With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade Rolling, Can Any NBA Team Stop Miami Heat?
In the third year of its Big Three experiment, Miami isn't just rolling—it's dominating.
With 29 games to go, the Heat find themselves with the best record in the Eastern Conference and the second-best winning percentage in the NBA. They're on pace to win 60 games—the most under their star-studded triumvirate's regime—and are now in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency and have rattled off 10 consecutive victories.
At the forefront of such excellence are James and Wade, who are playing at an unprecedented rate alongside one another.
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LeBron is playing at a historic pace. He's averaging 27 points per game on 56.7 percent shooting from the field and 41.2 percent from behind the arc, the latter two career bests.
His efficiency has been otherworldly, and his preeminence at the power forward position has rendered the Heat what Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins considers unguardable (via Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com):
When they go to LeBron [James] as a power forward, it is impossible to guard. They have a big rolling, setting screens and they have 3-point shooters spreading the floor. They've got Dwyane [Wade] isolated in the post … I looked at our coaches and I said, "What do you take away from them?"
That's the question 28 other teams are asking themselves as well: What can you do to stop Miami, to stop LeBron?
Collins' depiction of James at power forward was more than spot-on. Not only does James lead the NBA with a 31.6 PER, on pace to finish the season with the fifth-highest rating of all time, but he's posting a 34.6 PER at the 4 per 48 minutes.
How are you supposed to stop that? How are you supposed to contain or impede a man who is poised to become just the fifth player in NBA history to average at least 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists per game?
You can't. This prepotent version of James is no longer simply a version; it's his new normal.
Over the last 10 games, he's averaging 29 points, eight rebounds and 7.5 assists on 67.1 percent shooting. Not just anyone can do that for an eighth of the season, and he's toiled with such numerical supremacy for the entire year.
But while James has often proved quite the contrary, one man can't win every game. James needs help, and he's received overwhelming amounts of it from Wade.
After a turbulent start to the campaign, Wade has treated us to some of the best basketball of his career as well. He's averaging 21.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game on career-high 51 percent shooting.
Like LeBron, he has raised his game over the past 10 contests. During this winning streak, he's tallying 23.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 52 percent shooting, dispelling the notion of his decline in the process, as noted by Windhorst:
Taking it slowly in the first few months while recovering from offseason knee surgery, Wade was a popular target for the question of whether age and knee injuries had diminished his skill level. ...
"We roll our eyes when people are criticizing him," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
"He's having a career year efficiency-wise, and yet people criticize that because he wanted to sacrifice and be part of a team like this that has a chance to do something special. His game has evolved; it's changed. He's scoring in different ways than he did for seven years."
It seems almost comical that some were entertaining Wade's demise but a month or two ago, because not much has changed. He's still on the wrong side of 30 and isn't the most durable of athletes.
Yet he continues to dominate at a rate of personally aberrant efficiency—with James.
We've seen them dismantle competition before, and even combine for more points over the course of a single season, but they've never trounced opponents like this.
Per NBA.com, of the top 250 most frequently used two-man combinations, LeBron or Wade appear in three of the top five assortments with the highest point differentials. Together, they make up the fifth-most potent attack, outscoring opponents by 13.3 points per 48 minutes.
Which brings us back to Collins' query: What do you take away from them?
Nothing. At least nothing of importance anyway.
Perhaps a strong-armed defensive faction like the Chicago Bulls or Indiana Pacers can mitigate one's impact on offense. But can they curb the production of both? And even if they could, is repressing the Heat's defensive fortitude even slightly plausible?
These aren't just two one-sided ponies the Heat ride out of the gate. James is holding opposing forwards (both power and small) to a combined PER of 15.4, slightly above average, but impressive given he spends more than 60 percent of his minutes defending out of position. Meanwhile, Wade holds opposing shooting guards to a PER of 11.2.
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It borders on impossible to stifle such a dynamic attack, to hinder the escapades of two top-tier athletes like those of James and Wade. Their near-flawlessly efficacious dominance was built to be revered, not stopped—or even stymied.
Multiple losses to the Pacers and New York Knicks and single defeats at the hands of the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers and Bulls are often misconstrued as weaknesses, as apertures in what is supposed be impenetrable armor. But they're not.
All teams have weaknesses, including the Heat. However, Miami is built in such a way, and LeBron and Wade are playing at such a level, that those proclivities can't be exploited to the point of defeat over the course of a seven-game series.
We often forget that James and Wade have lost just one playoff series in their two postseasons together. Only the 2011 Dallas Mavericks have constructed a blueprint worth analyzing. Miami, however, is now able to combat said schematic.
Added depth and rebounding presences (via Chris Andersen) diminish the likelihood that the Heat's quest for a second straight title will be thwarted.
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Even Miami's greatest pitfall isn't enough to believe that its championship pursuit will be derailed. The Heat are the worst rebounding team in the NBA, but they've been battling size and rebounding issues since last season—when they won a title—and even before that.
Which team has the best chance at unseating the Heat?
What they haven't had is LeBron and Wade prospering as they are. They've always excelled but are now performing at a pace that emulates invincible.
Wins in February and even March are supposed to mean next to nothing in the championship scheme. Postseason basketball brings with it a differing genre of competition, an increased presence of adversarial will.
That "will," however, is only as valuable as the opposition is imperfect.
Presently, the Heat, LeBron and Wade are the closest thing to infallible, and therefore indomitable, that the NBA currently has.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted.
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