To show his rather Cavalier — sorry for the pun — attitude about Wednesday’s game with the Celtics at TD Garden, LeBron James slurped up ice cream and then ate cheeseburgers provided by a Boston restaurant. James took the night off and the Heat lost to the Celtics, damaging their chances of catching the Indiana Pacers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
That is not James’s concern. The Heat are hardly daunted by the prospect of the No. 2 seed and playing a potential Game 7 of the conference finals on the road. Health is Miami’s main priority, with the Heat convinced they are capable of a third consecutive successful playoff run.
So, rest is essential. Making sure Dwyane Wade’s knees are sound is more important than a regular-season game in late March. Perhaps this is Miami's last run, with Wade, James, and Chris Bosh all having opt-outs in their contracts. The Heat are trying to make sure that it will be a memorable ride.
“Consistency and for all of us to try to get as close to healthy as possible,” James said, when asked about the team’s priorities. “Obviously, none of us are going to be 100 percent going into the playoffs. We’ve played a lot of basketball over the last four years, guys have got to be smart about certain situations and understand if they can go they’re going to go, but right now we’d rather go into the playoffs with 15 guys rather than 13 or 12.”
So, Greg Oden gets nights off. Wade gets nights off. James gets a chance to sneak in some ice cream, and coach Erik Spoelstra uses his entire roster.
The Heat realized they would wear even a bigger target having won the past two NBA championships, but James said from his perspective, there is little difference from previous years.
“I’ve been in bigger pressure moments than this year,” he said. “And trying to three-peat, it’s not going to happen in June. It happens from the beginning of the season. We have to prepare every single day. Just because we were last year’s champs doesn’t make us this year’s champs. You take this season as its own and approach it that way.
“The following year is always the hardest year. This is a very difficult year because it’s the next year. Teams are geared up to play us every night and we look forward to the challenge.”
Perhaps the biggest concern is the health of Wade, who has been dogged by knee issues the past few years. There are times when he shows flashes of his previous form, his jumping ability and athleticism impressive, but there are others when he looks like a 32-year-old with plenty of miles.
Wade labored through the 2012-13 season, but he was still skilled enough to provide relief for James during the postseason run. He shot 46 percent and averaged 16 points per game during the Heat’s 23-game run to their second straight title.
“If they want to hook me up to a car battery, that’s fine with me,” Wade said about getting his knees sound. “I’m a lot better than last year. Last year at this time it was going the opposite way [physically]. It was a lot of wear and tear. My bone bruise really started taking over. It was in the middle of our 27-game winning streak. Right now, it’s flipped a little bit. Hopefully, it continues.”
This season, Wade is shooting a higher percentage overall (54.7 compared with 52.1 in 2012-13), and from the 3-point line (32.1 to 25.8), while he is on par to play the second fewest minutes of his career.
“I’m glad to see him playing extremely well, that’s what it’s all about,” James said. “In order for us to continue to win at the end of the day, he has to be on his A-game. He’s been playing some great basketball.”
Wade said this season has not been the bumpy ride some expected for the Heat with the impending free agency of the Big Three, the lack of a true center until signing Oden, and the loss of Mike Miller with the team’s amnesty clause.
“We dealt with small adversity, losing five out of six [games], but I think we responded very well for a team that’s played the most basketball of any team the last four years and fighting the human nature of complacency and all these things we had to fight,” said Wade. “I’m satisfied with our mentality. And also understanding that certain teams have gotten better, as well, than they were last year and that knocks our record down a little bit.
“I think the jury is still out on this team. I’m confident in this team and I think when we’re healthy, we’re one of the best teams in the league and we give ourselves a chance to win every night.”
A difficult task awaits Jackson with Knicks
Now that the buzz from Phil Jackson’s arrival in New York as team president is wearing off and the arduous task of rebuilding a once-proud organization begins, the most pressing issue is the future of superstar Carmelo Anthony, who plans to opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
There is a perception the Knicks should allow Anthony to sign elsewhere and start fresh, but with no first-round pick in this year’s draft and the pressure to win immediately, the Knicks could attempt to re-sign Anthony and try to lure him with the promise of making him an elite player under Jackson’s tutelage.
“There’s no doubt about Carmelo being one of the top scorers in the league, maybe the best individual isolation player in the game,” Jackson said. “I have no problem with committing to saying Carmelo is in the future plans. There are a number of things I see Carmelo doing as he moves forward. I was on record a year ago that I think Carmelo, as great of a player as he is, still has another level he can go to. Together with the team we create, he can get there.”
There are going to be difficult times ahead since the Knicks lack a first-rounder in this fruitful draft — unless they acquire one through trade — and they are dealing with salary-cap issues because of the contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani.
Also, Jackson will have to decide if Mike Woodson is the right coach to lead the club and whether the coach will run the Jackson-endorsed triangle offense.
“I would educate anybody that wants to know the nuances of the triangle,” said Jackson. “I coached it for 20 years. It’s one of the things that people do come to me and talk to me about. It’s been very effective. It’s a simple offense. It’s not insistence, but I do like to have a method of playing basketball. I think there’s a logical method of playing basketball with principles.”
The drama has intensified since, after a miserable season, the Knicks have rallied to win eight consecutive games and they are three games behind Atlanta for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 13 games to play. Jackson has essentially said the Knicks need to overcome the Hawks and compete in the playoffs for Woodson to have a reasonable chance to come back.
“Mike has shown that he’s a very good basketball coach,” Jackson said. “He’s had a difficult season. He’s turning this team into a contender for the playoffs. Hopefully, we could make that happen.”
Jackson said he intends to change the losing culture, while owner James Dolan added that he’s willing to relinquish control of the franchise to the more experienced and successful 11-time NBA champion. Because of misdoings by previous administrations, it could take years for Jackson to rebuild the Knicks, but his name and reputation make the team more appealing and perhaps more likable.
“A big impact will be made by the situation I sit in and the authority I’ve been given and that has to do with how players are treated,” Jackson said at his introductory news conference. “The type of culture that’s built. The fact that we’re going to have to go out and work the bushes for players next year and we’re going to have to work them in coming years as we go forward when we do get draft picks and have a chance to build this team.”
Newest Sun Randolph happy to leave China
Former Celtic Shavlik Randolph is back in the United States after a troubling season in China, having signed with the Phoenix Suns to help their playoff run. Randolph had a strong showing for the Celtics after coming from China last season but was a salary cap casualty as the club wanted to avoid the luxury-tax threshold.
With no NBA offers at the beginning of the season, Randolph returned to China, hoping for another successful stint. But his time there was miserable. His second stint with the Foshan Long Lions was injury-riddled and included a clash with coach Jiang Xingquan.
“It was tough for me this year on a lot of different levels,” said Randolph, who has had three stints in China. “I got hurt six games into the season and things kind of went south from there.”
According to Randolph, who sustained a shoulder strain, the club wanted him to return faster from the injury than he wanted, and then he clashed with the 73-year-old Jiang, whom some American players have complained about over the years.
“The coach was an 80-year-old, old-school Chinese guy that didn’t really love to coach American players,” Randolph said. “And then just psychologically after expecting to be back in Boston and having to go back over there, it took me — there was some times where I just didn’t want to be over there. So, it was tough for me.”
Randolph said he was paid a handsome salary in China after averaging 32 points and 14.6 rebounds before joining the Celtics last season. In turn, Foshan officials pushed Randolph to recover faster.
“Unless you have a bone poking through your skin, I think they expect you to play,” he said. “And they just didn’t understand that sometimes some stuff happens and you can’t play and the sports medicine there is not what it is over here. I didn’t get treated properly. They tried to rush me back. It was a bad situation.”
According to Randolph, when the Long Lions were eliminated from playoff contention after his injury, the club tried to encourage him to walk away from his contract.
“This guy over in China [Jiang], you can ask any American who’s ever played for him, some other NBA players who have played for him, he just didn’t like coaching Americans,” Randolph said. “I was very disappointed in how the organization in China handled everything.”
Randolph said he was relegated to going to FIBA court to settle his contract with Foshan.
“They paid me a lot of money and I signed a very big deal over there,” he said. “No team wanted to pay a guy a lot of money just to sit around and do nothing. It was bad. They basically told me to stay over there. When I found out I couldn’t play, I wanted to leave and come back but I had to stay over there.
“They banned me from practice. They banned me from games. They banned me from being around the team because they wanted me to quit so they could get out of my contract. But I didn’t do it. I stayed over there and did what they told me to do and they still ended up trying to get out my contract. It was bad. It was a nightmare.”
After playing 16 games last season and averaging 4.2 points and 4.4 rebounds for the Celtics, Randolph believed he had found a secure NBA home. But he was waived in August after the Celtics acquired four players from the Brooklyn Nets, all of whom remained on the roster.
“I was really disappointed because I was expecting to be back here,” Randolph said. “I was going through my offseason preparing as if I was going to be back here and what my role was going to be on this team. The communication we had, I think both sides, they thought I was going to be back here, but some things happened and didn’t happen the way they expected it to. When it came time for them to pick up my option or let it go, I think some things didn’t transpire the way they thought and they couldn’t commit to my contract. It was pretty disappointing and shocking. It’s a business and I totally understand.”
Ray Allen has agreed to a sequel for “He Got Game,” but the question is whether Allen can get the old Lincoln High School basketball team back together and in shape. One of the players on that mock team was Celtics assistant coach Walter McCarty, who told Allen on Wednesday that he’s trying to get back near his NBA playing weight for his role in the movie. The other NBA players who played Allen’s teammates were Travis Best and John Wallace, both of whom are retired . . . The Bucks, as expected, ruled out forward Larry Sanders for the season with a fractured orbital bone. It was a disastrous season for Sanders, who played just 23 games after signing a four-year, $44 million contract extension and tabbing himself the face of the franchise. Sanders missed time earlier this season with a torn ligament in his right thumb following a fight at a bar. The Bucks, of course, have the league’s worst record and it essentially made no sense to bring Sanders back when they appear headed for the most lottery balls and best chance at the top overall pick. Meanwhile, the Bucks have played better on their West Coast road swing, losing in overtime at Portland and taking Golden State to the final minute, erasing any perception of tanking . . . The Knicks signed journeyman Shannon Brown for the remainder of the season but did not renew the second 10-day contract of Earl Clark, leaving his NBA future in doubt. Clark started the season as one of the key components of the Cleveland Cavaliers but was dealt to the 76ers, released, and then became a free agent . . . The Washington Wizards continued the contract of Drew Gooden for the remainder of the season. Gooden has been a major asset for the Wizards with the injury to Nene that could cost him the rest of the regular season . . . It’s college postseason time, meaning a slew of underclassmen will begin to declare for the draft when their respective teams complete their seasons. Arizona State guard Jahii Carson has already declared, while Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski indicated that swingman Rodney Hood has likely played his lone season with the Blue Devils. Hood, who has drawn plenty of eyes because he is teammates with Jabari Parker, is a projected mid-first-round pick who could creep into the lottery. Also, it is likely the final run for UCLA sophomore guard Kyle Anderson, who considered leaving school following his freshman season.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.