NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — LeBron James swears he wasn’t trying to send a message, though his coach couldn’t help but notice.
“You could kind of tell after about halfway through, he took three alley-oop lobs and a 360. I think without even talking to him that kind of spoke to us in volume that he was ready to go,” Erik Spoelstra said.
That was during the morning shootaround.
Then James did roughly the same thing against the New Jersey Nets.
James returned to the lineup and scored 22 of his 32 points in the first quarter, and the Miami Heat rolled to a 101-90 victory on Saturday night despite playing without Dwyane Wade.
Wade missed his third straight game with a bruised left foot, but James had the game under control by the time his All-Star teammate arrived at his seat on the bench.
James made his first seven shots, leaping high for dunks, lobs and blocked shots and showing no effects from the sprained left ankle that forced him to miss a game. The NBA’s leading scorer added nine assists and seven rebounds.
“If I feel like I’m good to go, then I’m going to go out and play my game,” James said. “I’m not going to give no restriction, just try to do the things I do out on the court and I was able to get a couple of breakaways, some easy points, get to the free throw line and I was able to test the ankle out in the first quarter.”
Chris Bosh added 16 points after a slow start for the Heat, who won their third straight and ran the NBA’s best record to 8-1. They hope to have Wade back when they move to the West for the final three games of a five-game trip.
Kris Humphries tied a career high with 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Nets, who shot just 33.7 percent in front of a sellout crowd of 18,711. Deron Williams had 10 points and 10 assists but was just 4 of 16 from the field.
James took part in the morning shootaround, but the Heat didn’t decide he would play until shortly before tipoff in order to see how he felt after warming up. And he denied his dunk show in the morning was designed to get Spoelstra’s attention.
“No, I don’t need to show no coaches what I can do,” he said, laughing. “I’ve been in this league long enough. Just trying to test it out this morning, try to get it warm, get it loose and see what I could do, what I couldn’t do.”
Once the game started, he did it all.
James took a hit but converted the basket for a three-point play barely a minute into the game during the Heat’s 10-0 start. He hung on the rim as the backboard shook for a couple of seconds after one dunk, appearing to motion to someone near the court.
Wade also worked out prior to the game before the Heat decided to give him additional rest. He arrived at the Heat bench near the end of the first quarter, just in time to see James throw down a fast-break dunk in the final minute and later hit a 19-foot jumper with 0.2 seconds left for a 31-18 lead.
“Mainly we turned the ball over and he’s gone,” said Nets coach Avery Johnson, whose team’s 22 turnovers led to 26 points. “He’s a combination of a wide receiver, tight end, running back once he gets two or three steps on you.”
James finally missed after returning from a second-quarter rest, off on an attempted bank shot, but made his final shot of the half and Miami took a 57-35 lead into halftime.
Bosh, who had 33 points and 14 rebounds Thursday in the Heat’s triple-overtime victory in Atlanta without the other two-thirds of the Big Three, shot 1 for 6 in the first half.
The Nets were 15 of 31 behind the arc in Friday’s 97-85 victory over Toronto, and Johnson said the 3-ball needed to be a weapon because his team has no post game with starting center Brook Lopez out with a broken right foot. But the Nets missed 18 of their first 21 Saturday before finishing 10 of 33.
Williams criticized his play and the team’s.
“I like the offense. I like the system. I just think we’re not executing good,” he said. “We’re not finishing. We’re not hitting shots. You know we’re messing up plays. We’re not on the right spots. Yesterday we were. Today we weren’t. It’s a night and day frame you know where we were yesterday.”
Still, the Nets cut it to 10 on Williams’ 3-pointer with 4:27 left in the third, and had a chance to get closer on their next possession when rookie MarShon Brooks drove for a layup. But James blocked the shot to trigger a fast break that led to Shane Battier’s 3-pointer, and rookie Norris Cole followed with one to make it 72-56.
Udonis Haslem had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Heat.
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