So heartbroken was LeBron James after Friday's dramatic loss to the Jazz that the Heat's rugged forward put to words his dejection in the immediate hours after the game.
"Man I have a sick feeling in my stomach right now! Really wanted tonight's game. I just had to make one more dang play out there," James wrote on Twitter as the team departed Salt Lake City, and all of its fresh and searing memories, for Los Angeles and Sunday's much-hyped game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
If nothing else, James' reflexive mood after the 99-98 defeat to the Jazz offered a refreshing glimpse of humanity, something often lost amid his polished public persona of sponsorship responsibilities and image-conscious marketing strategies.
Of course, James' critics and detractors will spin it differently.
In reality, there was not much more James could have done against the Jazz, save for making the game-winning shot. He scored 35 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, to go along with 10 rebounds, six assists and three blocks. In a remarkable fury of basketball genius, James knocked down 11 of his final 12 shots to put the Heat in position to win a game it didn't seem to care much for winning from the opening tipoff.
After all, the Jazz out-rebounded the Heat 50-23, including 27-8 on the offensive glass.
Still, James brooded.
"A stop, rebound, a shot, assist, a block, whatever it took. I fell short again!" James wrote on Twitter, where his thoughts are followed by more than 3.75 million people.
If it was the spoken hope of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to move past the circumstances of the Heat's first loss in more than three weeks -- and, after the game, Spoelstra certainly tried his best in that regard -- then James' sorrowful tone on Twitter only added to what has become the NBA's most campy of soap operas: Is James scared to take a game-winning shot?
Just as he did in the final seconds against Utah, James passed instead of shot in the waning moments of last Sunday's All-Star Game. Add those decisions to James' fourth-quarter efforts in last season's NBA Finals and you have the meat of a narrative that will dominate the media coverage of Sunday's nationally televised game against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, and then resurface every time the Heat finds itself in a close game.
"We don't want it to become a story line and we won't let it," Spoelstra said Friday night.
Unfortunately for Spoelstra, such things are out of his control.
"There will be opinions out there," Spoelstra said. "None of those opinions will matter in our locker room.
"I'm sure there will be a lot of speculation."
After Friday's game, Jazz forward Josh Howard certainly did his best to throw gasoline on the bonfire.
"I guess [James] felt there was too much pressure on him," Howard said.
That ever-present undercurrent, plus the recent history between Bryant and Dwyane Wade, should provide more than enough side-show fodder for the TV producers of Sunday's game at Staples Center. Before Friday, the backdrop for the Heat's second and final game against the Lakers this season, of course, was the fractured nose of Bryant.
Wade broke Bryant's nose during the All-Star Game, and the foul was deemed overly aggressive and unnecessary by Bryant's teammates in the days after the incident. For his part, Wade offered an apology.
Bryant is averaging 34.5 points since the All-Star break and Wade expects Bryant's injury to provide extra motivation Sunday.
"It makes him focus in a little more," Wade said. "And he enjoys adding a something little extra to his resume."
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