Miami lineups change, LeBron plays on

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron dunks on the Bucks on a night when he rested during the fourth quarter

MILWAUKEE – In the last game of LeBron James‘ seven seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he took the floor against Boston in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison and 38-year-old Shaquille O’Neal. Combined points-per-game of the four starters besides James: 50.9.

Against the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night, James stepped on the court with Chris Bosh, Toney Douglas, James Jones and Udonis Haslem. Combined scoring average at tipoff of this “supporting cast”: 26.2.

This was not what the smoke, lasers and dance music were all about back in July 2010.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has shuffled through 19 different starting lineups in 72 games this season. One – the familiar one from the past two Finals, with James, Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier – has been used 30 times,with the Heat going 20-10 in those games. The other 18 actually have yielded better results – 30-12 – despite none getting more than eight starts together and eight of the combinations going one-and-done.

None of this is by design, mind you. Injuries and ineffectiveness have pulled the handle on Miami’s lineup slot machine, not Spoelstra, the fruit tumbling and landing based on who’s available and contributing. Everyone knows about Wade, whose increasingly brittle body has been nursed through the 2013-14 schedule (51 games in, 21 games out) as if it’s Stephen Strasburg‘s right arm. Ray Allen at times has looked every bit of his 38 years, eight months, one week and three days. Battier’s planned retirement after this season has had a few false starts.

Eternally rehabbing Greg Oden has been more mascot than center, the way this season has gone.

“People think we’re overanalyzing it, we have some plan right now,” Spoelstra said Saturday evening before his guys did their work early in the 88-67 breeze past the Bucks. “Guys who are able to play right now are playing, period. Guys who cannot play, who are not passing the test, they’re not playing. The thing about this season, we’ve had a lot more of those than we’ve had in the past where guys aren’t able to play.”

In the middle of it all stands James. He’s the constant in the Heat’s season of change – OK, Bosh has missed one game and Norris Cole none but they orbit James the same as Miami’s other planets and moons. The four-time MVP has missed three games himself – broken nose, groin and ankle sprain, he recounts swiftly when the topic comes up – but no one on the roster has played within 300 minutes of his time. At 2,592, he has played nearly seven full games more than Bosh (2,258) and the equivalent of twice that compared to Chalmers (1,887).

James sat down after 30 minutes Saturday, skipping the fourth quarter entirely thanks to the score and who the Heat were playing. He orchestrated and facilitated more than dominated – two shots and two points in the first half, 13 points and seven rebounds by night’s end – but he was out there. Wade again was sitting on the bench in a suit. Chalmers and Oden were sidelined, too, and the flu sweeping through Allen’s family kept him off the three-game trip entirely.

Frankly, James would be within his rights to look around and wonder whether this patchwork attack and relative M*A*S*H unit of teammates will be enough to reach and win another Finals. And if he did, the opt-out in his contract this summer would loom so large, it’d throw a shadow over Miami’s entire postseason.

If James’ teammates feel sheepish or some extra obligation to pick up the pace and durability in fairness to him, they’re not saying. “We’re a team. We have to come through for each other,” Wade said after the Milwaukee game. “So we all are obligated for each other. Obviously myself, LeBron and Chris wanted to play together.”

Then again, if his heavier work load while others sit is an issue, James hasn’t let on.

“It’s gotten to the point now where I don’t even think about it,” the Heat star said, “and if I’m in the lineup tonight, then I’ve got to do my job. You just worry about controlling things you can control. Us having injuries, us having guys in and out of the lineup, that’s something I can’t control.”

It is something he’s noticed, at least. Never before has James played for a team with such a revolving door on its trainers room.

“I can’t really recall it, as many guys as we’ve had [out],” he said. “In that sense it’s challenging, not only for myself but for the guys who are in – they may not have played for two months – and then out and they may not play for 14, 15 games.

“It’s the luxury of having unselfish guys. That’s what we have. I don’t know too many teams who can do this – that can have guys like James Jones who – I don’t know, has he played this year [before Friday]? – then to start [in Detroit] and contribute. Guys like that, it’s amazing.”

For the record, Jones had played a total of 70 minutes in a dozen games across Miami’s first 70, before logging 54 minutes in the back-to-back against the Pistons and the Bucks. But what about James? Has fatigue made him crave a couple games off just to rest or reset?

“Only if I’m injured, for the most part, will I sit down,’ ” James said. “I don’t have too many ‘mental days.’ “

In past seasons, when Miami’s playoff berth has been secured, Spoelstra has spotted James a game or two to set up for the playoffs. He will again, unless Indiana keeps the East race for No. 1 close till the end.

But the Heat aren’t there yet. And James has no hand up in search of a breather.

“If I tried to sit him out of a shootaround or a practice, he would look at me cross-eyed,” Spoelstra said. “This summer he had more rest than he’s had any other offseason. So that’s probably triple [rest] for most people, because he loves the game so much, he loves to compete.”

Consider Friday, the day Miami played in Detroit. James showed up at Oakland (Mich.) University not long after sunrise to work out at the gym where his childhood friend and high school teammates Sonny Weems serves as an assistant coach. Then he went through the Heat’s shootaround later than morning. Nine or 10 hours after that, he posted a triple-double against the Pistons.

During warmups against the Bucks, James took time to meet and visit with Ebony Nettles-Bey, a girls high school basketball player from Verona, Wis., who is battling a Stage 4 cancer. He shot around with her prior to tipoff, then spoke warmly about their encounter after the final horn.

“What she’s going through every single day, the challenges she’s facing every single day with the Stage 4 cancer that she has,” James said, “she’s the stronger one out of us two.”

After that, any further questions about work load and rest, not just James’ but any NBA player’s, seemed a little silly.

“There’s no such thing as well-rested at this point,” James said. “Every season is different. My mentality changes from season to season. Every challenge is different. You just go about it however it presents itself.”

31 Comments

  1. squala96 says:

    Beasley should have been starting all along. Or he could take over from LeBron in games against lower teams so the King can take some nights off like the Spurs stars. The guy is great offensively and having been re-hired by his first NBA team, seems more motivated than ever. Using him sparingly certainly doesn’t bring the right kind of energy for him.

  2. OKC champions 2014-2024 says:

    kd>>>lbj therefore okc>>>miami

  3. J. Benson says:

    With all due respect to everyone: The offense must be run through Lebron. Why is everyone afraid to acknowledge that Wade cannot get the job done unless LeBron is there to set him up. Wade is destroying the team’s chemistry and the team’s spirit. If he is truly hurtung then he should put his pride aside and come off the bench, like it or not. His in and out is not fair to anyone, particularly Leron who has to work excessively to compensate for Wade. Coach Spo, a nice man, needs to let Wade know that his continuous ailments and injuries are costing the team and then Coach should proceed to get something going that works for the good of the team. LeBron does not want to offend Wade, so he will not say what needs to be said. The coach, or perhaps even Pat Riley should get involved. This is the question: Why would Lebron remain in Miami? Unless Wade is just resting on his past laurels, he is no longer dependable and really just disruptive at this point. The help LeBron and Bosh need is not coming from Wade. Unfortunately, both LeBron and Boosh will probably have to think about moving on and you can’t blame either of them.

    • theholyspectator says:

      wade is a very important part of miamis success…regular season is one thing but come post season…the big 3 will be turned up. since they been together i believe the big 3 have never played through the entire post season healthy…if miami loses in the post season, i really think wade will consider retiring and heat will bring in a solid 3 piece and also tinker around the roster as well…lbj isnt goin anywhere, bosh might, wade can stay or leave …his call…

  4. themostinterestingmanintheworld says:

    where is “lbj” i hope he is okay

  5. James says:

    Just waiting for the…

    MAAAANNNNNN, If Lebron James is serious about getting another ring, he needs to join up with the King in Miami!!! HEAT 3PEAT!!

    When the post is actually about Lebron “LBJ” is nowhere to be seen!!!

  6. JC says:

    people , this is very easy , here is 3 option what is happening with Miami Heat team

    Option 1 : That is a Funny movie and the the players are not playing now, waiting for the play off and will play excellent games during the play off ( The team will win in the Final)
    Option 2: The coach doesn’t know how to guide the players
    Option 3 : The Players are mentally tire and they are not the same teams that years ago ( The team will not go go to the Final for the eastern conference)

    Am not in the practices but the coaching actions are terrible

  7. freal says:

    Steve is the best writer on NBA.com hands down! Always has great QUALITY articles. Unlike that other guy…what’s his name? Forrest Whitaker or something like that?

  8. okc2014 says:

    If Lebron James doesn’t win another title in Miami, do you think he’ll stick around again for all this nonsense? Him and Fish Bosh are carrying that team. He deserves better.

  9. SM says:

    Using Tony Douglas in the recent line-ups as the point guard is helping the team big times.
    He is fast and moving the ball right to left, forward and backward to create space for the team mates. He is a perfect defender too.
    Also Reshard Luise is playing well.
    Miami has well managed the past 2 games and dominated the games.
    It is a good time for Wade, Chalmers and Ray Alen to rest before the play off.

  10. Williams Jason says:

    Heat starting five should be James, Wade, Battier, Bosh and Andersen.

    James, Wade and Bosh must play ±36 minutes, Battier and Andersen ±24 minutes.

    The other minutes would serve to rotate all the other players.

  11. Gillsy says:

    I don’t know what to think of James past this season on this team. Yea they are good and probably go all the way again. But you would think as James moves into the prime then into the latter stage of his career over his next contract or two. You would like to play for a younger team where you don’t have to do everything. Yea Bosh has played better this year, but in some games you think with Wade banged up and the other players who just chip in at times he nearly does as much for the Heat as he did at Cleveland.

  12. Agudo says:

    When do you people want Spoelstra to tinker with the Heat lineup? During the playoffs? Finals? Common sense just aint so common no more.

  13. Faba says:

    Steve Aschburner is clearly a fan of lebron , look at his last four articles and three of them are about James research it. And always hyping him, even when Lebron elbowed Hibbert he was defending him. Clearly biased. It would be funny to count all his Lebron articles over the year and compare them to the number of non- lebron articles. It would be eye opening.

  14. Erik says:

    Spoelstra doesn’t even know what he’s doing. Messes around with the lineup like its a game and takes away rhythm of his own players. Good example would be Beasley. The guy scores and plays well every time he steps in the court but is always benched for no reason. Oden starts but plays 6minutes and gets benched for the rest of the way. Then why do you start him?
    Haslem sat for half a season and now all of a sudden is getting huge minutes. Birdman never gets to start despite the obvious need of the Heat needing energy, size and rebounding to start games. Chalmers is so overused..Bosh is always put at the centre when he clearly doesn’t fight for rebounds and the heat are ALWAYS and ALWAYS out rebounded.. Honestly it doesn’t matter what kind of players we get if the Heat continues to believe in such an amateur coach to run this team. If it wasn’t for the talent and the help of referees, Spoelstra would of never luckily gotten the 2 rings that he has.

    • LBJthaking!!!! says:

      I agree. I Rememebr last playoffs Spoelstra sat the birdman out for 2 whole games against spurs……… What is he crazy?! All Becuz of stupid lineup changes. Birdman is great and it didnt make sense. Go lebron!!!

  15. headache says:

    and your point mr Steve is? this is getting funny. just like those clips “watch lebron’s all 12 dimes” “watch lebron scratch his head” seriously mercy. His team is in dot, so i find it quite obvious for a superstar of this league to step up. I’d like to see KD getting this much publicity on NBA.com Maybe we should just skip rest of the season and call him an MVP already? they should let him play as much as he can, why? because his athleticism days are counted… at this stage of his career he has… more things behind himself, than ahead. After that, I don’t know if he’ll be able to represent at least – Paul Pierce level. More than that, I believe his fans will find him, very painful to watch.

    • NonHater says:

      HEADACHE… Did you really have to write your own article showing your “haterism”?? Just admit it, whether you like it or not, YOUR A WITNESS! No wonder you have a headache…

    • kitten mittens says:

      the thunder don’t have nearly as many injuries, clearly you just aren’t a fan of LeBron which is fine but you really have no right to complain because no one made you click on the article and read it, and btw for a while there all anybody was talking about was kd so your complaint doesn’t make a ton of sense

    • LBJthaking!!!! says:

      GET USED TO IT! LEBRON IS EVERYWHER!!

  16. Rockets says:

    That’s really nice of Lebron; how he treated the girl with cancer.

  17. zhiggi says:

    Spoelstra should get james jones in the rotation during big games as well because he could provide some incentives like the other role players……if they make it to the finals….and again if they do make it…it was miller time with OKC (game 5), Battier with spurs (game 7), this year it can be james jones……

  18. OK says:

    Instead of switching line ups, stick with one and let them develop chemistry

    • vinsanefan says:

      How can he if they’re injured?

      • OK says:

        I don’t know, probably letting beasly play more minutes, give oden more than 6 minutes of playing time every 2 games. Develop some consistency, i know wade is a cripple and should probably retire if he doesn’t want to spend rest of his life in a wheel chair, but you had entire season to figure something out, not just switch lineups willy nilly and expect them to be just good right of the bat.

      • Erik says:

        they’re not actually injured half the time. Its precautionary reasons because they have “bigger” goals.