If only for a moment, the rookie made everyone forget about LeBron James.
That sounds ridiculous, but it happened on Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
With 8:51 left in the fourth quarter, Heat rookie James Ennis left his feet, flew over defender Rasual Butler and crushed the rim with the NBA’s most stunningly audacious highlight to begin the 2014-15 regular season. It was his first dunk of his NBA career, and it was incredible.
The Heat defeated the Washington Wizards 107-95, and there was a lot to be hopeful about for a team still finding its way, but the dunk was a timely reminder. There can still be magic in Miami without the best player in the game.
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“He’s playing with reckless abandon out there,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
On a night of cautious optimism, it was the perfect kind of chaos.
Ennis completed his three-point play to give the Heat an 82-75 lead, and he was subbed out of the game less than a minute later. From there, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade took over. Wade scored 12 points in the fourth quarter after going to the locker room with an injury for most of the third. He finished with 21 points and Bosh led the Heat with 26 points, 15 rebounds and four assists.
“I need a couple of I-told-you-so moments like that during the season,” Bosh said.
A three-pointer by Mario Chalmers gave the Heat a five-point lead with 4:45 to play and then a three-pointer from point guard Norris Cole helped put the game away. Cole finished with a career-high 23 points in the first game of his career as a full-time starter, and the Heat’s guards scored 54 of the team’s 107 points.
“It was a good team win after a hard week of work,” Spoelstra said. “This is a real lunch-pale, hard-hat team.”
Luol Deng finished with 12 points in his debut for the Heat, which played without Danny Granger. Granger was held out with a sore hamstring.
In addition to Ennis’ debut, rookie point guard Shabazz Napier played significant minutes and contributed two points and two assists. Heat veteran Udonis Haslem did not play.
“Those guys showing some poise going down the stretch was nice to see,” Spoelstra said of his rookies.
Ennis finished with five points and two rebounds in less than 15 minutes.
“He’ll make you watch even if he makes mistakes,” Spoelstra said. “He just has a knack for the ball.”
Ennis scored the first points of his career with an acrobatic shot in traffic in the third quarter. Bosh followed with a circus layup and drew a foul. His three-point play with 9:17 left put the Heat ahead 79-75, and the crowd, dormant for most of the game, came to life.
And that’s when it happened.
Ennis dunk came in transition and out of nowhere.
“I want to see it in slow motion,” Ennis said. “I’m going to be watching for it on SportsCenter.”
“He does that in practice,” Spoelstra said.
The sellout crowd gave the rookie who played in Australia last year a standing ovation. The Wizards called timeout and Ennis hopped to the Heat’s bench and celebrated with Cole. Ennis played timidly in the first half and was only in the game in the third quarter because Wade left with an injury.
Wade exited the game with 2:49 remaining in the third quarter and the game tied at 68. The Heat’s star shooting guard lost his dribble in transition and went to the floor with Wizards defenders Paul Pierce and John Wall to regain possession. Pierce and Wall popped off the hardwood, but Wade lingered in pain and then limped gingerly after being helped to his feet. He called for a sub and then went directly to the locker room with a bruised calf.
Wade showed no signs of injury when he returned, and his chemistry with Bosh in the fourth quarter was just one more reminder that this team still has plenty left even though it lost James to the Cleveland Cavaliers over the summer.