There have been so many highlight-reel dunks and alley-oops since LeBron James arrived in this arena by Biscayne Bay, but the show-stopping magic he and Mario Chalmers offered Miami on Tuesday was one for the time capsule.
With less than a minute left in the second quarter at AmericanAirlines Arena, Chalmers lofted a pass over his head and James, trailing the play, grabbed the lob in midflight and dunked it with an aggression that personified the Heat’s overall attitude against the Bucks. After bemoaning its lack of defensive effort ever since losing to the Celtics on Saturday, the Heat responded with a powerful 118-95 victory against the team it swept in the first round of the 2013 playoffs.
The Heat (5-3) was allowing more than 100 points per game before Tuesday’s blowout.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra noted after the game that a more consistent defensive approach in each game would lead to more plays like Chalmers’ alley-oop to James. Maybe so, but that specific sequence will be tough to top.
“I just know I can put it up anywhere and he can go get it,” said Chalmers, whose skills as a passer of lobs has improved since James first signed with the Heat.
The Heat finished with 15 fast-break points after entering the game last in the NBA in that statistical category. Miami also outscored Milwaukee 56-30 on points in the paint.
“As great as we have been on offense, we haven’t been great in transition, so it’s good to get out in the open court and get some easy buckets and be able to electrify the crowd,” James said.
In years past, Chalmers, who finished with 15 points, probably wouldn’t have attempted the lob to James. He had an easy layup, but instead went for the lower percentage but higher wattage highlight. But Spoelstra said Chalmers has improved his timing with teammates on alley-oops.
“I remember the first year we put this team together and even before that, it seemed as if every time Rio was in a situation like that there wasn’t a connection, for whatever reason,” Spoelstra said. “It took time and we have athletes that can play above the rim but there is more of a connection and more of a fundamental, even though it’s a highlight play, and we’re connecting on those with a better percentage than we used to be.”
James, who finished with 33 points, went into overdrive in the third quarter, and Michael Beasley, playing in his second consecutive game for the first time this season, offered more evidence that he could fit in well to the Heat’s permanent rotation as the season progresses.
Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade attempted just seven shots, choosing instead to focus on his energy on the defensive end and also getting other players involved. He had eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks to go along with five assists and six turnovers.
“I was just trying to bring energy to other areas, so when I saw Beasley get in early in the game, I wanted to get him involved,” Wade said.
“I know how dynamic he is as a scorer and what he can bring to this team, we want to make sure we get him some touches and get him comfortable because we’re going to need the guy.”
Wade’s alley-oop to Beasley in the second quarter received booming applause from the arena and put Beasley in motion. He finished with 19 points, going 8 of 12 from the field and 2 of 3 from three-point range.
“I just want to do everything I can to help on both sides of the floor,” Beasley said. “And I kind of want to challenge LeBron for blocked shots this year.”
The Heat had seven blocks in all with Wade, Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen recording two each. Bosh finished with 10 points and five rebounds.
The Heat led by 11 points after halftime before outscoring the Bucks 28-17 in the third quarter. For the game, the Heat held the Bucks (2-4) to 41.8 percent shooting, but the Bucks shot 35 percent in the game’s first three quarters. Reserves Gary Neal, Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson led the Bucks offensively. Henson and Neal had 18 points each. Antetokounmpo had 11 points off the bench.
James tied the Bucks in scoring in the third quarter, scoring 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He also went 4 of 7 from three-point range in the period. James was 13 of 21 from the field overall and had three rebounds and two assists. With back-to-back three-pointers and a driving dunk, James gave the Heat a 75-54 lead with 4:26 left in the third quarter.
The Heat has now scored at least 100 points in every game this season. The eight-game streak to begin a season is a franchise record. Miami, which entered the game with the best field-goal percentage in the league (52.5), shot 58.2 percent from the field.
“It has been a long 48 hours in this building but at least we were able to respond with a better game,” Spoelstra said.
“I think our guys felt better looking each other in the eye in the locker room [Tuesday].”