Dwyane Wadeshot better than he ever has before.
And when the Miami Heat stars are on their games like that … ”We probably won’t lose,” James said.
Such was the case Monday night. James scored 27 points, Wade had 26 and the Heat pulled away in the second half to beat the Atlanta Hawks 101-92, improving to 10-1 at home this season.
James (10 for 16) and Wade (11 for 13, the best single-game shooting percentage of his career) made 21 of 29 shots for Miami, which shot 58 percent as a team. Chris Bosh had 14 points and 10 rebounds and Norris Cole made all four of his shots to score 10 for the Heat, who handed the Hawks just their second loss in 11 games.
”Just trying to be as efficient as I can,” Wade said. ”Shooting 13 shots, it’s nothing I’m used to. Some nights you go for 11-for-13. Some nights you go 3 for 13. But you just try to continue to be aggressive and continue taking shots.”
Josh Smith scored 22 points and Al Horford finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds for Atlanta, which briefly held the lead midway through the third quarter before the Heat got rolling and moved 1 1/2 games ahead of the Hawks in the Southeast Division.
Atlanta has dropped both games against Miami this season and is 1-7 against the Heat since March 2011.
”We gave LeBron and D-Wade some opportunities to be able to get some layups early on and whenever you play against a team like that or whenever you give a great player opportunities to get layups first, the rim gets that much bigger,” Smith said. ”And they started hitting all kinds of shots.”
A big third-quarter run put the Heat in control, and one of James’ best dunks this season helped seal it in the fourth. Cole took a pass from Ray Allen, dribbled once and nonchalantly flipped the ball toward the rim.
James, who also had seven rebounds and six assists, did the rest.
James leaped – the top of his fingers stretched easily more than a foot above the basket – for a slam with 9:51 left, and the Heat weren’t threatened in the final minutes.
”Cole made me go get it, for sure,” James said. ”He actually took that literally when I told him, ‘Just throw it anywhere.”’
Said Wade: ”That’s his bionic leg.”
Wade is now 20 for 25 in his last two games from the floor, scoring 26 points in each, and maybe it’s not a coincidence that those outings came after NBA analyst Charles Barkley – Wade’s one-time cell phone commercial co-star – said what he’s been saying many times in the past couple years: The 2006 NBA Finals MVP’s game is declining.
”It means Charles Barkley needs to shut up,” James said. ”I mean, the man’s shooting 80 percent from the floor in the last couple games. Come on, man. That’s like crazy, right? That’s why who he is.”
The Heat came into Monday night talking about how this particular game was significant for many reasons, foremost among them the Hawks’ position in the division.
And while it’s way too early to take more than a passing interest in the standings, Miami had taken notice of Atlanta’s early success.
”We’ve been watching,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The up-close-and-personal view wasn’t a surprise, then.
Miami led 56-54 at intermission, a well-played half where neither team led by more than five points. The Heat shot 64 percent from the field in the opening two quarters, 50 percent from 3-point range – but a mere 44 percent from the line, part of the reason why the margin was only two points at the break.
James finished each of the first two quarters with a flurry, first going 1-on-4 for a driving layup to give Miami a 28-26 lead, then blowing past Horford for a layup-and-foul and putting the Heat up two with 14.6 seconds left in the half.
The Hawks were helped mightily by a friend of Heat opponents of late, the 3-pointer. Atlanta made seven from beyond the arc in the half, and through three quarters, Smith was 4 for 4 – already matching his career-best single-game total from long range.
But in the third, Miami began to flex its muscles.
Jeff Teague made a 3-pointer midway through the third to give Atlanta a 65-63 lead, but after that, Miami took off running.
”We made just entirely too many mistakes,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. ”Too many mental mistakes against a very good a basketball team. Against Miami you can’t do that.”
A 17-4 run was the difference maker, turning a two-point deficit into an 11-point lead with 1:24 remaining in the third. Wade got it started with a jumper, and he wound up with eight during the burst, including a layup off a perfect pass by James from the right side of the lane. Shane Battier made two 3-pointers in the run, including the shot that ended it, and Miami’s margin was suddenly 80-69.