Updated: December 11, 2012, 11:03 AM ET

1. Wade Lets Game, LeBron Do The Talking

By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com

MIAMI -- When the final buzzer sounded Monday night, LeBron James nodded toward music power couple Jay-Z and Beyonce at one end of the court and turned to salute boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. at the other.

Then the three-time most valuable player took aim at critics -- namely Hall of Famer Charles Barkley -- who have doubted Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade lately.

Asked after Miami's 101-92 victory over the Atlanta Hawks what a second consecutive strong outing from the once-struggling Wade should mean to those skeptics, James fired one of his most effective shots of the night.

Dwyane Wade
Hector Gabino/El Nuevo Herald/GettyDwyane Wade in ascending form against Atlanta.

"It means Charles Barkley needs to shut up," James said. "I mean, the man [Wade] is shooting 80 percent from the floor the last couple of games. That's like, crazy, right? That's why he is who he is. Unbelievable."

With a number of high-profile celebrities in attendance, the stars certainly aligned for the Heat as they continued to distance themselves from last week's disastrous performances in losses to Washington and New York.

James led the Heat with another customary dominant effort that included 27 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in 40 minutes. But the aftermath for James was all about his defense, specifically coming to Wade's defense.

And James made that process appear as easy as when he caught a lob pass well above the square on the backboard to slam in a dunk during Miami's decisive late-game run.

In his most efficient game of the season, Wade made 11 of 13 shots from the field and finished with 26 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in 34 minutes. That comes on the heels of Saturday's victory against New Orleans when Wade shot 9-of-12 from the field and scored 26 points.

"He's a rhythm player, a flow player," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He's proven this over the course of his career. The more games he plays, the more minutes he logs, the better flow and rhythm he gets into as the season goes."

The two-game resurgence followed an up-and-down start to the season for Wade, who has shown flashes of the athleticism and relentless play that made him an elite guard in the NBA. But mixed into those outings were a few lackluster games in which he struggled to score and showed very little explosiveness and ability to finish at the rim.

That led some fans and league analysts, including Barkley, to publicly question whether Wade is in decline coming off summer knee surgery and now just a month from his 31st birthday.

Barkley began to weigh in on Wade during TNT's Nov. 29 broadcast, citing the Heat's difficulty in squeezing out a 105-100 win at home against the San Antonio Spurs, who were without Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

"The toughest thing for Dwyane Wade is understanding that he's starting to lose his talent and now he has to learn how to play below the basket," said Barkley, who worked as a color analyst on site in Miami during the broadcast. "The toughest thing when you're a great player or very athletic, when you can't jump over a building anymore, you have to learn how to play."

Then last Thursday, during the network's studio show as the Heat were on their way to a 20-point loss to the Knicks at home, Barkley chimed in again on Wade.

"He's starting to lose his athletic ability," Barkley said. "He's not the same guy. I got a look at him in person. He doesn't explode anymore and he's shooting a lot of fadeaway jumpers."

Despite dealing with rehab from knee surgery and overcoming a foot injury that forced him to miss games earlier this season, Wade is shooting 50.6 percent while averaging 20.2 points, 4.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds a game.

"I never really concerned myself with the noise that goes on outside here," Wade said. "I just try to be as efficient as I can. Shooting 13 shots is not nothing I'm used to. Some nights you go 11-for-13 and some you go 3-for-13. I really didn't listen to the noise. I haven't been paying attention."

That was about the only time all night when James and Wade weren't in lock-step with their chemistry. While Wade tried to downplay being motivated by critics, James insisted from first-hand knowledge that it struck a nerve.

"All competitors get motivated when someone says something about them," James said. "[Wade] doesn't pay much attention to it. But he's heard it. I know he has. When you have two games like that, you kind of put it to rest."

And speaking of rest, James joked that it has been a relief for him not being the focus of all the naysayers these days. From his decision to leave Cleveland to his shortcomings in the 2011 NBA Finals against Dallas, James has dealt with the burden of endless analysis and scrutiny in Miami.

"I do love it. I do -- when somebody's not saying stuff about me," James said as raised his voice loud enough in the Heat's locker room to draw Wade's attention nearby. "I'm glad somebody finally got off me for a change."

When Wade and James are executing at the level they showed Monday night, they don't have to take smack from anyone.

Not Barkley.

And not even Mayweather, who chided the Heat's stars every time the game action came anywhere near his courtside seat.

"You have to stay focused when he's sitting there, man, because he says some funny stuff," James said.

The Heat didn't pull any punches either.

With clearly the best 1-2 combination in the building in James and Wade, Miami took out a streaking conference contender and reminded everyone again why they're the defending champs.

Dimes past: Nov. 23-24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30-Dec. 1 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7-8 | 9

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