- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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There hasn't been much talk of next summer's Team USA plans in China or their various business interests and commercials. There's something more pressing that's been weighing heavily on them: the sagging fortunes of their teams.
The Eastern Conference's last two champions got together on Christmas and neither looked like they were headed for return dates to the finals. Wade and James had a nice little battle, each stuffing the stat sheet and creating some highlights, and afterward they exchanged handshakes and hugs. Wade took off his jersey and gave it to James' mother, Gloria, as a present.
The Cavs got the win, their most lopsided of the year, 96-82. Yet both teams are under .500 and, as of now, wouldn't be in the playoffs, where Wade and James each made names for themselves. The Heat now lead the East in losses and the Cavs' lack of spark has led to locker room issues and being booed by their own home crowd.
"We've talked about our struggles as a unit on both teams," said James, who had 25 points, 12 assists and six rebounds. "We're not pressing the panic button, but we have to try to fix things as soon as possible."
What James and Wade do is lift up their teammates by being distributors and leaders. But both have been knocked out by injury. Wade missed seven games, six of them losses, recovering from shoulder and knee surgeries. James missed six games, all of them losses, with a sprained finger.
We're not pressing the panic button, but we have to try to fix things as soon as possible.
--LeBron James talks about what he and Dwyane Wade have to do for their teams.
Wade's top aide, Shaquille O'Neal, is showing his age and having the worst season of his career. He scored just 13 points and got just seven shots Tuesday. James' top aide, Larry Hughes, is having the worst season of his career dealing with a leg injury and confidence issues. Hughes, who returned to the starting lineup after eight games coming off the bench Tuesday, scored just four points but did have six assists and four steals.
"It's time to fix things for both of us," James said. "The best thing you can say about this season is that it is a long season and you have opportunities to fix things."
Just how to fix it, though? Both teams have been making calls and looking for trades, but after the superstars and a couple key role players like Udonis Haslem or Daniel Gibson, there isn't much to trade with. Cavs general manager Danny Ferry and Heat president Pat Riley have yet to find anything that works.
James and Wade aren't offering many suggestions to the frustration.
"I have no idea, if I knew, I'd correct it," said Wade, who had 22 points, eight assists and six rebounds. "My job is to go out there and play. I don't worry about the [roster] mix, that's the coach's job, he's the president."
What's left to do, and for James and Wade to talk about, is to encourage each other to stay the course even as they both deal with what has the potential to be the most frustrating season of their young careers.
"It is tough to stay patient when you are competitor but you have to," James said. "We want to win every game, that's the way we play the game. We have to do what we do and continue to lead our teams."
Brian Windhorst covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal.
4dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann