With a limited roster and an eye towards the long flight to China immediately after their first preseason game, the Miami Heat started strong but faltered in the fourth quarter with just 13 points for the 92-79 opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Josh Smith and recent acquisition Lou Williams led the Hawks with a combined 39 points for a balanced attack that simply outpaced the Heat's offense and created enough turnovers to build a lead they wouldn't relinquish in the second half. Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers didn't play in the game, just like in Wednesday's team scrimmage, and they were joined by Udonis Haslem on the sidelines.
Chris Bosh led the team with 23 points, including an impressive 15-point performance in the third quarter, despite playing just under 23 minutes. He scored from a variety of long range shots (including a three-pointer), midrange jumpers and aggressively driving to the rim. But just in case you forgot that this was a meaningless exhibition game, we also saw a few sequences in which Bosh chose to practice his ball-handling skills, with mixed results. LeBron James played about 30 seconds more than that, with ten points and six rebounds and six assists (with 8 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in the opening quarter alone). With his play in the Olympics after the deep run in the playoffs, LeBron doesn't exactly need to sharpen his game and coach Erik Spoelstra gave almost as many minutes to Robert Dozier as the reigning MVP.
Ray Allen made his semi-official debut with the Heat with 10 points as well, but showed plenty of other moves besides launching threes and playing solid defense, including one sequence in which he got a steal and then connected with LeBron with a beautiful pass for the thunderous dunk in the first half. If this is just the beginning, then Heat fans are in for a treat, especially once the Big 3 is complete and healthy to compliment the array of shooters the Heat have surrounded them with. Despite an opening in the starting lineup with Wade sitting out, Spoelstra decided to bring Allen off the bench anyway with an eye towards a regular season rotation.
With Chalmers out, second-year guard Norris Cole had a solid outing that hinted at a much more dynamic game than the one he showcased in his rookie season. The young man looks to be a bit stronger and attacked the basket confidently but his two assists don't tell the story of his improved passing and court vision. On the flip side, Dexter Pittman continues to be a foul machine despite looking leaner and presumably more mobile.
There is an outside chance that Wade will play in China but it seems more likely that Heat fans won't see the complete team play anytime soon. For now, the goal is to get in regular season shape and build upon the foundation the championship team provided. With a full season ahead of them and a long road to the playoffs, the Heat won't sweat a preseason loss to the rebuilding Hawks. Once the team receives their rings before the opening regular season game against the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat will officially be back to business in their quest to defend the title.