NEW ORLEANS — LeBron James won’t assume the eventual date with Indiana that so many others expect.
He definitely has another one with Kevin Durant — in just a few days.
The NBA’s two best players went their separate ways after the East’s 163-155 victory over the West in Sunday’s NBA All-Star game, but only temporarily. They will be back on the same floor Thursday in Oklahoma City, perhaps even joined by Russell Westbrook.
Less than two months will remain in the regular season when play resumes Tuesday, with so much still to sort out in the loaded Western Conference.
Things seem so much simpler in the East, where a Miami-Indiana matchup in the Eastern Conference finals has seemed a certainty since the opening weeks of the season — except to James.
“This is more than a two-team race. There’s a lot of good teams in the Eastern Conference,” he said. “It’s been a slow start for us as a whole, but there’s so many good teams, you can’t just count on us and one other team. I respect every team we go against.”
Miami went into the break 2 1/2 games behind Indiana, with third-place Toronto having 10 more losses than the Heat. The Pacers lost Game 7 of the East finals in Miami last June, and they want home-court advantage if — when? — the teams meet again this spring.
The Heat are interested in it too, though only to a point.
“What matters more is that we’re healthy. We’re going to compete for first place of course, but we’re not going to make it this huge thing,” Chris Bosh said.
“We’re within striking distance, 2 1/2 back. We like our chances.”
The Thunder finally opened a little cushion atop the West with their strong finish to the first half, winning their final three games to take a four-game lead over injury-plagued San Antonio, the defending conference champion.