Diehard basketball junkies would have paid big money for a glimpse of the Mavericks’ basketball court Thursday morning. For about 15 minutes, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James played one on one.
Two of the best wings in the game play together on the same team, but it’s a rare thing for Wade and James to go up against each other after a practice or shootaround. It has happened only a handful of times and never with reporters present. Thursday morning offered the exception.
“We don’t play until 8:30 [Central time], so we wanted to get a little work in,” Wade said. “This time of the season it won’t be too often, so the only time it would be is in shootarounds when we want to get better.”
The Heat and Mavericks tipped off at about 9:50 p.m. on the East Coast. The late tip gave Wade and James time to rest after their work together. The one-on-one drill wasn’t as competitive as a game of 21, but the superstars didn’t back down from one another either.
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“It’s invaluable because they help teach each other, but also no one else physically can help the other guy improve the way that they can,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “What you love about it as a coach is their decisions. They’re working on fundamentals and things they can improve on and pushing themselves to improve.
“That’s the part of the game that the average fan doesn’t get to see — how driven they are and how thirsty they are to improve.”
At one point Wade, one of the best post-up guards in the NBA, turned and slammed his back into James as if the scenario was taking place in front of a packed arena. James, also working on his post-up moves, jerked one way and spun around Wade in the opposite direction with game-time speed.
“It’s good to have a guy like that and him have me, to where we can coach each other and tell each other certain things,” Wade said.
The one-on-one session lasted so long that eventually the Dallas Mavericks forced Wade and James off the court. The Mavericks’ shootaround was scheduled after the Heat’s. Even their Heat teammates stand and watch when Wade and James go head to head.
“They usually do it when we’re not around,” Heat swingman Mike Miller said. “It’s fun to watch from time to time.”
Content with their extra work, James slapped his arm around Wade as they were walking off the court together. Playing at or near an all-time best, James carried a 22-game streak of scoring at least 20 points into Thursday night’s game. Wade, seemingly back to his old self after offseason knee surgery, was shooting 65.5 percent from the field in the five games before the Heat’s trip to Dallas.
“They’re both high-IQ players,” Spoelstra said. “They both have a growth mind-set, and they constantly want to push each other to get better despite their résumés up to this point in their careers, and that’s what makes them special.”
While Wade and James battled on one end of the court, Mario Chalmers practiced his three-point shooting on the other. Before Thursday, Chalmers was 9 of 19 from three-point range in his past five games. He is shooting 35.6 percent from three for the season but is steadily improving.
“He’s been pretty consistent working on it,” Spoelstra said. “He’s been getting in extra reps. We want to let him know that we want him to be aggressive. We want him to be confident. He can take any open shot he gets during the course of a game, and when he’s knocking those down it makes us a better team.”