PORTLAND — The stage was set for a battle of epic proportions with Miami’s LeBron James and the two-time defending champion Heat coming to town taking on the NBA-best Portland Trail Blazers.
However, the four-time MVP injured his groin and ankle Friday night in Sacramento and it kept him out of a highly anticipated match-up.
Behind their other two All-Stars, the Heat squeaked out a win against the Blazers 108-107 after Chris Bosh hit a three-pointer with 0.5 seconds left.
“We had that game,” said Nicolas Batum, who had 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists. “It was our game and we let it go.”
The mood in the locker room was one of dejection.
Nobody was happy and certain cliches like teachable moments aren’t smoothing over the fact they lost to a shorthanded team, even if they are the two-time defending champs.
“(It’s) not okay,” said Batum. “Nobody’s happy about that game. Everybody’s mad. The other game, the last two (possessions on) defense, turnovers, we played bad tonight and we lose by one with the last shot for them.”
The Trail Blazers and fans in attendance were quickly reminded that Miami’s Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are both All-Stars and the game didn’t lack entertainment value.
Bosh, in particular, was fantastic. He started out very efficiently, scoring 10 points in the first six minutes of the game. Bosh continued to pour it in for the defending champs, leading them with 37 points and 10 rebounds on the night.
Nic Batum was fouled on a three-pointer by Dwyane Wade with 32 seconds left and he hit all three free-throws to put Portland up 105-103. On the ensuing play Wade came right back with a dunk of his own in a quick six seconds.
Batum hit two free-throws to put Portland up by two with 7.7 seconds left but it was enough time for Miami to get one final possession where they ran a pick and roll for Wade that freed Bosh for the look at a three-pointer.
The Blazers ran a lob play to LaMarcus Aldridge who had a clean look at the basket with 0.5 seconds left but he missed the shot.
However, Terry Stotts and his players were more concerned with the entirety of their performance and not just the final moments that gave Miami the win.
“We just let it be a loose game in the first half. That kind of set the tone,” said Stotts.
“We can’t look at the play at the very end. We have to look at the possessions before that,” said Robin Lopez who scored 17 points.
The Blazers had seven turnovers in the final period, ones that every player who spoke after the game saw as their own mistakes.
“We talked about how they shoot passing lanes and attack the ball and try to steal the ball, and we basically let them do that,” said Damian Lillard who scored 16 points and had seven assists.
The Blazers great start may have raised expectations. However, tonight they showed the room they still have to grow as an emerging contender, especially on the defensive end.
“If we want to be up there and have that expectation, we’re playing good so far but we can’t have those situations,” said Batum.
The Blazers will be forced to exorcize their demons on the road with a back-to-back to close out 2013 starting in New Orleans.
“Let’s go in there and let’s kill them,” said Aldridge.
• The Blazers started out slow with Miami hitting their first six shots but after the Blazers made their first stop with 8:13 left the game started going back in their favor. The two teams combined for 64 points in the first quarter.
• Damian Lillard didn’t have to take a lot of shots to put his stamp on this game. He only took six shots but scored 15 points and had five assists in the first half.