LeBron James and Dwyane Wade need each other now more than ever

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When LeBron James stole the ball, three Pacers were closer to the Indiana basket than Dwyane Wade.

LeBron – arguably the greatest athlete in NBA history – took off in the open court, using his unique blend of speed and power to create space for a layup.

Wade – 32 years old and battling perpetual knee injuries that would make you think he’s 37 – ran just as hard.

It paid off. LeBron missed his shot, and Wade followed with a putback dunk.

“Usually, D Wade don’t even chase me down. He know if it’s a one-on-one matchup with me, most of the time I’m going to score,” LeBron said smiling. “But I was glad that he did.”

That was part of a decisive 10-0 run that propelled the Heat to an 87-83 win over the Pacers in Game 2 Tuesday. LeBron or Wade scored or assisted Miami’s final 33 points, including scoring the final 20 themselves.

“That’s what we want,” Wade said. “We came here, and that’s what we envisioned – having two guys that is able to be dynamic at the same time.”

Neither LeBron nor Wade are playing their best right now, which is precisely why they must lean on each other. The Heat aren’t playing their best either, making them especially reliant on their biggest stars, and there’s only one way LeBron and Wade can meet that dependence – together.

In the final 16 minutes – a full third of the game – LeBron (14 of 22 points) and Wade (10 of 23 points) absolutely dominated. They had to. Here was the production in that span of Miami’s other three starters:

  • Chris Bosh: three points,  one rebound, one block, one steal
  • Mario Chalmers: did not play
  • Udonis Haslem: did not play

Erik Spoelstra changed his starting lineup from Game 1, inserting Haslem for Shane Battier, but the the switch didn’t really pay dividends. Haslem proved ineffective against Roy Hibbert and didn’t help enough on the glass. Credit the Heat coach for having the guts to bench Haslem and Chalmers, who didn’t provide the spark Norris Cole did.

Meanwhile, Bosh is not producing while battling Indiana’s behemoths. He has just 18 points on 8-of-21 shooting and eight rebounds in the series.

Chris Andersen came off the bench to grab 12 rebounds and produce a stunning +25 plus-minus in a four-point game, but he’s just one of several Miami role players. the Heat can’t rely on a single one of them on a nightly basis.

As the Heat have aged, their talent gap over the rest of the league has shrunk. The Pacers are absolutely good enough to win this series, and there are several Western Conference teams – including both still playing – capable of beating Miami, too.

That leaves a lot on the plates of LeBron and Wade.

The four-year examination of how LeBron and Wade fit together has been overblown. Let’s get that out of the way. LeBron and Wade are both tremendously skilled and versatile players. They fit with everyone.

But LeBron and Wade aren’t a perfect fit together. There’s give and take with two players used to dominating the ball, and a surprisingly low number of Heat plays this far into their current incarnation use both in key spots simultaneously.

That said, they’re better off together than they would be separately with lesser, better-fitting teammates. Their talent outweighs fit concerns.

LeBron once again played passively early and averaged a touch just once every 44 seconds – narrowly topping a season high set yesterday. His defense was also lacking, even though Paul George shot poorly.

Enter Wade.

Wade took the ball and also guarded George late, freeing the burden from LeBron. In Game 3, nobody would be shocked to see LeBron help Wade.

LeBron and Wade pick each other up, and despite some unavoidable fit issues, they’re trying to jell even more.

“Obviously, I always know where No. 6 is on the floor,” Wade said. “And he knows where I am on the floor.”

That includes Wade’s putback slam. Wade admitted “99.9 percent of the time,” he’d hang back as LeBron surged in the open court. But Wade was perceptive to a LeBron flaw.

“I actually noticed he didn’t really get the acceleration that he needed,” Wade said. “He took a step, and he didn’t get up. So, that allowed me to just keep following. Normally, he just explodes, and there aren’t many people that can beat him at the top.”

There aren’t many teams that can beat the Heat when LeBron and Wade are at their top levels, but neither is there right now. As long as they keep boosting each other, though, they can get close – and give Miami a chance to win.

Report: Celtics “most likely” offer Jayson Tatum a max contract after season

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This should not be a surprise.

Jayson Tatum is a cornerstone of the Celtics now and going forward: 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game, an efficient 56.2 true shooting percentage, a shot creator, an athletic finisher at the rim, and a guy who shot 39.8 percent from three. Tatum was an All-Star in his third season and will draw third-team All-NBA votes (whenever those votes happen).

Tatum is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract after this season. Is he worth a full max contract? Yes, especially considering he is 22 and still improving by leaps each season.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on SportsCenter the Celtics are expected to offer Tatum the max (hat tip Bleacher Report).

“If Jayson Tatum is the superstar that they envisioned when they began this whole rebuilding process when they traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for all of those draft picks hoping to land a player like this, we could see ‘Glory Days’ for the Celtics again. But it’s very much up in the air, and I’m gonna tell ya, they’re gonna have to pay him like it because after this season ends, he is going to get most likely a max contract. They’re going to bet that he becomes that player.”

It’s fair to argue that max contracts should be reserved for true alphas, true No. 1s and maybe a few No. 2 players on a team, and that Tatum has yet to prove he is one of those. Boston would be betting he becomes that player — but right now that looks like a good bet. More importantly, last summer the Celtics locked up Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown on four-year contracts, sign Tatum and the Celtics have a core that will have them at or near the top of the East for years.

Exactly what a max contract will look like this coming off-season after the coronavirus hit to the league’s finances is another question, one nobody has an answer to right now. Under the old cap, it would have been $181 million over five years (and if he made All-NBA teams it could jump to $218 million), but those numbers don’t apply to the new reality. Even if Tatum signs the max offer this summer, he will make his $9.9 million next season then be paid whatever the max is for him starting in the 2021-22 season (and again, it’s impossible to say what the league’s finances will be at that point).

Pay the man his money.  Expect Boston to make the offer whenever the offseason arrives.

Zion Williamson’s attorneys work to avoid him answering questions about improper benefits at Duke

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MIAMI (AP) — Attorneys for NBA rookie Zion Williamson seek to block his former marketing agent’s effort to have the ex-Duke star answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils.

In a Florida court filing last week, Williamson’s attorneys say those questions are “nothing more than a fishing expedition aimed at tarnishing Williamson’s reputation” and designed to “maximize potential embarrassment and media coverage in an attempt to improperly gain settlement leverage.”

“Plaintiffs’ irrelevant and invasive requests are designed to harass and not calculated to lead to discovery of relevant evidence,” Friday’s filing states.

It is the latest exchange in the fight over the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick’s endorsement potential.

Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed her lawsuit last summer in Florida, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. Williamson filed his own lawsuit a week earlier in North Carolina to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

Ford’s attorneys had submitted questions this month asking whether the New Orleans Pelicans rookie or anyone on his behalf sought or accepted “money, benefits, favors or things of value” to sign with Duke. Those filings – offering no evidence of wrongdoing by Williamson or his family – sought answers within 30 days to establish facts under oath in the pretrial discovery process.

Williamson’s attorneys seek a stay while appealing the December denial of their motion to dismiss the Florida case based on lack of jurisdiction, or a protective order as an alternative.

At the heart of the dueling lawsuits over Williamson’s marketing rights is this: Williamson says the contract he signed with Prime Sports is illegal under North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agent Act (UAAA) because Ford was not registered with North Carolina to negotiate with amateur athletes (which Zion was at the time, having just played for Duke). Ford and Prime dispute that, saying this was a legal and binding negotiation.

One key reason NBA may return with 22 teams: Players want regular-season games

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Nothing is set in stone about an NBA return — at least not until next Thursday — but momentum seems to be building behind a plan that would bring 22 teams to the Orlando bubble.

That plan brings every team within six games of the playoffs when the season was halted into the competition, a total of 22 teams (13 from the West and nine from the East, the playoff teams plus Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington). There would be some regular-season games played, likely five to eight, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds, then the playoffs with full seven-game series each round. Exactly what that play-in tournament would look and if the NBA would stick with the conference playoff alignment or seed 1-16 is up in the air (although the conference alignment seems to have more backing).

Why that plan? For one, it gets more cities and more fan bases involved — and it happens to bring Zion Williamson and the Pelicans into the mix, a big television draw. It also could help a few teams reach a 70-game broadcast threshold with local broadcasters.

Mostly, however, the players want it because they get some games under them before the playoffs start, something Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported on at ESPN.

Regardless of how many teams are ultimately included in the playoffs, the National Basketball Players Association has consistently stressed that it wants several regular-season games to be played prior to the start of the playoffs, sources said. That has been a prevailing sentiment among several contending teams that prefer a tuneup before beginning the postseason, sources said.

A lot of players — influential players — have pushed for some regular season or meaningful games before the playoffs start. It’s about health, as trainers told us at NBC Sports, go from zero to 100 jumping straight into the playoffs and teams are asking for injuries. Players understand that.

Maybe only 20 teams end up in Orlando, that plan is on the table as well, but either way expect some regular-season games before the playoffs start. If the powerful players want it to happen, it will.

PBT Podcast: 2020 NBA Mock Draft crossover podcast, Part Deux

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We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.

For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.

The first ten picks can be found over on the College Basketball Talk feed.

Here we finish off the lottery and run through the entire rest of the first round.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.