For all the disappointment in Miami and excitement in Cleveland that LeBron James changed teams last summer, it is the Heat that have the most to smile about at this early stage of the season.
Luol Deng, who was ripped by Atlanta Hawks general manager as “having a little African in him” and being a locker room weak link, has stepped in nicely in James’ place. He’s been a steady influence in his demeanor and his play has been solid, culminating with his best performance in the team’s biggest win of the season in Dallas.
Deng lit up the high-flying Mavericks for 30 points on 13 of 19 shooting with four assists Sunday in Miami’s impressive 105-96 victory. He also shut down Dallas’ key offseason acquisition, Chandler Parsons, holding him to just four points on 2-for-20 shooting.
”We still have a lot to figure out,” Deng said. ”Their game plan today, they doubled Bosh and D-Wade, and we did a good job of moving the ball and had a lot of open jumpers.”
Chris Bosh stayed with the Heat after James departed to Cleveland and is more of a featured player than in the four years with James at the helm. He had 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in his hometown. Dwyane Wade, James’ old sidekick, had 10 assists and seems to enjoy again being the team’s top player.
The win in Dallas was “our best win of the year so far,” Wade said.
They took down the Mavericks in Miami’s sixth game in nine nights, on the road. They are 5-2 and second in the Eastern Conference, while James’ Cavaliers are wallowing at 2-3, ninth place in the conference.
It stands to reason that James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving will find a rhythm and end up being the stellar team that most pundits expected when the consensus best player left Miami to return to his home state.
But for now, Miami seems as if it has the goods to be better than expected. Maybe the Heat will not fall apart without James. Maybe Eric Spolestra can coach. And maybe Cleveland and Miami will face each other in the playoffs. That would be worth watching.