MIAMI — Evidently, there's something to those cell phone commercials that suggest LeBron James closes off the outside world during the playoffs.
During a brief chat with reporters before Thursday's Game 4 of the 2014 NBA Finals, the Miami Heat superstar claimed ignorance of the rumor that has dominated the NBA news cycle over the past 24 hours — that he, star teammates Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, and the Heat organization are exploring contract options that might allow Miami to add New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony this summer, effectively turning its vaunted Big Three into a Big Four.
Inside the Heat locker room prior to Thursday's tip, James was asked about the hype surrounding the prospect of all four players exercising the early terminations in their contracts this summer, entering unrestricted free agency, and taking major pay cuts to form a fearsome foursome in Florida.
"Uh, so what happened?" James asked.
Well, everybody thinks that Carmelo's going to wind up here, he was told.
"OK," James said flatly. "When did this happen?"
Over the past couple of days.
Does it bother you at all that we're talking about free agency rather than this Finals series with the San Antonio Spurs?
"Uh, no," he said, before adding with a laugh, "I'm just now hearing about it, so it doesn't bother me at all.
"Obviously, 'Melo has his own decision to make, and obviously, it hasn't even crossed my mind at this point in the season," James continued. "I just don't have an answer for it."
Wade did have an answer for it, although his answer was something of a non-answer.
"I don't even hear no noise," Wade said. "There's no noise. There's just a basketball game — a very important game — that we've got to get prepared to play."
Bosh told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald earlier Thursday that he thinks the Big Four scenario is "very, very unlikely.” Heat veteran Udonis Haslem, though, sounded a bit more optimistic:
“It doesn’t seem unrealistic,” he said today. “There was a time nobody would have thought you could put this team together, with those guys taking pay cuts, and even myself taking a paycut. You can never say never.”
After coming out flat defensively on Tuesday and enabling the Spurs to get into a record-setting offensive rhythm that would carry them to a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, Miami must win Thursday to avoid heading to San Antonio in a 3-1 hole, needing to rip off three straight wins — with two in Texas — to win its third straight title. The Heat have tended to respond strongly after postseason defeats, having won 13 straight games after a playoff loss. Wade, however, doesn't want the Heat to rest too comfortably on that statistic.
"We don't count on that," he said. "You've got to play the game. There's no simulate button, you know, to say, 'OK, the Heat lost, we'll simulate it to the next win.' You can't do that. You've got to play the game against a very good team. We don't count on it at all. We know we've got to come out tonight and work this game, and play a lot better than we did the last time we took the floor."
One player whom Heat fans hope to see turn in a better effort on Thursday is point guard Mario Chalmers, who has as many turnovers as assists (nine) and more fouls (12) than points (10) in these Finals, while shooting just 25 percent from the floor. Chalmers' struggles have been a major talking point over the past few days, but James said he didn't make too many points to Chalmers in the lead-up to Game 4.
"No, I just told him to be himself, and hopefully he's going to be great tonight," James said. "He's a big piece, like I said, to what we do."
He also said he wasn't planning to return to the sort of barking at Chalmers that has become the stuff of legend in recent years, but he didn't rule it out, either.
"We'll see," he said with a smile. "We'll see."
Coming off a disappointing Game 3, Wade said the Heat's players spent Wednesday having "honest discussions" and "a lot of dialogue as a team and a group" to prepare for the pivotal Game 4.
"You've got to be honest with each other," Wade said. "[...] We win together, we lose together. We're not going to break apart, no matter what happens."
(One last note: Here's LeBron on Neymar bagging a couple of goals in Brazil's World Cup-opening victory: "I caught both of them, yes, I did. I think it got off to a difficult start for Brazil, for sure, with their own teammate hitting it in the goal, but after that it kind of, they got to where they wanted to get. I think it was a feel-out game for both teams. It was pretty cool, though. My kids love Neymar, so it was great to watch it with them, see them see Neymar score both goals.")
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