Miami Heat

Miami Heat embraces ‘hockey assist’ on the court

 

LeBron James is flourishing with the ‘hockey assist’ — the pass that sets the stage for an open shooter.

Friday: Heat at Hawks

When/where: 7:30 p.m.; Philips Arena, Atlanta.

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 790 AM, 104.3 FM, 710 AM (Spanish).

Series: First meeting this season.

Outlook: The Heat kick off its six-game road trip against a Hawks team that hasn’t caught much of a break in the early scheduling. Atlanta has played playoff teams Oklahoma City and Indiana in its past two outings, winning both. Atlanta’s lone loss this season was its opener against the Rockets. … Miami is 4-0 at home this season and lost its only road game of the season — at the Knicks last Friday.


grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Although it’s not an official stat kept by the NHL, defenseman Brian Campbell led the Florida Panthers with 28 secondary assists last season.

Like the NHL, the NBA doesn’t keep track of those type of assists either. Yet it’s safe to say LeBron James would lead the Heat if they did.

James recorded eight assists in Miami’s 103-73 victory over Brooklyn on Wednesday night but could have had more had he not looked ahead and dished off to an open teammate who then fed and even more open teammate for the bucket.

In basketball talk, this is called a “hockey assist.’’

In hockey, up to two assists are awarded for each goal. Some hockey fans argue basketball has it right by awarding just one assist per basket. Still, the so-called hockey assist is a good indicator of a strong passing team.

“[James] could have had more [assists] if he was ego-driven, hunting for his own,’’ coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I think he had three to five hockey assists where he knew it would be a rotation where the next guy would be open. He’s looking at the play after the play after the play.’’

Said Dwyane Wade: “There’s a lot of hockey assists on this team, a lot of guys who make plays for others.’’

James has long been a slick distributor of the ball — almost to a fault. Since his youth days in Akron, Ohio, James has never been shy about making his teammates look better by feeding them the ball. Some have criticized James for this mentality, especially in the postseason.

Right now, however, no one is criticizing James for working the ball around. Miami’s offense through the first five games has, for the most part, been a joy to watch. The Heat came into Thursday in the top five of every offensive statistical category while leading the league in points per game and field-goal percentage.

“We’re playing at a high level offensively and it’s because we have unselfish guys,’’ James said. “We don’t care who shoots, we don’t care who passes. We’re finding the open guy and everyone on the floor is making plays. That’s all that matters.’’

James didn’t record a single triple-double with the Heat last season but has come close to getting one already this season — and probably would have Wednesday had he played in the fourth quarter. James came within a rebound of the triple-double Saturday against Denver; Wednesday he was two assists shy.

“I like the way he’s reading the game right now,’’ Spoelstra said. “I think [Wednesday] was one of his highest IQ games he played in the regular season, believe it or not. He was willing to come off the ball. Very few players understand what a hockey assist is without constantly reminding them. ... He can make those calculations as fast as any player I’ve been around. He’s not thinking stats but what’s best for the team.’’

James is averaging 5.6 assists per game this year with 9.8 rebounds and 22.4 points. Again, there is no stat for the good old hockey assist.

“We talked about hockey assists in high school,’’ James said. “I come from a very unselfish brand of basketball as I grew up. That’s how my little league coaches taught me up through high school. It’s just stuck with me.’’

Chris Bosh, like the rest of the Heat, have been the beneficiaries of James’ slick passes. James, both Spoelstra and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski have said, is a very analytical player who seems to process what’s going on around him more quickly than others.

“He’s so unselfish, but he’s also 6-8 and can see the whole floor,’’ Bosh said. “He really does have a knack for everything because he can bait you and then make the quick pass. It makes it easier for us on offense. This is fun, man. We work extremely hard and push each other.’’

The term “hockey assist’’ hasn’t been uttered by the Heat publicly much this year although players say it is talked about a lot inside the locker room and at practices.

James said the art of looking for the early pass is something that was taught to him as a youth; Wade said current Indiana University coach Tom Crean stressed the hockey assist when both were at Marquette.

“It was a big thing at Marquette to get a hockey assist,’’ Wade said. “Coach rewarded us for it more than regular assists. You would come in and say, ‘Ten hockey assists tonight,’ and there would be something on your locker. If you didn’t have any you would have a big doughnut on your locker.’’

Home weary

The Heat has played just one game away from Miami this season and didn’t fare very well, falling 104-84 against the Knicks in New York’s season opener last Friday.

This road trip will definitely be a big test for the 4-1 Heat as Miami will play six games in nine days — with stops in Atlanta (Friday), Memphis, Houston, Los Angeles, Denver and Phoenix. Two sets of those games will come on back-to-back nights.

“I’m excited because this is another chance for our team to come together,” James said. “We’re a close team, but there are benefits to being away. This is an opportunity to play on other team’s floors and that’s something we all love.’’

• Rashard Lewis came off the bench as usual on Wednesday but had his biggest game since joining the Heat by scoring 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting.

“He’s getting his legs each and every day,’’ James said. “He went from layups and shooting everything short to dunking. He’s going to continue to get his legs. He didn’t play much last year. He’ll continue to get comfortable in his role here. We’re happy to have him.’’

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