Late in the week, and early Sunday, LeBron James kept emphasizing the same point to Dwyane Wade:
“Don’t push it.”
It wasn’t just that Wade continued to experience soreness in his right knee. It was what James and NBA fans have seen around the league: so many stars’ seasons cut short because of surgery. It simply wasn’t worth the risk, with Miami’s supporting cast having consistently proven so capable, for Wade to play if he felt even the slightest trepidation.
Even so, Wade iced his knee, taped his ankles, and worked up a sweat in a pregame session with assistant coach Bob McAdoo, under the supervision of Heat officials, including owner Micky Arison. Then, 38 minutes prior to tipoff, Mike Miller got the tap on the shoulder, the tap to start against the Bucks.
“That’s my life this year,” Miller said, smiling.
This is what the Heat have done over and over in 2013, regardless of the exact composition of their lineup and rotation:
Win, this time 88-77.
‘They told me they got it,” said Wade, who watched the game with an ice pack over his warmups, since he hadn’t packed an extra suit, occasionally leaping from his seat to provide pointers, needle officials or celebrate shots.
And while this victory was expected, against an overmatched Milwaukee squad that appeared a collection of ill-fitting, inefficient parts, it still represented something significant. It was the first sweep of the Big 3 era, an achievement that James and his teammates deemed the next logical step in their collective development.
“A big step as far as our growth,” James said.
It came after they failed to close out the 76ers or Knicks in the fourth game the past two postseasons.
“We took care of business,” James said. “But business is not done.”
Sunday, as was the case all series, the only real question was when the surge would come. In this one, it occurred with the Heat ahead just 69-67, and James on the floor with Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Chris Andersen. “LeBron, probably more than anything, settled us,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We ran virtually every part of our offense through him, one way or another.”
In the next seven minutes, James scored seven points and assisted on four 3-pointers, meaning that he accounted in some way for all of the Heat’s points in a 19-5 run.
By the end, the Bucks were done.
They were done, because James scored 30 points, with eight rebounds and seven assists.
“For the most part, my 20 shots were all good looks,” said James, who made 13 of them, and finished the series at 62.7 percent from the field. “I took one, I think at the end of the second quarter that was an off-balance three. For the most part, my shots were in the flow of the offense.”
The Bucks were done, because Allen was not only efficient from outside (4-of-7 from deep), but again showed more activity defensively than had sometimes been apparent during the regular season.
“You don’t want to be part of that possession where some guy beats you for a loose ball or you didn’t rotate and help your team,” Allen said. “So that really is my focus.”
The Bucks were done because Chris Bosh provided as much of a defensive paint presence as Larry Sanders on the other end, blocking four shots and affecting several others.
They were done because Udonis Haslem, overshadowed of late by Chris Andersen, scored 13 points in just 18 minutes, including four jumpers in a four-minute stretch of the third quarter.
“Just getting to my spots,” Haslem said.
The Bucks were done because Norris Cole flashed another sign of improvement, looking very much like a pure point guard, finding teammates with perfect pocket passes.
“I’m pretty confident,” Cole said. “Things are coming together.”
The Bucks were done because they shot just 37 percent, even with Monta Ellis (21 points) playing his best game of the series.
The Bucks were done because the Heat are pretty much done playing around.
“Guys, the teammates that I have, we kind of live for the playoffs,” James said. “We love this moment. We love the adversity that it brings, we love how every possession matters.”
What mattered most Sunday?
Winning while Wade rested.
“We have highly capable guys on a nightly basis,” Wade said.
Now they push forward to Round 2, for which Wade vowed to be ready.
And now they push forward, together