During the four glorious seasons of the Big 3 era, Dwyane Wade had full confidence he could toss the ball anywhere in the vicinity of the rim and LeBron James would find a way to snatch it out of the air and finish the play with a monstrous alley-oop dunk.
According to the NBA’s stat tracking system, Wade fed James 79 times for alley-oop slams when both played in a Heat uniform.
Bam Adebayo, 20, has played a little less than two months with Wade, but he’s begun to establish a similarly electrifying high-flying act with the future Hall of Famer and three-time champion.
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In Thursday night’s win over the Chicago Bulls, Wade and Adebayo hooked up for their seventh alley-oop jam since Wade was acquired at the trade deadline on Feb. 8. The dunk was voted Kia’s No. 1 play of the day by the NBA.
“It’s different the way he can explode up,” Wade said of Adebayo, who was measued at 6 feet, 10 inches with a 39 1/2-inch vertical leap and a 7-foot, 3-inch wingspan at the NBA Draft Combine. “He can jump. So, I can throw a good lob, I can throw a bad lob, it doesn’t matter.”
Wade and Adebayo, though, have put in a lot of work lately to perfect their act. They hooked up for a pair of alley-oop slams in Sunday’s loss at Indiana. Adebayo missed Tuesday’s win over the Cavaliers with a sprained right ankle, but promptly picked up where he left off with Wade on Thursday.
“One thing I love about Bam, he’s a quick learner,” Wade said. “I sent him a clip of someone a few games ago of what he should do on pick and rolls, how to get to the rim fast with me. And he did it with me the next game, the Indiana game. And it’s there for him. And I let him know, ‘I’m going to throw it and you’ve got to do it, do your job.’ ”
Of Adebayo’s 166 field goals this season, 35 are alley-oop dunks. Only Goran Dragic has connected more often with Adebayo for those (nine times) than Wade has. Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Dion Waiters are next on the list with four assists each to Adebayo on alley-oop dunks.
“D-Wade really likes to pass the ball,” Adebayo said. “So, you know, I just try to do the best I can to get him open on screens and you see the product after that.”
Thursday’s defensive performance by the Heat (41-35) marked the 15th time this season Miami has held an opponent under 40 percent shooting from the field, tied with Philadelphia, Boston, Portland and Utah for the most in the league this season.
“When I walked through these doors, that’s what they were preaching, coach was preaching, holding teams under 40 percent,” Wade said. “The challenge of that in this league, with the way the game is, how fast it goes, with the way people shoot the basketball, that’s as challenging as it gets. But when we do it, it feels so good. That’s our style of basketball. Even a night when we’re not having an explosive night offensively, if we’re able to play defense that way, then we’re going to give ourselves a chance, for sure.”
Miami is 13-2 when opponents shoot under 40 percent. The Sixers and Celtics are 15-0 when they’ve done it and the Trail Blazers and Jazz are 14-1. On the flip side, the Heat has been held under 40 percent shooting 10 times this season. Miami 4-6 in those games.
As impressive as it is for the Heat to be tied among the league leaders in this defensive category, it hardly feels like an accomplishment considering two seasons ago Miami did it 21 times. There’s actually 15 previous seasons in which the Heat has held an opponent under 40 percent shooting more than 15 times.
▪ The Heat ranks eighth in defensive rating over the course of the season (104.1), but over its last five games (97.0) ranks fourth in that category. Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow both said better communication and fewer breakdowns have led to the improvement. Miami has also forced more turnovers (15.2) over its last five games than it has averaged (14.1) over the course of the season.
“In the playoffs it’s probably going to be more physical games,” Goran Dragic said of the ones the Heat has played of late. “It’s a little bit different. Still, as long as you have the system that you know how to defend, and that everybody is on the same page, I think that helps a lot. Then when it’s the playoffs you just try to be solid in every possession because everybody knows where their spots are.”
▪ Wade, 36, said after Thursday’s win he’s comfortable playing more minutes if Tyler Johnson has to sit out for an extended time with a sprained right ankle. Wade has averaged 22.2 minutes per game since being traded to Miami. He hasn’t played more than the 28 minutes and 18 seconds he played in an overtime loss at Washington on March 6.
“I think Coach is playing the minutes smart and not trying to over do it,” Wade said. “But, me going overtimes games, I can play the next five, or whatever. It’s just something in the regular season he just wants to keep my minutes around 23. But I definitely can play more when need be.”
▪ Adebayo said he never sprained an ankle before it happened to him last Sunday. He said he considered the pain “a high 8” on a scale from 1 to 10. So how did Adebayo come back from that so quickly, missing only one game?
“He’s 20,” Spoelstra said. “If he’s 35, those ankle sprains last a little bit longer. When he first sprained his ankle and he was out, we told him the story of LeBron. How he used to sprain his ankle, bang his foot and be ready to go. I think Bam took us seriously on that, that he can do that, too. But he is young. He’s done all of his treatment and his body responded incredibly well the last couple of days. But he’s been here eight hours a day.”