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John Schuhmann

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have improved on the court, which means more smiles in Miami.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Better on-court harmony between Wade, James keys Heat run

Posted Jan 6 2011 11:30AM

On Nov. 28, the Pistons' Tracy McGrady was asked about the struggles of the-then 9-8 Miami Heat.

"[LeBron James and Dwyane Wade] don't complement each other," McGrady said, noting that Miami's big three is unlike that of the Boston Celtics, where Ray Allen can play off the ball comfortably. "That's why when they're on the court together, they're terrible."

McGrady's thoughts may have been a bit overstated, but the idea that James and Wade were "terrible" together wasn't too far from being accurate. In fact, you had to wonder if McGrady was a closet stathead.

When James and Wade were on the floor together for those first 17 games, the Heat outscored their opponents by just 3.7 points per 100 possessions, with an efficiency that was a little better than the league average.

That's not terrible. But in contrast, when James and Wade weren't on the floor together in those first 17 games, the Heat outscored their opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions. Though they were just a game over .500, they had the fifth-best point differential in the league because they were still dominant in certain games and at certain times of games. But they had problems, because they weren't at their best when their best players played together.

Game 17 was the Heat's 106-95 loss in Dallas, which was followed by a team meeting. It's not clear exactly what was said in that meeting. But it's clear things have changed.

The Heat are 19-1 since then, suffering only a two-point home loss to the Mavs on Dec. 20. And the biggest difference from the first 17 games has been the play of James and Wade together.

Heat efficiency with James and Wade on floor
Games Min. Offensive Efficiency Defensive Efficiency Diff.
First 17 460 106.3 102.6 +3.7
Last 20 531 119.7 99.9 +19.8
Offensive Efficiency = Points scored per 100 possessions
Defensive Efficiency = Points allowed per 100 possessions

In their last 20 games, the Heat have outscored foes by an incredible 19.8 points per 100 possessions in 531 minutes with James and Wade playing together -- which is no small sample size. The stars have aligned and Miami's opponents have suffered the consequences. In just 5 weeks, we've gone from overanalyzing the Heat's problems to overanalyzing which of their stars is a more deserving MVP candidate.

The star-combo improvement has mostly been an offensive one. The Heat are shooting an incredible 53 percent, including 44 percent from 3-point range when the two MVP candidates have played together in the last 20 games.

It's also been about more than simple two-man chemistry. Beginning with that No. 27 loss in Dallas, Eddie House was replaced by Mario Chalmers in Erik Spoelstra's rotation. Chalmers' shooting numbers over the last 20 games aren't any better than House's were in the first 17, but Chalmers has taken some of the ballhandling duties from James and Wade.

Heat point differential (per 100 possessions)
Lineup combination First 17 games Last 20 games Diff.
Bosh, James & Wade +7.7 +20.3 12.6
Bosh & James +9.1 +15.8 6.7
Bosh & Wade +9.1 +18.4 9.3
James & Wade +3.7 +19.8 16.2

Once again, though, the Heat's numbers have improved most when James and Wade are on the floor together.

In fact, when James and Wade were on the floor together without Chris Bosh in those first 17 games, the Heat were outscored by 21.6 points per 100 possessions. It was a small sample size -- just 66 minutes -- but the numbers were alarming.

Over the last 20 games, the Heat still have been poor defensively (114.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) in 44 minutes of action with James and Wade but not Bosh on the floor, but they've been ridiculously efficient offensively (129.1).

With questions about their chemistry now a thing of the past, the Heat have clearly established themselves as one of the NBA's elite teams. They're winning consistently -- and they're winning big -- with the best point differential in the league.

When the NBA named James and Wade as December's co-Players of the Month, it may have seemed like somewhat of a cop-out. But it was actually quite appropriate, because what the two stars did together propelled Miami to that 15-1 record last month.

It won't matter much at season's end which of the Heat's two biggest stars was most valuable. What will matter is that they're most valuable when they're playing together.

All numbers are through Tuesday, Jan. 4 and were compiled with the help of the NBA and StatsCube.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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