With trade rumors swirling around the Hawks, Miami asserts its dominance in the fourth quarter.
By ZACH DILLARD FS South
Three observations from the Miami Heat's runaway win vs. the Hawks on Wednesday night:
1. There are two opposing concepts that come to mind when watching the Heat play lesser competition this season: either the defending NBA champs take their time searching for ways to efficiently attack an opponent such as the
Atlanta Hawks ... or
LeBron James & Co., simply turn it on and off at will.
You know "it" when you see it, too. In terms of team chemistry and cohesiveness, especially offensively, there's nothing quite like "it" on a basketball court right now.
In their 103-90 win over Eastern Conference foe Atlanta in Philips Arena, the monumental gap that separates the Heat from the Hawks (as well as most of the league) came into focus during a dominant fourth quarter — one in which Miami scored 40 points and erased a 10-point deficit in less than two minutes. Atlanta led 73-63 at the end of the third quarter. That lead lasted for 117 seconds.
"They showed why they're a championship team in the fourth quarter," Hawks forward
Kyle Korver said.
As if the past month — or entire past two seasons, for that matter — were not evidence enough, James once again asserted his mastery over the game of basketball at the moment, scoring 24 points and dishing out 11 assists to go along with six rebounds and four steals. He fills the stat sheet, he leads his team and not even one of the NBA's most efficient defensive teams could find an answer for him.
“We were able to hold them to 17 points on the defensive end in the fourth and then on the offensive end we executed," James said. "We were in tune with everything that they were running.
"We had good looks in the third quarter but they just didn’t go in. We stayed with the same plays and things worked out better in the fourth. We know that we have to stick with the game plan. We know we’re going to have to work for every win.
"Like I said earlier today, you don’t win games in 12 or 24 minutes."
Of course, it's never easy defending LeBron when his teammates are shooting nearly 50 percent from 3-point range and buying in defensively.
2. If this was, indeed, Josh Smith's final send-off in Atlanta — the talented forward's name has been the league's primary topic of trade talks over the past few weeks — it could not have been more fitting.
Though he played at an acceptable level, Smith's frustrating spurts of play were present. He came up one assist and one rebound shy of a triple-double — 10 points, nine assists and nine boards. He turned the ball over five times and made 5 of 13 shots.
The main takeaway from Smith's performance, though, was the shadow cast by James and Dwayne Wade — the superstars outshining the star. If Smith's time is done in Atlanta, despite his presence in just about every franchise statistical category, his legacy will be one of "never enough." His talent level was never quite up to snub with the NBA's brightest stars, a ceiling never reached.
Juxtaposing Smith next to the reigning champions would be a fitting, if not somewhat cruel, farewell to his hometown team, especially in a fourth-quarter blown lead.
As of 11 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the 6-foot-9 forward remains a Hawk. Atlanta general manager Danny Ferry has less than 24 hours to decide whether to keep it that way.
3. Wade is playing at an extremely high level. His scoring, rebounding, assists and defensive numbers (steals, blocks) are all hovering at personal season-highs for any month this season.
Against the Hawks (in spite of missing four of his eight free throws), Wade, as he has for much of the past two-plus seasons, proved an effective complement to James, scoring 20 points — many coming on the receiving end of LeBron's distribution.
With the likes of Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier spacing the floor even more so than last season, Miami needs Wade's long-range shooting less than ever. After shooting a respectable 35.9 percent from 3-point range last season, the Heat are shooting 38.7 percent this season — the third-highest mark in the NBA.
“It’s important to have that (veterans like Allen and Battier coming off the bench), because it helps us to get back in games or extend leads in games," Miami forward
Chris Bosh said. "LeBron can’t play 40 minutes a game every night. Some nights he can, but it’s good to have solid veteran guys to turn to when he can’t.”
This frees up Wade to do what he does best: attack the basket, with or without the ball.