MIAMI – When LeBron James arrived for a shootaround practice Tuesday morning, his sprained left ankle was still sore and swollen.
By game time, the NBA's two-time reigning MVP was good to go.
James started for Miami on Tuesday against the Atlanta Hawks, ending an absence where the Heat lost games in Denver and Chicago with him sidelined. The Heat, however, were without forward Chris Bosh, who sprained his left ankle in the Chicago loss.
"We do have versatility on the roster," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "This is probably the time it'll show the most, playing guys that weren't necessarily playing big minutes, they'll be able to step up and have their opportunity."
Joel Anthony started at power forward in place of Bosh, who was ruled out early Tuesday.
James missed his customary pregame media session Tuesday, getting even more treatment. The determination was made about 45 minutes before tip-off that he would start.
James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade — Miami's Big 3 — all missed practice Monday as well. Wade has a sore left knee, courtesy of a collision with the Bulls' Kurt Thomas in the Chicago loss on Saturday, and was still battling some swelling on Tuesday, but sitting out was never an option.
"No matter who's on the floor ... we've got to find a way to get a win versus one of the hottest teams in the league," Wade said.
Spoelstra said he had five different lineup cards ready, depending on whether or not James would play. It was turning into a chess game of sorts; Hawks coach Larry Drew said he was waiting on his lineup decision until seeing who Miami had available.
The Hawks aren't perfectly healthy either. Forward Marvin Williams missed his ninth straight game with a lower back injury.
After Tuesday, the Heat do not play again until hosting Toronto on Saturday, giving Bosh plenty of time to heal.
Bosh was hurt with 30.7 seconds left in the third quarter in Chicago, going for the ball while the Bulls' Omer Asik dove for it as well. Asik rolled into Bosh's lower leg, and the Heat forward immediately grabbed at his left shin in obvious pain — and the way he tumbled prompted fears that the injury could be bad.
"He's making progress," Spoelstra said. "He's moving around better today. Certainly not ready to run and explode off of it, but if you saw the footage, the replay of it, we're just thankful it's minor at this point."