I continue to marvel at the mastering of this game that LeBron James is somehow accomplishing on a game-by-game basis.
You don’t think there’s any more room to improve. Then he adds a post-game; and then he adds a jump shot; and then he adds on the sick fadeaway, Dirk-ish shot he hit in the final minutes to preserve a 110-104 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
LeBron scored 39 points on an absurd 14-of-18 from the field and is now shooting over 60 percent for the season. It’s the most points he’s scored in 18 shots or fewer and he did it with only one three-point attempt, which he made, naturally.
James was wildly efficient within the perimeter, getting to the rim with relative ease and hitting the mid-range jumpers he has significantly improved on through the duration of his career.
His crowning moment of the night came with nearly two minutes remaining. Following a classic stepback jumper by Dirk Nowitzki to cut Miami’s lead to one, James unleashed a fadeaway of his own, hitting a difficult 18-footer over Monta Ellis to give the Heat a three-point lead.
Dallas wouldn’t score again until there were 13 seconds left with the game already well in hand for Miami following six consecutive made free throws.
LeBron’s magnificent performance was supported by Dwyane Wade’s robust statline of 17 points, eight assists, eight steals (career-high) and five rebounds, and Chris Bosh’s 14 points and four rebounds.
Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis came off the bench to score 11 points apiece, doing so on a combined 7-of-10 from the field and 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. Michael Beasley also dropped six points on 3-of-5 shooting, while also continuing to display some solid defense with two steals and a block in 16 minutes.
Miami was without Ray Allen and Udonis Haslem for a second straight night. It will be interesting to see how Lewis and Beasley are utilized once those two usual rotation players are inserted back into the lineup.
No matter what occurs, Lewis and Beasley have played fantastic basketball in their absence.
Although the Heat gave up 104 points on 50 percent shooting, as well as 12 three-pointers on 43 percent shooting, they were able to convert a staggering 24 Maverick turnovers into 24 points. As a team, the Heat finished with a season-high 19 steals, 11 coming from Wade and Cole alone.
It was either sink-or-swim for Miami’s defense. They were either forcing turnovers off of traps and double-teams or allowing an open shot because they were constantly double-teaming. Fortunately for them, the gambles were able to pay off as they were able to force several turnovers in the final two minutes.
Wade forced a Jose Calderon steal in a three-point game with 1:43 left and LeBron was able to get another steal, courtesy of some excellent defense by Cole on Monta Ellis, with 47 seconds left in a five-point game.
If you’re wondering why Cole was in the game with 47 seconds left, it’s because Mario Chalmers got himself ejected with five minutes left in a close game after throwing a forearm into Nowitzki’s neck, similar to what went uncalled when he did it against Blake Griffin last week.
It might have been for the best, even if it did result in a pair of Nowitzki free throws to cut Miami’s lead to three. It resulted in Norris Cole entering the game and keeping either Jose Calderon or Monta Ellis under wraps, both being scoreless in the final minutes after playing impressive ball throughout.
Dallas was led by Nowitzki’s 28 points on 8-of-12 shooting, while Vince Carter came off the bench to score 20 on 12 shots in only 27 minutes. Monta scored 20, while Jose hit four three-pointer to finish with 12 points.
Even with Dallas actually outscoring the Heat in the second half by three, it wasn’t enough with LeBron playing the way he was Friday night. James was hitting the type of jumpers he was making on that fateful day nearly two years ago when he scored a cool 45 on Boston in Game 6.
He was 7-of-9 on jumpers, including 4-of-4 in a third quarter where he shot a perfect 5-of-5 overall.
Isolation ball appeared to take over late, but it worked out for Miami simply because they have the best player in the league playing that isolation basketball that’s always so risky to play.
Miami’s homestand comes to a suitable ending with consecutive wins after the upsetting loss to Boston. They move to 6-3 on the season and get set to play a 5-4 Charlotte team Saturday night.