With all of the enthusiasm about their great start to the season (12-3, 8-0 at home), it was easy to forget the Miami Heat were partially missing Dwyane Wade, who has been troubled by an injury from the beginning of the season, causing him to miss three games as well. Now, he seems healthy and ready to carry his share of the load.
Wade’s return to full health isn’t only about his 34 points, helping the Heat come back from a 14 point deficit against the Brooklyn Nets, one of the teams, maybe the best of them, challenging the place of the Heat as the best in the East. Wade getting back to 100% fitness means the Miami Heat can start defending like they’d like to be, finally keeping a team under 100 points for the first time in four games.
We’re a veteran ballclub and we understand that in order for us to win ballgames, in order for us to compete and defend our title, we have to defend. It was good to see we took care of that tonight.
LeBron James keeps talking about how defense is the identity of the Miami Heat. Win through it, and it worked, as they outscored the Nets 52-30 in the second half, forcing 18 turnovers and scoring 19 points off of the fast break. Wade finally being able to move like he’s used to makes their defense as athletic and fast to react with rotations and switches as it was during its better games over the last couple of seasons, not to mention the added firepower off the bench.
LeBron James was happy to take a step back and let Wade take over for once, something he’s hardly done this season, leading the Heat in scoring only twice so far this year. It was his first game of over 30 points this season, raising his average to 19.5 points per game. Another impressive feature of his performance weren’t just the 7 assists but his 14-20 from the field, taking only good shots and enjoying the vast spaces the Heat’s defense allowed him to operate in during the second half.
James finished with 21 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Just another slow day in the office for him, while Norris Cole (12 points) and Ray Allen, making 5-7 of his shots, including 2-3 from beyond the arc, added the expected bench scoring. The Heat won that battle as well, against one of the better substitute units in the NBA.
More than just another win; this was about making sure there’s no doubt who are the current kings in the East. The Heat have enjoyed their time since returning from their West Coast trip, winning their last six games since losing in Los Angeles to the Clippers. No one in Brooklyn is convinced this win proves they’re the inferior team, but it seemed like the absence of Brook Lopez, down the stretch, was too much to overcome. Playing small ball against the Heat isn’t such a bad idea, but the Nets fell into a routine of sloppy passing and lazy shot selection, which led to their big collapse in the second half.
For now, until proven otherwise, the Miami Heat, not in full gear as of yet and on most nights, are still the best team in the NBA. They don’t even half to play their best basketball to maintain that status, just let someone else take the wheel from time to time as LeBron James gets his moments of mental rest.