Heat Top Pistons, Cleveland Drama Next

Miami cruises past Detroit as players prepare for James homecoming

The white message board in the Miami Heat locker room warned players about what awaits in Cleveland.

"Snow. 20's," it said.

The weather will be cold, the reception will be colder -- and LeBron James says he's up to the challenge.

James scored 18 points, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade each scored 16 and the Heat rolled past the Detroit Pistons 97-72 on Wednesday night, dominating the second half with defense.

Next up: James' homecoming-of-sorts in Cleveland, the city he scorned in free agency, on Thursday night.

"It's going to be emotional for myself, going back to Cleveland to the fans that I still love to this day," James said. "Lot of great memories, but I've got to try to put that in the back of my mind, understand that we're coming in to get a win, and play hard and try to get a 'W."'

And to think Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was worried that the looming distractions of the ultra-hyped game in Cleveland would take away from Miami's focus on Wednesday.

Not a problem.

"We can start thinking about tomorrow now," Bosh said. "We did a good job just blocking it out and taking care of tonight."

It didn't take long for the focus to finally turn to Cleveland, and the Heat made clear, this will -- no surprise here -- be more than just another game to them.

"This family, his new family, has his back and loves him truly and dearly," Wade said. "And we want nothing but great things for him. So we're going to try to go out there and get another win. We want to win three games in a row and it's a special game for our brother ... and we're all going to play hard for him."

Detroit was taken care of easily. And following "The Decision" this summer in which James picked Miami on national television, now comes "The Return," not just by him, but for former Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas as well.

"Tomorrow will be a very competitive, passionate game," Spoelstra said. "And we want to take care of two of our own."

Play like this in Cleveland, and Miami might be fine.

It was Miami's second-stingiest defensive showing of the season, only bettered by holding Orlando to 70 points on Oct. 29. The Pistons shot just 36 percent, and no Detroit starter reached double figures. Miami won its second straight after a clearing-the-air team meeting in Dallas on Saturday night.

"We're starting to put it together," James said. "After that conversation we had in Dallas, we got a lot of stuff out off our chests and we've been playing good basketball since then."

Juwan Howard scored 12 and Eddie House added 10 for Miami. Greg Monroe led Detroit with 15 points and Charlie Villanueva added 10.

"We just played with no life," Villanueva said. "It just wasn't there."

It was one of Miami's best starts of the season. The Heat made 11 of their first 14 shots, James starting 5 for 6 on his own, and never trailed.

Mario Chalmers -- now fully recovered from an offseason high ankle sprain that lingered for months -- had four assists in the first 41/2 minutes of the second quarter, three of them in a 1-minute span, and nodded or pointed knowingly to the scorer who was set up by his pass every time.

But the theme throughout the evening for Miami was clearly defense.

Detroit scored only nine points -- matching a season low -- in the third quarter, shooting 4 of 22. Wade only played 31/2 minutes in the third and nearly outscored the Pistons himself, getting seven points in that short stint.

The Pistons' previous season low for scoring was 78; they didn't come close to that against a Miami team that came in allowing 94.4 points per game.

"There are going to be some adjustments going into the next game. ... There are going to be discussions on a number of areas," said Pistons coach John Kuester, whose team failed to crack the 80-point mark on its two-night swing through Orlando and Miami.

Detroit got 31 points from its starters, the eighth-lowest total by a Piston starting five in the last 20 seasons. The last time Detroit's first-stringers scored fewer than 31 in a game was against Cleveland on April 16, 2008, when they combined for only 13 -- in a game where they only played one quarter.

They were out there far longer Wednesday.

Didn't matter. Miami got to rest its starters for much of the fourth quarter, a slight respite before the challenge of Cleveland.

"We will be tested tomorrow," Spoelstra said. "Physically, emotionally, all the above."

The Heat led 54-42 at the break, and that was after just a one-point half from Wade, who played only 9 minutes before intermission because of foul trouble.

His third was an offensive foul drawn by the Pistons' Tracy McGrady -- who may have been a bit of a target by Wade and James.

McGrady was quoted earlier this week saying Wade and James are "two guys that don't mix" and that "they just don't complement each other."

Wade heard about the quotes and said he wasn't bothered; James wasn't aware of McGrady's criticisms until Wade commented about them on Monday night.

So maybe it was a coincidence that, on the first play of the second quarter -- McGrady's first appearance of the night -- James drove right at him, drawing a foul call only 4 seconds into the period. And when Wade had the chance with 9 minutes left in the half, he went full steam ahead at McGrady as well, getting called for the offensive foul.

Wade wound up scoring 15 in the second half, and he and James got to share a couple laughs on the bench as the final minutes ticked away.

Now, on to Cleveland -- and a scene perhaps unlike any other in James' career. And Bosh said there's one easy way for the Heat to help James through what awaits.

"Give him the ball," Bosh said, smiling.

That'll be fine with the two-time MVP.

"I know that floor and I know my spots on that floor. I know exactly where I need to get to, where I feel comfortable on that floor," James said. "Very comfortable with that court."

At least something will be comfortable for him on Thursday.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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