LeBron James was on the top of his game Friday night.
Too bad the only other players who could say the same were on the Detroit Pistons. While borderline rotation players in Will Bynum, Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye combined to shoot 21-of-31 from the field and 9-of-11 from beyond the arc, LeBron found himself with minimal support outside of Chris Bosh and his 29 points and eight points.
James was masterful orchestrating the short-handed Heat, who were playing without Dwyane Wade due to a one-game suspension resulting from a kick to Ramon Sessions’ groin late in Miami’s victory over Charlotte. LeBron recorded 35 points on 15-of-22 shooting, 6 rebounds, 6 steals and five assists in the 109-99 loss to a determined Pistons team, becoming the fourth player to record such a statline.
The other three? Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan.
Unfortunately, nobody on the Heat wanted any part of making a bucket outside of James and Bosh. While those two combined for 63 points on 26-of-39 shooting, the rest of the team managed to shoot 13-of-38, which includes 8-of-30 shooting from Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and Ray Allen.
Those four also combined to shoot 6-of-24 from beyond the arc. They were getting open looks, too. However, Allen’s bum shoulder ended up playing a factor in Allen’s 3-of-13 shooting, and Chalmers’ 1-of-6 shooting represents a regression to the mean. Mario was coming off his two best offensive outputs of the season in wins over Oklahoma City and Charlotte. An awful shooting night against Detroit basically canceled out one of those stellar nights.
If there ever was a time for some James Jones, that game would have been the time. The Heat shot 9-of-29 from beyond the arc, paling in comparison to the Pistons’ 12-of-19 shooting from beyond the arc, as well as their 58 percent shooting from the field. Detroit was hitting shots you don’t see players make in practice and Miami was missing shots that should have been routine to elite shooters such as Allen, Miller and Battier.
The problem was the Heat were too reliant on the three-point shot. That comes as a direct result of not having Dwyane Wade and his ability to penetrate. Without Wade, the only players capable of consistently putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim are LeBron and Chris. Mario Chalmers is only one of those players when he’s in an aggressive mood.
Mario took six shots against Detroit. They were all three-pointers. Obviously this was not one of those aggressive nights. Fellow point guard Norris Cole can also get to the rim, but he, too, is hardly the type of player you want to rely on to get to the rim on a consistent basis when you consider how reckless he can be and the dangerous situations he can put himself in.
He has the Wade mentality, but not quite the strength or athleticism that has allowed Dwyane to become recognized as one of the top players in the league over the past decade.
N0t having Wade causes the opposition’s defense to react even more to LeBron’s every move. Fortunately for the Heat, LeBron is good enough to make mincemeat of defense’s that have all five players focus solely on him, even a Pistons team that featured Tayshaun Prince–who is the best player to have defending James.
LeBron needed 22 shots to record 35 points. Outside of Bosh, the rest of the team needed 38 shots to record 36 points. Cole and Udonis Haslem were the only players to shoot over 50 percent and Allen needed 13 shots to score nine points. If you live by jump shots, you’re going to die by them, and that’s exactly what happened in the loss to Detroit.
It’s the reason why the Oklahoma City Thunder ended up falling to the Heat last year. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are all players who rely far heavier on their jump shooting abilities, rather than taking it to the rim in high-percentage areas. When you have players who can get to the rim, however, you put yourself in a better place to win because you’re consistently taking shots in places where shots are easier to make.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are prolific slashers who can get to the rim whenever they feel like it, which is why the Heat will be the favorite to win the NBA championship for as long as they are capable of getting to the rim on a consistent basis. Apologies to all the New York Knick fans out there, but 12 three-pointers per game isn’t normal and doesn’t hold up.
With Wade on the floor, not only do you have a player whose mid-range game is improving, but a prolific slasher who keeps defenses on their toes and wary of a secondary driver. That’s what separates LeBron’s Miami Heat from his Cleveland Cavaliers and why those teams never truly threatened to win a title. The Cavs were LeBron James and a bunch of shooters; the Heat are LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and a bunch of shooters.
See what I did there?
Wade makes all the difference in the Heat’s success, which is why those ideas of the team being better off with just LeBron being the ball-handler are pure insanity. When Wade isn’t on the floor, the Heat are LeBron’s Cavaliers with a superior jump shooting big man, since I think we can all agree on the mathematical equation: Chris Bosh>Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
But when you compare the Cavaliers and the Heat, you see that there isn’t a Cavaliers player close to imposing their will like Dwyane Wade can. The Cavaliers attempted to pass off Mo Williams or Antawn Jamison as the team’s secondary scorer and neither of those players can hold a candle to what a true secondary scoring option should be.
Wade, on the other hand, and his 20 points per on 51 percent shooting is more than enough for a championship squad.