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After routing Lakers, Heat can focus on just playing

Miami silences critics with a lopsided victory in the anticipated matchup and now can simply move forward with its season.

December 25, 2010|By Ira Winderman

Now what?

Basketball, just basketball.

For the Miami Heat, even more than the convincing 96-80 victory over the Lakers, that's what Christmas delivered, games going forward that just will be about the games, not the chaos in Cleveland, the grandeur at the Garden, this supposed showdown (and letdown) at Staples Center.

Yes, Chris Bosh still has his return to Toronto on the schedule in February, but by then the Raptors will be a bazillion games below .500.

The greatest statement to come out of Saturday's victory was not how LeBron James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade did a number on Kobe Bryant and company. If you haven't noticed, the Lakers aren't the best in the West, but rather now tied with Utah for third best.

The Heat insisted coming in that it had greater concerns than the Lakers, and apparently it does, now only two games behind Boston for the best record in the East, riding a nine-game road winning streak.

The greatest statement to come out of Saturday is that there don't have to be any more statements, that Coach Erik Spoelstra's pithy strategy board themes again can be where the psychobabble starts and ends.

Saturday, Spoelstra's pregame message was that his team should play as a "band of brothers." OK, then.

Oh, there were moments Saturday when it was about more than basketball, such as when Ron Artest shared dual technical fouls with James, with James' infraction apparently having to do with his neck being engulfed by Artest's grip.

"I was in a WWE headlock," James said. "I got a technical trying to get out of a headlock."

Now the silliness is over. The next trip to Cleveland will go from impassioned hatred to muted reality. The New York crowd by now must appreciate that angering James is not the way to go. And Chicago, having supported its Bulls during the lean, post- Michael Jordan years, long has been more mature than to dwell on the might-have-beens.

Now the Heat can get back to the meshing of Mike Miller into the rotation, a task Spoelstra decided was best left for another night, other than some late garbage time.

Now Spoelstra can decide whether Mario Chalmers should ever be allowed to shoot again.

Now rhetoric can be replaced by rational discourse about how good this team is and how good it can become.

"We've showed," Bosh said, "that we could play together."

In just over a week, the salary-cap exception granted by the NBA for Udonis Haslem's foot injury will expire. So instead of discussing James' emotions, Wade's motivation, Bosh's frame of mind, we now rejoin a season in progress, with real debate allowed to ensue.

As the Heat was pulling away during Saturday's third quarter, Jeff Van Gundy noted on the ABC broadcast, "I was an idiot for saying they were going to win 73 games, but their talent base is incredible."

Incredible even without the drama. The play that best demonstrated where this team stands came on a blown fourth-quarter fastbreak layup by Wade, one that James was there to follow up. He had his teammate's back. OK, band of brothers, if you must.

"It was probably the most trust, the most poise we've played with in one game this season," Spoelstra said.

Bryant departed duly impressed.

"They're playing as a unit," Bryant said. "They're playing with a sense of urgency."

For the next three and a half months, it will be about basketball. The playoffs are another story; two weeks against any team produces its own theater.

For now, the distractions will be left to others, perhaps to the Lakers.

"People got distracted and didn't play the game the way we want to play the game," was Coach Phil Jackson's summation Saturday.

Saturday, of course, also was about basketball. It was about Bosh winning the statistical duel with Pau Gasol, although the two hardly were matched up that often, with Andrew Bynum being brought along slowly. It was James filling up the boxscore with his third triple-double of the season while keeping Artest from filling his head with nonsense. It was about Wade being allowed to work his way back from his knee injury without having to also carry the load against Bryant, as so often was the case in the past.

Beyond the madness off the court, the Heat has become quite the product on the court.

Now, finally, that remarkable skill set is what they get to sell. Basketball, pure basketball.

iwinderman@tribune.com

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