LeBron and Wade not helping each other
ORLANDO, Fla. -- There were six minutes left and the Miami Heat were ahead by one point.
The horn sounded and LeBron James tore off his warm-up and bounced onto the floor. The crowd at Amway Center was worried, so worried it forgot to boo James as it had been doing all night.
So this was it. Wade and James on the same team and ready to take control of a close road game against an elite team as they've done so often in their careers. When they were on that Miami stage back in July it was these moments they were dreaming of, eventually in June it was assumed.
Double-barreled superstars in superstar time, right?
No, it was more like Wile E. Coyote pulling the trigger only to display a little sign that read "bang."
Wade and James did nothing in those final six minutes save for a couple garbage-time baskets for James and a couple of free throws for Wade when the Heat were down nine points with 30 seconds left.
It is easy to say that this was just one game with the home team winning, 104-95, with a late flourish led by Jameer Nelson. It is what happens all the time in the NBA. That is what the Heat were trying to sell in the locker room after their third consecutive loss. "Orlando is supposed to win this game," Wade said after shooting 6-of-21 for his third straight substandard game.
But it is way more complex than that and Wade and James and coach Erik Spoelstra know it. Wade and James aren't making each other better right now, especially on the offensive end, where they have been individual juggernauts for the past seven seasons. They aren't developing on-court chemistry. And they aren't scaring anyone in the league.
In other words, they're experiencing the exact opposite of what many were expecting to happen when they joined forces. Wednesday night was just the latest glaring example.
"It is definitely going a lot slower than we all thought," James said of the team's progress. "At some point we're going to have to figure it out."
Basically, what seems to happen often is James handles the ball and Wade watches or Wade handles the ball and James watches. When they pass the ball to each other, much of the time they stop moving.
Often, including four times in the first seven fourth-quarter possessions when they were together, they settled for tossing up a long jump shot. Defenses around the NBA rejoice.
James is shooting his worst percentage since he was a rookie and Wade's jump shot is on absolute hiatus. After Wednesday, Wade is shooting 25 percent this season on shots outside 10 feet.
This season when Wade and James are on the floor together without Chris Bosh, which was the case at that crucial fourth-quarter juncture, the Heat have been outscored by a collective 25 points. That is a double-take sort of number.
The default explanation would be to look at the supporting cast. But that's too easy; James and Wade have done way more with less in their careers. Both are better when they're playing with Bosh and there's a good reason for it.
They actually have been able to run plays with him and develop some rhythm. Not so with each other.
James and Wade running a pick-and-roll -- the thought is scary to think about, much less defend -- doesn't seem to even be in the Miami offense. That would require them to play together and there's almost none of that being seen by the 8-7 Heat. They're almost never even on the same side of the floor.
"Me and LeBron are going to continue to try to find a way with the game plan we have," Wade said. "We're trying to be effective. We have a great coaching staff; I'm sure they'll look at things and see how to utilize us a little better."
Meanwhile, recently Wade's body language during large stretches of games has been terrible and he has refused to blame it on a recent bout with the flu or a sore wrist. And James is complaining that he's not having any fun.
It may not make sense but it is the truth. Right now when they're on the floor together, opposing teams are finding James and Wade easy to defend. It shows in the stats and it shows in the results.
"We have so many options that we take what the defense gives us," James said. "We have sets where we go through our progressions."
Those progressions simply aren't bearing much fruit. There's no sugarcoating it: 15 games into the season the lack of James and Wade working together is a developing concern for the Heat.
It is something the Heat and their coaches are going to have to confront at some point. Wade and James do not look like first-team All-NBA performers and it is a big reason why the Heat don't resemble a championship contender.
"If we had the answer right now, we wouldn't be sitting around .500," James said. "That is something we've got to continue to dissect and get better."