The artwork LeBron James is executing with an ever-increasing degree of difficulty on those highlight dunks set up by teammate Dwyane Wade is largely the result of guesswork.
James and Wade connected on two incredible lob plays in Wednesday’s 101-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers that continued to dominate sports highlight shows well into Thursday, which the Heat had off ahead of Friday's game against Sacramento.
The Heat’s Christmas dunk reel has essentially become the gift that keeps on giving.
But James insists he never predetermines any of the dunks he performs in games when streaking down the lane in transition. It’s just a matter of following Wade or Mario Chalmers on the break and making sure he’s in position to create a passing lane.
Those passes tend to come from anywhere at any time. James’ end of the bargain is simple. Just jump as high as possible and figure out the creative aspect at some point while in midair. That was the case in those two dunks Wednesday. First, James filled the lane in transition and caught a no-look lob from Wade before crushing home a dunk with his right hand.
The next one was anything but orthodox, as Wade tossed the ball off the backboard with James jumping off his left leg to swoop in for the catch and finish with his left hand. The play sent shock waves through social media, with Lakers legend Magic Johnson suggesting on Twitter that it was one of the greatest dunks he’s ever seen.
“Any time D-Wade gets it on the break, I just try to chase him down,” James said. “I’m not sure if he’s going to go in for it or if he’s going to throw the lob to me. But I had no idea what he was going to do with it. He was looking at me. I didn’t know where he was going to go with it -- whether he was going to bounce it to me or throw it up. Then he went off the glass, and the only way I could catch it was with my left. I had to improvise. I have to see it again to give you a better description, man.”
James has been on a dunkfest of sorts in recent games, leaving victims ranging from rookies to established veterans in his trail along the way. He has delivered poster-worthy material in each of the last three games. That stretch started when James nearly hurdled Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore in the Heat’s 122-103 home win Friday. It continued Monday with a similar dunk over Paul Millsap, who attempted to draw an offensive foul on James, in the Heat’s 121-119 overtime win against Atlanta.
Then came the Christmas acrobatics with Wade as the setup man.
Heat teammates say they’re often just as surprised as fans when they see James start to measure his steps and gear up for a phenomenal finish at the rim. Center Chris Bosh said he couldn’t even imagine trying to catch and finish some of the insane passes that are tossed into the air for James.
“Amazing athleticism,” Bosh said of the pass off the backboard for James. “If it was me, I probably would have just watched [the ball] go the other way [off the glass].”
Just when it appeared forward Michael Beasley was on the verge of solidifying his role in the Heat’s primary playing rotation, coach Erik Spoelstra revealed it has been a constant challenge to find consistent playing time for the team’s fourth-leading scorer.
After playing 20 minutes Monday against Atlanta in his first game back from a hamstring injury, Beasley didn't play at all during Wednesday’s game against the Lakers. When Chris Andersen was lost for much of the second half due to a sore back, Spoelstra opted for seldom-used veteran Udonis Haslem.
“You know what? I’m going to have to figure that out,” Spoelstra said when asked after Wednesday’s game about Beasley’s absence. “I didn’t want to force it. We had our normal rotation, and the group that was going in the second quarter really sparked us. That’s when I planned to put him in the game.”
Spoelstra has maintained throughout the season that his rotation would remain fluid and could be drastically different from game to game. The unit the Heat used in the second quarter in Los Angeles was Wade, Andersen, Norris Cole, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Miami erased an eight-point deficit and outscored the Lakers 30-19 in that period.
Beasley may have taken a step back in the pecking order after missing seven games before he returned Monday with 10 points and seven rebounds in the overtime win against Atlanta. Spoelstra insists the revolving rotation dilemma, however, is a good problem to have moving forward.
Beasley is averaging 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 17.8 minutes a game. He is shooting a career-high 53.5 percent from the field.
“His minutes give us something different, no question about it,” Spoelstra said. “We’ll just have to figure it out over the next couple of games.”
Chris Andersen continued to receive treatment on his sore back and neck, which kept him out of the second half Wednesday against the Lakers. He is considered questionable for Friday’s game against the Kings. ... Wade is likely to sit out one game of the back-to-back set that moves Saturday to Portland as part of his maintenance program to rest his knees.
Did You Know?
The Heat are one of the league’s worst rebounding teams, but they are making up for it by pummeling opponents in the paint during their six-game win streak. Miami has outscored teams by a combined 78 points in the paint in that stretch, which included a season-high 32-point advantage against the Lakers on Wednesday and a season-high total of 70 paint points last week against the Kings.
Quote of the Day
“Erik is an unbelievable coach. He’s played to everybody’s strengths, and he’s not afraid to go against conventional wisdom. He’s hard to scout because you don’t know what they’re doing. I don’t even know if they know what they’re doing. But they know how to play basketball. It’s beautiful to watch.”
– Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni on Erik Spoelstra’s methods with the Heat