Give the Miami Heat a week off and they get . . . hungrier.
Their steamrolling of the NBA halted only by a six-day gap in their schedule for the All-Star break, the Heat picked up Thursday where they left off with last Thursday’s tour de force against Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks, with a 107-93 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden.
“We took the challenge,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Did they ever. And on so many levels.
Get the FREE Miami Hoops iPhone and Android app
Foremost, the Heat won in the absence of All-Star power forward Chris Bosh, who is attending his grandmother’s funeral.
They won with LeBron James opening, at least defensively, at center.
And they now have matched the franchise record of consecutive double-digit victories, at nine.
“It’s a no-excuse team, a no-excuse season,” Spoelstra said.
So James did it all, defending Portland’s Marcus Camby and other bulky big men, while also displaying perimeter dominance, closing with 38 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals.
He was supported by 33 points from Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who matched his season high of 10 assists.
But it was James’ versatility that allowed the Heat to push past Bosh’s absence.
“We had enough, and LeBron really helped. I don’t know if there’s another player that can handle that mentally,” Spoelstra said of James having to handle so many positional assignments in a single game. “He was able to settle into his game, and that settled us.”
At the morning shootaround, Spoelstra said he told James, “Hey, we need a Magic Johnson-type game.”
Asked after the game what position he opened at, considering he defended Camby but did not actually jump center, James smiled and said, “I have no idea, man. I have no idea if I was a center or a guard, forward . . . whatever.”
But he embraced the moment.
“I had to,” he said, “knowing we had a big part of our team out.”
That essentially left the Heat with a two-man game, Wade and James handling the scoring, Wade-to-James or James-to-Wade handling the highlights.
“We knew we had to take a little bit more upon ourselves,” Wade said. “But we also let the game flow.”
After taking an eight-game winning streak into the All-Star break, a streak that featured each victory coming by 12 points or more, the Heat were challenged by Spoelstra to come back hungrier.