MIAMI -- The decision was made even before the Miami Heat departed Barclays Center on Friday night for their return to South Florida. Not only would the team be given Saturday off, but Sunday, as well.
For at least one weekend, it would be more about watching football than practicing basketball.
To LeBron James, the timing of this four-day break that ends with Wednesday's game against the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center arrives when needed.
"We're banged up right now, as a team," he said. "We're not an excuse team, But right now, we have three starters that didn't play. Even though we've got a lot of depth, it's hard to make up for three starters being out. So we could all use this break, for sure."
After losing to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night without point guard Mario Chalmers and power forward Shane Battier, the Heat were further depleted in Friday's double-overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets, with shooting guard Dwyane Wade also held out.
That had James playing 49 minutes against the Nets before fouling out in the first overtime and fill-in point guard Norris Cole a staggering 52 minutes, all while coach Erik Spoelstra went only three deep into his bench over the three-hour marathon.
The Heat were dragging even before the two extra periods, now 3-3 in their last six games. Their 13 second-period points matched their fewest in any quarter this season.
After his scoreless second period, James said he recognized at halftime that something had to change.
"I thought I was a little frustrated in the first half," he said. "I apologized to my teammates at halftime, and told them that my frustration and my body language was all wrong.
"So I changed that in the second half, tried to be aggressive, tried to put us in position to win, and we just came up short."
But this was about more than the Nets or the Knicks or the start of what actually is a six-game trip, with the Heat afforded this brief return to South Florida because of the forgiving break in the schedule.
"It's a long and grueling season for all of us, not just us because we're the champs," James said. "But we've played a lot of basketball in our four years together. It's taken a lot of wear. It's wear and tear on all our bodies. So mentally, it's fatiguing.
"And you just try to find the motivation the best way you can as an individual and as a collective group."
Because of that, Spoelstra elected to return to Miami, even with the Heat limited in the use of their own building with the Ringling Bros. circus in town. A Monday practice is expected on the private practice court at AmericanAirlines Arena before the team leaves for Tuesday's 2013 championship commemoration with President Obama at the White House.
But even the remaining four games on the trip leave concerns, with the Wizards game to be followed by a back-to-back set on Friday night against the Philadelphia 76ers and next Saturday night against the Charlotte Bobcats. That could mean at least one more night off during the trip for Wade, who has been cautious with back-to-back sets in the wake of offseason shock-wave knee therapy.
"It's always a game-time decision," James said of the uncertainty with Wade's availability. "I go into that game or that day thinking he is going to be out there and when I get the news he's not playing, I have to understand my responsibility changes. So I have to carry a little bit more of the scoring load or a little bit more of the responsibility as far as handling the ball, because one of our best ball handlers is out."
Chalmers and Battier both said they expect to be back Wednesday. The boost would be welcomed after the Heat shot .425 from the field in Brooklyn, their second-lowest percentage of the season. The six points the Heat scored in the extra time were the fewest since the 1954-55 advent of the shot clock for a team playing multiple overtimes.
Cole said what shouldn't be questioned is the Heat's resolve.
"We're a tough team," he said. "We've had to play with so many different lineups already this year, so we're a resilient bunch."
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