After the Miami Heat concluded their morning shootaround at Staples Center, James found himself reminiscing about his long-time friend, arguably the league's ultimate little tough guy.
For as much of a threat as Blake Griffin presented with his mind-numbing athleticism, it was Paul who had James' attention going into what would turn into a 107-100 loss Wednesday night to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Paul had even greater respect for his friend when it was over.
"It's just who he is, obviously," he said. "He's always aware of when he needs to pick his spots."
The loss was the Heat second loss in the first four stops of this six-game trip that continues Thursday in Denver.
"The road just gets tougher," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We have not been playing our best basketball.
"We played well in stretches, but we did not play consistently."
For much of the first three quarters, Paul was as nondescript as Heat stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, both of whom never found their offensive games.
But then Paul found his.
And it was over.
Scoring the Clippers' final 13 points of the third quarter, Paul turned a one-point game into a double-digit Heat deficit, doing it from the 3-point line and from the foul line, ultimately closing with 16 points and 10 assists.
"That took the air out of us," Spoelstra said of Paul's burst. "We have to weather those storms better on the road. That's the mental resolve we're known so well for."
While James closed with 30 points, this hardly was the James who singlehandedly put the Houston Rockets away on Monday night. This time James' first rebound did not come until the opening minute of the third quarter. He closed with three.
And this time the Heat needed more, what with Wade shooting 2 of 10 for six points and Bosh 3 of 13 for 11. Wade's status was not determined until just before the opening tip, as he dealt with the sore left foot he injured during the third quarter of Monday's victory in Houston.
"I tried to do what I could do," Wade said. "I aggravated my foot a little bit."
Wade was not cleared to play until X-rays were taken about an hour before the game.
"It says a lot that he even wanted to be out there," Spoelstra said.
Once again, the Heat were uneven with their defense, with Griffin closing with 20 points and 14 rebounds and Clippers reserve guard Jamal Crawford adding 22.
The Heat fell behind by 20 early in the fourth quarter, trimmed the deficit to 11, forcing the Clippers to reinsert Paul and Griffin, but never could get all the way back.
"It just got away from us," Spoelstra said.
For the Heat, some of the most consistent offense actually came off the bench, with Ray Allen scoring 14 points and Rashard Lewis 11 on 4-of-4 shooting, all in the first half.
It added up to the Heat's third lopsided road loss in five road games this season, with stops in Denver and then Saturday in Phoenix remaining on this trip.
"Obviously, we can play better," Bosh said.
Both teams had double-digit turnovers by halftime, with the Heat up 54-52 at the break despite James playing the entire first half without a rebound. Both teams closed with 19 turnovers.
The highlight moment of the night came when Clippers reserve point guard Eric Bledsoe blocked a Wade fastbreak dunk attempt at the rim in the first quarter.
"I didn't know if I was going to be able to block him or not," Bledsoe said. "I just tried to get the ball back and ended up blocking him."
The Heat have now lost their last five visits to the Clippers' court and seven of their last eight.
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