Erik Spoelstra said before this season that thinking conventionally with LeBron James was his biggest regret as a coach. Miami faced a challenge Saturday night, playing a formidable Utah Jazz frontline with Chris Bosh out with a cold. Had Spoelstra faced that predicament two seasons ago, he might have started Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony, two limited offensive players. But against a team with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, Spoelstra instead inserted Shane Battier into the lineup for Bosh.
The decision worked well. Despite a relatively quiet first half, LeBron James easily blew by bigger opponents like Millsap or Jefferson on offense to finish with 30 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field. Battier, sometimes playing as the nominal power forward, frequently found himself open at the 3-point line. The NCAA and NBA champion knocked down four 3s and made all three free-throws on another long-range attempt on which he was fouled.
Miami played to its strengths and routed the Utah Jazz 105-89 for the team's fourth straight win, all of which came with double-digit margins. The Heat won the rebounding battle 39-38, with James, Haslem and Dwyane Wade providing the bulk of the work in that department. And Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors shot a combined 7-for-25 from the field. Miami stole the ball 12 times and held Utah to just 41 percent shooting from the field.
Wade played another solid game, scoring 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 shooting from the foul line. He used his crossover to get into the lane a few times, but also knocked down a few jumpers Saturday night. On the defensive end of the floor, Wade followed up his stellar game bottling up O.J. Mayo with another active night against Randy Foye, who shot just 1-of-9 from the floor. Perhaps Wade was miffed that people compared Foye to him when Foye was drafted.
Miami nursed a small lead for much of the first half, but made a run in the third. Battier made back-to-back 3s early in the second half, and then Mario Chalmers and Battier each knocked down another later in the quarter. While Battier and Chalmers cashed in beyond the arc, James and Wade made baskets in the paint. Miami's four-point halftime lead grew to 20 just eight minutes into the second half. Utah made a couple runs -- to close the third and then midway through the fourth -- but the Heat always responded with a steal and a couple of made baskets.
Ray Allen and Mike Miller each added two 3s of their own, and Haslem finished with nine rebounds and six points, including one rim-shaking dunk.
Faced with the loss of a big piece to the Heat, Spoelstra simply played to his strengths. He gave the 3-point shooters playing time on the court, and the crisp-ball movement to find open shooters followed. Miami also played gritty, active defense to prevent Utah from exploiting the Heat's lack of size. The result was a blowout win.
Miami will host the Oklahoma City Thunder Christmas Day at 5:30.