Two thoughts arose from the most recent Heat game and both reflect how things have gone on this 12-game winning streak wrapping up a magical month for Miami. February was simply Fabulary. (Sorry).
No. 1: Dwyane Wade scored 39 points along with eight rebounds and seven assists — on a career-best-tying 19 field goals — and wasn’t even Miami’s best player Tuesday night. A stat line that would make him the best in the league most nights and be a career pinnacle for most guys didn’t even make him the player of the game here. Because LeBron James had 40 points, a career-high 16 assists and eight rebounds.
No. 2: Remember how a couple of years ago LeBron was being vilified nationally, booed in every opposing arena and pretty much held up as a despicable traitor? Now, the biggest controversy surrounding him and what’s getting him in trouble is that his pregame warm-ups are too exciting.
It’s Good to be King has never been truer than right now for James and the reigning NBA champions.
“Yeah, but” concerns about the Heat such as defensive lapses or a small-ball lack of rebounding still linger, not erased by this win streak, but those concerns seem more and more superfluous the more James runs away with the league MVP race and the more Wade reasserts himself as still elite and still the game’s top second scoring option.
“This is what we’ve been talking about,” LeBron said as the streak struck 12. “We’re coming together.”
The team is so confident and care-free that LeBron’s biggest concern right now is that some Twitter critics are harping on him for his recent habit of putting on elaborate dunk shows during pregame warm-ups when he famously declines to enter the NBA All-Star dunk contest.
“Maybe I should stop because it’s making a lot of people mad,” he said after Tuesday’s win. “They’re like, ‘Well, if you can do it in warm-ups, why don’t you be in the dunk contest?’ Stop it.”
(James also mentioned this week that he runs a 40-yard dash faster than Manti Te’o’s 4.8 seconds. Far more pertinent is that no defender wishes to stand in the way when LeBron is dashing toward one of the dunks that count).
February deserves a quick but lauding review because it has been the finest slice of play in the Big 3 era, led by an ongoing performance by James that has been nearly surreal. He shot 64.1 percent from the field this month (139 for 217), the most accurate month by any NBA player with at least 200 shot attempts since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in March 1983.
Thirty years ago. James wasn’t born then.
With LeBron, though, we have come to expect to be constantly wowed. That makes Wade’s February in some ways just as impressive. He averaged 26.6 points this month — pre-LeBron numbers — and has shot better than 60percent over his past five games. Any whispered notion that Wade might be tipping over on to the wrong side of his prime has been officially tabled.
And, for Heat fans, nothing encourages belief in a repeat Heat championship than the idea Wade still is right where James is: On top of his game.
Analytics are big in pro basketball now, with lasers and computers breaking down every facet of the game into minutia, dissecting shooting percentages every way possible. But it’s too much information, at least for me.
I want to enjoy the muscled grace and artistry of James and Wade and not be bogged down thinking about math. I want to marvel at athletic performance and not be obsessed with the statistical tendencies at work behind it.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra called James and Wade’s combined 79 points Tuesday “video-game numbers,” and that about said it. Sacramento coach Keith Smart referred to the two of them as playing a “Superman-type game,” and that said it, too. Beyond the sight of it, no corroborating analytic evidence was necessary.
Spoelstra meant his whole team in crediting this 12-game win streak to a “sense of urgency,” the sense of approaching playoffs. To a finals-or-bust team the regular season can be a glorified tune-up, a necessary but perfunctorily long five-month bridge to the postseason.
The Heat can begin to see what’s on the other side now, and the only imperative is to be healthy and in tune for the playoffs.
But that doesn’t mean there won’t be more challenges en route to break up any boredom that might lurk, and the next challenge is straight ahead.
Miami will need more proving to get the two more wins in a row needed to match the club record of 14 consecutive victories set in the 2004-05 season.
The Heat next plays host to Memphis on Friday, then visits New York on Sunday. The following week, Miami hosts hot Indiana, the last team to beat the Heat, in what could be an Eastern Conference finals preview.
Only five opponents in this 12-game streak currently have winning records, but that won’t be the case next. The Grizzlies, Knicks and Pacers all do — and they are a combined 5-0 against Miami this season, and by an average margin of 16.2 points.
That’s a challenge.
I’m not sure LeBron and D-Wade — individually or in tandem — have ever seemed readier for one.