MIAMI — Dan Marino to Mark Clayton long has been regarded as the most impressive passing combination in South Florida history. But Dwyane Wade to LeBron James, or vice versa, is giving that one a run for the money.
One day after some dramatic hookups in a big game against Chicago, Wade and James were back at it Monday night against New Orleans at AmericanAirlines Arena. And Hornets guard Jarrett Jack showed early on he had been watching the highlights from the day before.
On Sunday, Wade threw an incredible alley-oop pass to James, who literally hurdled Bulls guard John Lucas III before throwing it down. In first quarter of Monday’s 109-95 win, when Wade threw another successful alley-oop to James, Jack got out the way.
There’s been plenty of talk about how Wade and James would mesh ever since they joined forces with the Heat in the summer of 2010. But just listen to James after Monday’s game about how it’s working out between the two.
“It’s at an all-time high right now,” James said. “It’s just the chemistry that we have.”
Yes, Wade and James started to figure it out last season after a rocky start. And this season, after they talked about how much more they would be in harmony, matters got a bit derailed when Wade missed nine of Miami’s first 18 games due to injuries.
But Wade returned last Friday against New York after missing six straight due to a sprained ankle. And he and James have fit together like Woodward and Bernstein over the past three games, all Heat wins.
James averaged 29.7 points and 6.7 assists in those games and Wade 21.7 points and 5.3 assists. The three games featured Wade assisting nine times on baskets by James and James five times on Wade hoops.
“I think now it’s just intuition and they’re just working off of that,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said.
On Monday, a game that featured the Heat falling behind by 12 points in the second quarter and leading by as much as 27 in the fourth, Wade assisted James for three buckets and James found Wade for two. Both scored 22 points, and would have had more gaudy numbers had either been needed for even a picosecond in the fourth.
Wade and James are at their best on the break. On one nifty possession, James, running down the left side, threw the ball to Wade on the right. And he passed back to James for a dunk.
“I kind of got a feel when he’s coming,” Wade said of working with James. “I hear him trucking out of the corner of my ear and I see him. And he’s the kind of guy, it’s all about vision, but you can just throw it up and he can go and get it. He makes you look good.”
Indeed James does. Just ask Lucas III.
But James is quite willing to be on the other end with Wade. He found him for an impressive alley-oop dunk against the Knicks.
“We’re two of the fastest guys in the league when it comes to a break,” James said. “It’s kind of pick your poison with the defender, either allow D-Wade or allow me to get a dunk or vice versa. And we’re two unselfish players. If a guy’s open, we pass it.”
James did plenty of that Monday, handing out eight assists while also grabbing 11 rebounds. He didn’t get a shot at a triple-double due to sitting out the fourth.
Wade had five assists on the night, but knew when it was time to take matters into his own hands. With the Heat having come out lethargic a day after their emotional 97-93 win over the Bulls, they fell behind 45-33 midway through the second quarter.
But then Wade took over. He scored 13 points the remainder of the half and the Heat took a 51-49 lead that they would expand throughout the second half.
“Let him work his magic,” is how James described it.
James has learned how to get out of the way when Wade is the one with the hot hand. He also knows when to defer to Wade in the latter’s role as a team captain.
When Miami coach Erik Spoelstra instructed the Heat to play zone when trailing in the second quarter, Wade waved off his boss. He figured that wasn’t exactly the best tactic to get energy back into the team.
“I kind of vetoed it,” Wade said. “It ain’t going to happen much but I just felt we need to a little more aggressive.”
Wade sure was. And then he passed the scoring baton to James, who had 14 points in the third quarter.
That quarter featured James taking the ball the length of court, wrapping it behind his back and going in for the layup. He was fouled by Hornets forward Jason Smith, and hit the free throw for a three-point play and a 79-65 lead with 2:47 left in the quarter.
Wade actually already was on the bench at that point, and wouldn’t return to the game. But he was quite content to watch James go to work.
“A couple of years ago, I took it all on myself all the time,” said Wade, who’d already been with Miami for seven seasons when James showed up in 2010. “But now I get some relief.”
Usually, though, opponents don’t. Especially when Wade and James are forming quite a lethal passing combination.