MIAMI — Chris Bosh’s lower-abdominal strain may end up being a major pain for NBA playoff teams not named the Miami Heat.
It has forced LeBron James to enhance his game, a feat that didn’t seem possible.
It has led to the emergence of Shane Battier as a sharpshooting power forward, a development not even a psychic could have foretold.
It has also resulted in a more determined Bosh, back to show that he’s ready to erase the emotional sting of the Heat’s flop in last year’s Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.
“It feels right. It feels normal,” Bosh said Monday, one day after the Miami center logged a second consecutive double-double in the Heat’s 91-85 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3. “This is where I’m supposed to be.”
Helping his team win a second consecutive Finals game is a preferable spot to the “out indefinitely” label affixed to Bosh when he injured his abdomen in Miami’s opening game of the Eastern Conference semifinals more than a month ago.
But a couple of funny things happened on the way to the Heat’s expected demise.
James, the three-time most valuable player, became even more dominant. In the six games before Bosh was sidelined, James averaged 28.5 points and 7.6 rebounds. In the 15 games since, those averages are 31.6 points and 10.5 rebounds.
“I understood I had to change my approach both offensively and defensively,” James said. “I had to rebound more, I had to attack more, get into the paint more, to make up the difference with Chris being out. I just had to change, and it’s kind of stayed that way since he got back.”
Battier has also been a revelation upon moving into the starting lineup in Bosh’s absence and staying there upon his return. Battier has made 11 of 15 three-point shots against the Thunder, tying Rashard Lewis for the most successful attempts in the first three games of a Finals. Lewis did it in 2009 for Orlando against the Lakers.
What would the 6-foot-8 Battier have said if someone told him a year ago that he would be starting in the Finals at power forward?
“I would had said, ‘Well, at least I’m starting,’ ” the 11-year veteran said. “It’s about doing what it takes to help the team. That’s all that matters. If they would have said, ‘Shane, you’ll be wiping off LeBron’s sweat with a towel,’ I would say, ‘You know what, I’m in the NBA Finals.’
“I have a saying: Whatever you are, be a good one.”
The Heat has a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is in Miami on Tuesday.
Bosh is back to being one of the best big men in the world after returning from his injury in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics.
He had 19 points and eight rebounds in Miami’s Game 7 victory in that series. Since rejoining the starting lineup in Game 2 of the Finals, Bosh has averaged 13 points and 13 rebounds, helping the Heat outscore the Thunder in the paint and amass more rebounds in each of the last two games.
Bosh credited his wife, Adrienne, for supporting him through a rehabilitation that had its trying moments.
“On those days when I wanted to have a pity party, she wouldn’t let me,” he said. “She stayed in my ear and just said, ‘This is just the way it’s supposed to go right now and you can’t be like that. You have to get better.’ That picked me up off my feet sometimes.”
Bosh said he constantly envisioned playing again.
“Every time I went to bed, that’s all I thought about, that’s all I wanted to accomplish,” he said.
It’s on to bigger fantasies now. A championship is there for the taking, with Bosh and the reformulated Heat making everyone else sweat.