TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager missing the postseason to be treated for leukemia.
“He’s a big part of basketball,” forward LeBron James said Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena, as the Heat completed preparations for Sunday’s opener of their first-round playoff series against the visiting Bobcats. “First of all, my prayers and my family’s prayers goes out to him and his family, and hopefully he has a speedy recovery.
“But he’s going to be missed. It’s just always great seeing Craig show up to the game and always high energy. His suits are always high energy, as well. So he’s going to be missed. But his health is more important than this game of basketball, for sure.”
Sager confirmed the diagnosis in a statement released Friday through Turner Broadcasting:
“My favorite time of year — city to city, round by round, 40 games in 40 nights. A dramatic turn has matched me with acute myeloid leukemia. From the sidelines to being sidelined, 40 veins and 40 electrolytes. Too bad, I had some probing questions for Pop (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich).”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he was stunned by the news.
“That was a shocker,” he said. “I had received five or six texts (Friday) night and I couldn’t believe what I was reading. And you just see him a week ago, it shows you how quickly things could change.
“Our thoughts, Miami Heat nation, we’re sending all the positive thoughts and prayers and vibes to Craig and his family. Yes, there’s no question he will be missed, but it’s bigger than that. We just hope that it’s a recovery, a quick recovery.”
Known for his outlandish attire and offbeat questions, Sager has developed a rapport with many NBA stars.
“For us, as players,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said, “we rather enjoy our interview moments with Craig, because he’s always going to give us something, something to brighten our day. But for him and his family, it’s the best thing for him to do, to take the time away and to get the treatment. So, from the NBA family, our best wishes go out to the Sager family.”
It’s been nearly a month since Wade has played more than 23 minutes in a game, but Spoelstra said Saturday there will be no restriction Sunday with his All-Star guard.
That doesn’t mean there also won’t be a cautious approach with Wade having played in just three games since missing nine with a strained left hamstring.
“I don’t have a restriction with him,” Spoelstra said. “So I don’t necessarily have a window, either.
“I’m going to read his body language; I’m going to read the game. I’m going to have communication constantly with him. But he’s cleared to play. So neither one of us want to put a restriction on it, but we’re also realistic and we’ll be smart about it.”
Wade said he is appreciative of the best-of-seven opening-round schedule that gave the Heat a three-day break before the playoffs and then two days off before each of the series’ second and third games.
Spoelstra would not reveal his Sunday starters, but it appears Greg Oden will not move back into the starting lineup, after returning for the season finale after missing 11 games with back spasms and then a stomach virus.
Oden said there has been no indication he would return to the role of playing the first six minutes of each half.
“It’s not going to be that,” he said. “But when I do get my chance, I know I’ve got to rebound, I’ve got to be big and just bring a different size to this team.”
Asked what Oden’s role might be, Spoelstra said, “To be ready, to be available. That’s all it is. Basically, that’s what the deal is with all our guys. I know that’s an oversimplification. But with this group, that point has been hammered home.”
Spoelstra said more is needed than the way the Heat finished the regular season, but scoffed at a switch being flipped when the playoff lights illuminate.
“There better be another level for us, because for the whole playoffs it will get to that level,” he said. “I don’t talk about a switch or anything. We were grinding through the last six weeks. We were trying to figure it out, and we couldn’t get over that hump. But there’s a clean slate right now. Our guys have a good perspective about it.”
There also has been no talk about a three-peat.
“Last year,” forward LeBron James said, “we weren’t focused on trying to two-peat. So we just focus on trying to win a championship.”
Said Wade, “It’s a different level, it’s a different intensity, and it is a switch. But it ain’t the switch that everyone thinks it is, when they say, ‘Can they flip the switch?’ and be champions in the first game of the first round. That’s impossible.”
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