1. Heat Take One Step Toward A Better Path
MIAMI -- With about six minutes left in the first quarter of Monday night's game, Miami Heat forward LeBron James caught a pass on the wing, lined up for what would have been an ill-advised 3-point shot, considered his options and then improvised.
James made a head fake to get past his defender, took two dribbles toward the basket and pulled up for a 15-foot jumper that swished through the net. As he jogged back down on defense, James looked over to the Heat's bench. He spotted coach Erik Spoelstra applauding.
Staying within the offense and taking a shot in rhythm was the sort of decision from James that came with no backlash, but rather pats on the back during the next timeout. James got off to his best start of the season Monday, scoring 20 of his game-high 30 points in the first half to lead the Heat past the Washington Wizards 105-94 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
If James and Spoelstra were fueled by the controversy between them and the adversity the Heat have faced the past few days, they all could use a few more doses of that kind of drama as they try to hit a stride and emerge from their early-season struggles. After clearing the air during a meeting with Spoelstra earlier Monday, James responded with the type of balanced performance the Heat expected.
After working to settle disputes over James' role on offense and tinkering with a few sets and his playing rotation, Spoelstra saw his team score its most points in seven games and take a much-needed step toward normalcy following a chaotic stretch in which Miami (10-8) had lost four of its previous five games.
It all started with open and honest communication -- something Spoelstra insists he'll seek more of with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as the Heat try to turn this painful start into a prosperous run.
"I want [James'] input. I want Dwyane's input. I want Chris' input," Spoesltra said of an improved dialogue with his star players to help them develop a comfort level within the offense. "I hope we're moving in the right direction. It's a step in the right direction. Now, we move on."
Before the game, Spoelstra acknowledged Wade and James haven't found a comfort level with the offense, which has been the root of the players' frustration. Spoelstra also admitted that he's been struggling in his search for answers, but said he would welcome their suggestions and incorporate them into the game plan. Some of the tweaks paid off against the Wizards, who weren't much more than a needed sparring partner to help the Heat through a painful process.
There were sets that featured Wade and James on opposite sides of the floor to give them more space with which to work. Spoelstra also played point guards Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers more to ensure that Wade and James would spend less time handling the ball and more time filling the wings.
James made 10 of 18 shots from the field and 9 of 11 free throws, and had six rebounds and five assists in what would have been one of his most efficient games with the Heat had it not been for seven turnovers. Wade missed six of his first seven shots but shook off the rusty start and finished with 26 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals.
There were moments when Wade and James worked in tandem. But there were other times when separating Wade and James proved to be a productive solution.
"I think I'm starting to figure things out," James said. "We have the scorers, but at the same time, we have to figure out how we can complement each other on the court. Right now, it's times when we both pay attention too much when we're on the court together. But as soon as one of us comes out, we say, 'OK, it's time to be aggressive.' We've got to find a balance when we're both on the court. Who's going to be aggressive, and if we're both going to be aggressive, how do we keep each other in the flow of the game? Tonight was a good step for that. We both felt in a good rhythm."
That's been rare for the Heat. And it's been tough for Wade, James and Bosh to play with any sense of cohesiveness on a consistent basis. But all three were able to find their offensive rhythm by attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line, where Wade, James and Bosh were a combined 29-for-35.
That was the plan from the moment Wade and James met before Monday's game.
"As I told LeBron before the game, I was up late last night, watching old games, YouTube and all that," Wade said. "I was watching LeBron, and I was like, 'That's the LeBron I fell in love with and I know as a basketball player.' And I haven't seen that [in Miami]. I just want him to be that, to be him, to have fun with the game. Just be you and enjoy it. I think tonight was the second time this year we both felt comfortable with each other taking over and not necessarily worrying when we're going to get a shot and where we're going to get the ball."
At least the lines of communication appear to be more open than they've ever been in Miami.
"That's the most important thing -- communication between professionals," Bosh said. "We're all professionals here. There are no hard feelings if something's not working. We can come to each other and say, 'Yo, it's not working. Let's get better. Let's do this.'"
Bosh said the key to being open to constructive criticism is being open-minded.
"Small changes, big changes, it really doesn't matter," Bosh said. "We all made big changes to come here together. So what's a little more moving around [on the court] going to do? It's minute."
That process remains a work in progress for the Heat.
"Do I have all the answers with that? No," Spoelstra said. "But I'm not going to back off on demands for effort, our defensive disposition and energy. That's something we have to bring every single night, every single possession. My job right now on the offensive end is to find a comfort level for all of the guys. We have not found that yet. I don't have all the answers for that right now. I'm exploring them."
2. Thunder Latest to Catch On to Hornets
By John Hollinger
OKLAHOMA CITY -- You've done nothing in this league until you show up on a scouting report.
Those are Chris Paul 's words, not mine, and they may help explain why the Hornets have cooled off a bit since their torrid start to the season. The Hornets lost for the fourth time in five games, 95-89 to the Thunder, and once again the offense fizzled after halftime. New Orleans scored only 19 points in the fourth quarter, and basically gave the game away with a ghastly stretch of nine consecutive empty trips in the last five minutes.
This all sounds too familiar to Hornets fans. On Monday night they scored 41 points after the break; in their previous three defeats they produced 38, 36 and 34 during that stretch.
"We competed tonight," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "David [West] missed some shots he normally makes, and I'll go to the bank with that."
West was 10-of-24, including 0-for-6 during the decisive run, but the Thunder seemed much better prepared for those shots than the Hornets' early-season opponents did. Kevin Durant swatted two of them after predictable, slow-developing isos for West, and foes have been equally well-prepared for New Orleans' other offerings of late.
"People were like, 'Jason Smith who?'" Paul said. "Now they run him off the jump shot every chance they get."
That is indeed true, as the reserve big man struggled (2-of-7, three turnovers) with Oklahoma City players selling out on his J and making him dribble. After a hot start, his most recent double-figure game was Nov. 5.
Smith isn't the only one; that analysis applies just as well to the team as a whole. A lottery team a year ago, the Hornets may have been overlooked by some early opponents, and misjudged by a few who weren't familiar with their new personnel. But now? The Hornets are firmly on the radar, and nobody is taking them lightly.
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Monday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Al Jefferson, Jazz: The man Wolves GM David Kahn (!!!) sent packing this summer for draft picks dropped in 11 of 14 shots, good for 22 points, 11 rebounds and a season-high four blocks in a 109-88 win over the Bucks.
John Salmons, Bucks: His season-worst 1-for-11 night from the field marked the seventh straight game in which he was below 50 percent from the field. No coincidence that the 109-88 loss to Utah was the Bucks' sixth loss in seven games.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"As I told LeBron before the game, I was up late last night, watching old games, YouTube and all that. I was watching LeBron, and I was like, 'That's the LeBron I fell in love with and I know as a basketball player.' And I haven't seen that [in Miami]. I just want him to be that, to be him, to have fun with the game. Just be you and enjoy it."
-- Heat guard Dwyane Wade, after his team beat the Wiz.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Hand To Man Defense
7. How Do You Know?
During the Heat's five games (1-4) preceding Monday night's contest against the Wizards, they attempted 88 field goals from within 5 feet of the basket, which was the fewest in the NBA over that time period. Against the Wizards, the Heat made more of a conscious effort to attack the basket, leading to 19 field goal attempts from within 5 feet and 42 free throw attempts, the second-most free throw attempts for the Heat this season.
Heat FG within 5 Feet of the Basket , 2010-11
|Category||Previous 5||vs. Wizards|
8. November To Remember
The Mavericks defeated the Rockets to finish November at 11-3 (.786). That was Dallas' highest winning percentage in any month in which it played 10 or more games since the Mavs posted an identical record in January 2008. It was Rick Carlisle's most successful month as a coach since the Pacers went 12-3 (.800) in January 2004.• More from Elias