishing two assists shy of a triple-double—while Ray Allen scored 20 off the bench and the Heat picked up where they left off in last year’s playoffs, never trailing on the way to beating the Bucks 110-87 on Sunday night.
James also had game-highs of 10 rebounds and eight assists. According to STATS LLC, in the last 27 years, only Anthony Mason had finished a game (albeit one of the regular-season variety) with at least 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists on 11 or fewer shots until the league’s reigning MVP did it on Sunday.
“He’s in playoff mode,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.
Game 2 is Tuesday in Miami.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” Jennings said. “Nobody should be scared or anything. Let’s just hoop.”
It might take more than that.
The Bucks lost by 23, and afterward, it was the Heat who seemed like the team more disappointed in its level of play.
Miami shot 7 of 23 from 3-point range, nearly 10 percent worse than its regular-season norm in that department. The Heat turned the ball over 19 times, five more than usual. They gave the Bucks 22 points off those miscues, which matched Miami’s sixth-highest total of the season.
And yet they still outscored Milwaukee in every quarter, led by as many as 25 in the late going and outrebounded the Bucks 46-31—especially impressive considering the Bucks finished the regular season with the fifth-most rebounds per game in the league while Miami finished the year ranked last out of 30 teams.
“It’s a great way to start the series,” Bosh said. “They’re a feisty team over there. We wanted to make sure that we played good on defense and keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
James took a bit of a break at the end of the season while dealing with a strained right hamstring, was excused from the team for its final regular-season game to tend to personal matters and said he came back to Miami late last week rested, refreshed and ready to open the title defense.
It showed. He alternated between steady and showtime modes, either running the offense or getting to the rim for spectacular left-handed dunks.
“We love him in that mode,” Wade said. “The time away was good and now he’s focused on his goal and his goal is to dominate every game and help take this team to a championship.”
James had taken only 11 shots in a playoff game twice before, and his postseason per-game average entering Sunday was just under 21 tries. But with the way he controlled the game Sunday, he didn’t exactly need to shoot.
“All I care about is the win,” James said. “I didn’t even know my stats. I just knew that we were playing efficient offensively besides the turnovers. We want to try to keep that going.”
That’s probably not the best of signs for the Bucks.
“Obviously, incredibly efficient,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “When you have a game like that, what can you do?”
Milwaukee came into the series with Jennings predicting his team would oust the reigning champions in six games.
They’ll have to win four of five now for that to happen. And with James playing like this, the odds would seem particularly slim.
“I think we played good basketball in stretches,” said Ellis, whose team finished with 10 offensive rebounds, all in the first half. “They’re a great team. They capitalized on our mistakes. I think they were more aggressive towards the end. In the third and fourth, they never looked back.”
The Bucks said coming into Game 1 that they would brace for Miami to come out flying, and the Heat more than delivered on that expectation. Miami scored on its first five possessions and after back-to-back scores at the rim by James — the first of those a vicious one-handed slam after Wade set him up on a 3-on-1 break—the Heat were up 21-8 early.
Milwaukee settled down quickly, getting within 26-24 at the end of the first, with Jennings scoring 10 in the period. And the Bucks hung around for the remainder of the first half, with Miami leading just 52-45 going into intermission.
“I thought in the first half we played with some good energy, had some good ball movement, created some turnovers and took advantage of that,” Boylan said. “In the third quarter they came out a little bit more focused … with a little more purpose, I think.”
Ellis opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer, getting the Bucks within four. Then came Miami’s second big flurry of the night, and the Bucks had no more answers.
An 11-1 Heat run stretched the lead to 14, and Miami closed the quarter with seven straight points—James started that burst with a left-handed slam, then set up Andersen for another dunk. Another dunk by Andersen, this time when he soared in for a two-handed flush of a missed 3-pointer by Shane Battier sent the building into overdrive, with people in the “White Hot” crowd waving their giveaway T-shirts in unison.
NOTES: Both teams practice in Miami on Monday. … Miami outrebounded Milwaukee 22-9 after halftime. … Rihanna was in attendance. … Miami’s bench outscored Milwaukee’s reserves 43-25.