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Utah Jazz: 'Decision' looks like the right one for LeBron James, Miami Heat

Published March 1, 2012 5:15 pm

NBA • Jazz will have hands full Friday with much-improved Heat.
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For everyone who relished Miami's collapse in last year's NBA Finals — one that turned the widely unpopular "Decision" into a wildly cheered Defeat — there's bad news.

The Heat are back — better than ever, looking as good so far this season as the beautiful people who congregate every night along South Beach.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and an improved supporting cast have used the first half of the abbreviated season to fire a warning shot over the heads of teams dreaming to do what Dallas did to them in the 2011 Finals.



But derailing Miami this time won't be easy, as Utah will see Friday night, when the Jazz test the Heat at EnergySolutions Arena.

Thanks to a new commitment on taking his game closer to the basket, James is playing like a Michael Jordan-Karl Malone hybrid.

Meanwhile, Wade and Bosh remain his trusty sidekicks, also capable of dominating any game.

So with apologies to Chicago, Oklahoma City, San Antonio or either team from L.A., the Heat appear primed to do what James promised upon his arrival from Cleveland.

Win a championship.

At last week's All-Star Game, James repeated that his second season in Miami has been less stressful than the first, when he was villainized by many who thought he abandoned the Cavs and their blue-collar fans.

"We've got a lot of season to go," James said. "But I'm on the right path — back to playing basketball how I play — and that's back having fun at a high level.

"… We're playing some good basketball. Our team feels we are 'one' right now, especially with last year under our belt. So we're just trying to get better every day."

James' numbers are staggering. He averages 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists. He shoots 54.7 percent from the field.

By comparison, Malone averaged 27.4 points, 9.9 rebounds 4.5 assists during his first MVP season in 1996-97. He shot 55 percent.

"LeBron is playing at an MVP level," Wade said at the All-Star Game. "Obviously, it takes a while to adjust and I thought he did great last year.

"But I think he's [fully] adjusted now — more comfortable with the team and just being in Miami, period. It was very tough last year. It was a different situation."

Collectively, the Heat are playing just as well as James.

Prior to Thursday night's game at Portland, they won eight straight by an average of 15.3 points.

Miami leads the NBA in scoring (103.7), shooting percentage (.488), 3-point percentage (.398) and scoring differential (+9.4).

Last season, the Heat won 58 games, went 12-3 in the opening three rounds of the playoffs and took a 2-1 lead over Dallas in the Finals before losing in six games.

This year, Miami is undeniably better, because of the Big Three and more consistent depth.

Veterans Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller are finally healthy and give the Heat what they missed most against the Mavs — interior toughness and spread-the-floor 3-point shooting.

Another veteran, Shane Battier, provides big-game experience and defensive versatility that takes a huge burden off James, Wade and Bosh.

At point guard, Mario Chalmers has taken a step forward in his second season and rookie Norris Cole has been a surprisingly consistent contributor.

From all angles, it appears, the Heat are positioned to make amends for their popular failure in last year's Finals.

"I don't know, man," James said. "We just go out as a team — as a unit. We just try to represent our team the best way we can and keep moving forward."

The Tribune's Brian T. Smith contributed to this story. —

Heat at Jazz

P At EnergySolutions Arena

Tipoff • Friday, 7 p.m.

TV • ROOT Sports

Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM

Records • Heat 27-7, Jazz 16-18

Last meeting • Heat, 111-98 (Dec. 8, 2010)

About the Heat • Power forward Chris Bosh won't be available against the Jazz due to personal reasons.

About the Jazz • Utah's win against Houston on Wednesday ended a four-game losing streak.

 

 

 

 

 

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