With a season-high nine-game winning streak on the line, James and the Cavaliers look to win their third straight over Wade and the Heat on Thursday night when the superstars face off at Quicken Loans Arena for the first time this season.
Miami (24-25) and Cleveland (39-11) have played two intense games, with James and the Cavaliers prevailing in both, including a 92-91 victory on Jan. 25.
James and Wade each scored 32 points in that contest, but Wade scored only two in the second half and missed two critical free throws in the final minute, setting the stage for James’ winning free throws with 4.1 seconds left.
The first game between the teams was just as hard fought. James scored 34 points and Wade had 36 in Cleveland’s 111-104 victory Nov. 12.
“I understand the excitement between the two superstars and I understand how people can say our game is D-Wade versus ‘Bron,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said, “but at the end of the day I think both of them would trade a win for outdueling the other in a points shootout.”
James and the Cavaliers are coming off a 105-89 victory over Memphis on Tuesday, the third straight game in which they’ve held their opponent to fewer than 90 points and the seventh straight in which they’ve allowed fewer than 100.
The Grizzlies shot 38.0 percent as Cleveland stifled another team. Opponents are shooting 38.9 percent in the last seven games against the Cavaliers, which James attributes to the improved play of O’Neal. Tuesday was the veteran center’s second consecutive double-double and seventh of the season.
“He looks great,” James said. “He’s motivated. When Mo (Williams) and Delonte (West) went down he decided to step his game up, which we knew he could do. He’s just playing with a little bounce in his step that he didn’t have at the start. But he had a different mindset than we all thought. We all thought he was playing slow, he was just saving himself for the second half of the season.
“He tricked all of us, I guess.”
After defeating the Heat twice in Miami, the Cavaliers will look to win their fifth straight at home over the Heat. Miami hasn’t topped 90 points in any of those contests.
The Heat, who have dropped three straight and five of six, fell below .500 for the first time this season with a 107-102 loss at Boston on Wednesday. They shot 52.1 percent but were outrebounded 41-31 and allowed the Celtics to go on a 6-0 run to take an 88-78 lead with 6:36 remaining.
Wade, who finished with 30 points and 13 assists, cut the deficit to 105-102 with 7 seconds left, but Boston hit two free throws to secure the win.
That game was the first of eight of nine on the road for Miami, which has lost five of its last seven away from home. The Heat visit Chicago on Saturday before returning to Miami to face Houston on Tuesday.
“This is a tough road trip we are on. We have to focus game to game,” said Wade, whose right knee was wrapped in ice after Wednesday’s defeat.
Wade, who shot 11 of 16 against the Celtics, had been held to 13 of 39 (33.3 percent) shooting in his previous two games.
The Heat haven’t lost four in a row since a seven-game slide March 26-April 6, 2008.