1. Wade Lets Game, LeBron Do The Talking
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.
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.
"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."
El Heat contˇ con su d˙o maravilla encendido para vencer a los Hawks. Michael Wallace
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.
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.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
Most valuable player: There are so many candidates to choose from, but with Tony Parker booking his first career triple-double, he gets the nod. Parker racked up 27 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds in the Spurs' overtime win.
X factor: With James Harden missing from the game because of an ankle injury and the Spurs having blown out the Rockets 114-92 last Friday night, this had all the makings of a blowout. Thanks to the rediscovery of Linsanity, this was anything but. Jeremy Lin scored 38 points on 11-21 in Harden's absence and led the charge for a Rockets team that almost upset a rolling Spurs squad.
Defining moment: With less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation, the Rockets gave the ball to Lin and gave him the chance to win the game one-on-one. Danny Green had other ideas. Green poked the ball away from Lin at least two times and forced a shot-clock violation with five seconds left. The Spurs weren't able to capitalize in regulation, but the defensive possession set the tone for overtime.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Evan Turner isn't great at anything, which is unfortunate, because it obscures the fact that he's pretty good at everything. To wit: Against Detroit, the jack-of-all-trades posted an 18/11/7 line against a single turnover. Ants are specialists. Evan Turner is a basketball player.
Defining moment: With less than 40 seconds remaining and the Sixers clinging to a 98-95 lead that, given Detroit's pluck, felt even more tenuous, Jrue Holiday buried a pull-up jumper to effectively end it. After a slow start, the All-Star hopeful scored 21 second-half points to lead Philadelphia to its 12th win.
That was a great basketball game: The sweetest pleasures are usually the unexpected ones. Somehow this mid-December formality between two mediocrities, circled on no one's calendar, turned into a slugfest. There were large runs, multiple lead changes, and great performances by no less than seven players. I'm gonna say it: I love this game.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Stephen Curry. The Charlotte-born guard was unconscious in his homecoming, scoring 27 points on 10-for-22 shooting, dishing out 7 assists and grabbing 8 rebounds. Curry was equally flashy as he was brilliant as the Charlotte crowd showed plenty of love for one of their own.
LVP: A player by the name of Jeffery Taylor played 35 minutes for the Bobcats on Monday night. I watched all 48 minutes of this game and couldn't even tell he was on the floor. I guess this can happen when you're 1-for-8 from the field with four points.
Defining moment: The Warriors came out firing in all cylinders and dominated every aspect of the game from the start. The Warriors finished the first quarter shooting 73 percent and scored 38 points (one off their season high). In comparison, the Bobcats scored 23 points on 35 percent shooting.
Recap | Box score
MVP: LeBron James. It was another ho-hum night for the King as he torched the Hawks' transition defense and scored 27 points on 10-for-16 shooting. He found open teammates and was unguardable, but what else is new?
X factor: The Heat's field goal percentage was hovering at better than 60 percent for most of the game. They ended up shooting 58 percent on the night, but just about everyone in a Heat uniform was unconscious from the field. It was just the opposite for Atlanta. Miami's defense rattled them in the second half, and the Hawks finished with a field goal percentage of 42 percent.
That was impressive: The Hawks, fresh off a win in Memphis, were looking to take control of the Southeast Division. But after a close first half, Miami leaked out into transition, and like the flying death machine that they are, buried the Hawks with a barrage of alley-oops and 3-pointers.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Every Maverick chipped in, but O.J. Mayo again led the charge. He finished with 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting and had a smooth jumper to answer every Kings' run.
X factor: Chris Kaman set the pace early for the Mavs with 10 early points on a breathtaking array of YMCA-caliber fall-away jumpers. Dallas only needed him for 21 minutes, but he finished with 18 points on 9-13 from the field.
That was wasted: The Kings did nothing with a huge night from Francisco Garcia -- 25 points, 7-for-12 on 3-pointers, 0 turnovers. The rest of the team shot 41.1 percent with 19 turnovers.
3. Monday's Best
Tony Parker, Spurs: After 825 regular-season games, Parker recorded the first triple-double of his career to lead the Spurs to a 134-126 overtime win against the Rockets. Parker had 27 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. According to Elias, only three other players in NBA history have gone 800 or more games into their career before their first triple-double: Karl Malone (in his 860th game), Patrick Ewing (834) and Cedric Maxwell (824th).
4. Monday's Worst
Jeff Taylor, Bobcats: The rookie from Vanderbilt spent 33 minutes on the court in a 104-96 loss to the visiting Golden State Warriors. In that time, he made one of eight shots from the field. Perhaps having owner Michael Jordan seated at the end of the Bobcats' bench was a little too much.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"It means Charles Barkley needs to shut up."
-- LeBron James, on what teammate Dwyane Wade's hot streak means. Wade, who is now 20 for 25 in his past two games from the floor, did so after NBA analyst Charles Barkley repeated his view recently that Wade is in decline.
8. Lin's Got That Kobe Look
9. Stat Check
The Miami Heat made 39 of 67 shots (58.2 percent) in their win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday after going 40-for-69 (58 percent) against the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday. The only team with a higher shooting percentage over two games this season than the Heat's 58.1 mark is the Dallas Mavericks, who were 97-for-158 (61.4 percent) in their third and fourth games of the season. It's Miami's best field goal percentage in a two-game span since February 2006.
10. Dunk Of The Night
Aldridge Blazes Ahead
Most valuable player: LaMarcus Aldridge. Portland's on-again, off-again big man had 30 points and 12 rebounds on a night when no other Blazer could be relied upon for buckets. With Wes Matthews and Nic Batum out, LMA did what he needed to do to give the Blazers a shot.
Least valuable player: In 35 minutes, Damian Lillard went 2-for-14 for 7 points with 6 assists. On any healthier or less sloppy night from Toronto, the rookie's rough game likely would have ensured a Raptors win.
That was bleak: Kyle Lowry and Andrea Bargnani were injured. Damian Lillard and Sasha Pavlovic nearly were with rolled ankles. Amir Johnson was ejected after confronting a referee. With the victors shooting 40.4 percent and the Raptors 35.1 percent, this was not one to remember.