LeBron drops 31 as Heat rout Kings
Potential trouble signs were everywhere for the Miami Heat.
The first game back after the All-Star break. A bit of cross-country-travel fatigue for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Looming big-time matchups with the Chicago Bulls and new-look New York Knicks.
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Not a problem.
James scored 31 points, Wade added 23 and the Heat opened their post-All-Star schedule with an easy 117-97 win over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night. The Heat never trailed, jumping out to a 35-16 lead after the first quarter and eventually going up by as many as 29 before the starters got pulled.
Bosh had a 22-point, nine-rebound night and Mario Chalmers added 14 points for Miami, which won for the 11th time in its last 12 games. The Heat made seven straight shots on the way to shooting 64 percent in the opening quarter, setting the stage for a rout.
Sacramento was down 44-19 before the game was 15 minutes old, and when James made consecutive jumpers 36 seconds apart later in the second period, the Heat lead had swelled all the way to 56-30.
The bright spot was Dalembert, who made 8 of 12 shots and finished with his fourth double-double of the season. Thompson made 6 of 7 shots, but other than that, the Kings struggled mightily.
DeMarcus Cousins - Sacramento's leading healthy scorer, with Tyreke Evans expected to miss at least three more weeks with an injured left foot - had eight points on 3 for 14 shooting.
Meanwhile, Miami was looking ahead - without looking past the Kings.
Everything was working, and the Heat moved to 42-15, matching their best 57-game start in franchise history.
James shot 14 of 26 from the floor, Bosh shot 8 of 14, and Chalmers connected on 6 of 7 shots. And Wade couldn't contain a smile with 4:30 remaining when he was subbed out of the game, moments after he tripped over Cousins' feet on a drive, stumbled and flipped the ball toward the rim.
Naturally, it rolled in, capping his 11 for 20 effort.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra thinks his team can find ''another level or two'' before the postseason begins, and made another lineup move Tuesday by inserting Erick Dampier into the starting lineup over Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who was the only one of the 12 active Miami players to not play Tuesday.
The move certainly wasn't for scoring: Dampier didn't attempt a shot in 24 minutes of playing time.
But with the Heat beginning a stretch where they'll have more games (26) than off days (25) before the regular-season finale on April 13, it's the time to find the right playoff rotation.
''Since the end of November, I truly feel that we're one of the most improved teams, if not the most improved team,'' Spoelstra said. ''And we can do that again in the last 26 games. We can make those same type of strides.''
The Heat visit Chicago on Thursday in a game between two of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference. And after the Heat host Washington on Friday, the Knicks - now with Carmelo Anthony, a deal that was announced officially by the Denver Nuggets during the second quarter of the Miami-Sacramento game - visit on Sunday in what'll surely be another high-visibility test for Miami.
''I know he's happy about it,'' James said. ''I'm glad that it's over with for him. It's always good when a friend of yours can focus on just the game and let everything else fall where it may.''
NOTES: It was the 386th time in Wade's career where he scored at least 20 points in a regular-season game - but the first time he did that without trying a free throw. ... Miami's magic number for clinching a playoff spot is down to nine. ... It was Dampier's 750th career start, first with Miami. ... Miami's starters shot a combined 58 percent (39-67). ... The Kings said Evans underwent the first of three shockwave treatments on his left foot and will be placed in a walking boot. He's battled plantar fasciitis much of the season.