Despite winning his third MVP last season, LeBron James may be even better this year.
With fellow superstar Dwyane Wade sidelined by a suspension, the Miami Heat will again look to James as they seek a seventh straight victory Friday night against a Detroit Pistons team they've dominated recently.
Wade was suspended by the NBA for one game on Thursday without pay - the first suspension of his career - for flailing his leg and making contact with Ramon Sessions' groin in the Heat's 105-92 win at Charlotte on Wednesday, the opener of a four-game road trip. Sessions, who believed the kick was intentional, was actually whistled for a foul on the play.
Wade's 20.2 scoring average is his lowest since his rookie season, but Wednesday was one of his better games as he scored 29 on 10-of-19 shooting with nine rebounds and five assists. James tallied 27 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists as the duo helped Miami improve to 20-6, its best 26-game record in franchise history.
James' 25.8 points per game during the Heat's winning streak doesn't deviate much from his 25.6 season average, but his rebound and assist averages are up to 10.8 and 9.0, respectively, from 8.7 and 6.9. He may need to shoulder an even larger scoring burden without Wade and possibly Ray Allen, who remains questionable with a shoulder injury. Allen sat out Wednesday with a sore right shoulder, which he injured in a win against Oklahoma City on Christmas.
Allen is averaging 11.7 ppg, and his absence would leave the Heat without two of their top four scorers as they try for a season-high third straight road win. Miami is 14-2 at home but just 6-4 away from AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Heat were also significantly better at home last season (28-5) compared to on the road (18-15) in the regular season before winning the NBA Finals.
"We want to have a bunker mentality and a road warrior mentality when we hit the road," James said. "We understand to this point we haven't played great basketball on the road."
Miami almost always plays great basketball against the Pistons, winning seven straight and 12 of the last 13 meetings. The Heat also have won seven in row in Detroit since a 93-90 loss on Feb. 4, 2009.
Despite owning one of the league's worst records, the Pistons (9-22) are only being outscored by 2.2 points per game.
They took a now 17-9 Atlanta squad to double overtime on Wednesday as Will Bynum scored 31 - one shy of his career high - as Detroit failed to win a season-best third in a row.
"You have to take the positives out of that," Bynum told the team's official website. "If not, there's nothing to go forward on. We've got to take the positives from last night and keep trying to build off of them."
Forward Tayshaun Prince's status was uncertain for Wednesday because of a sprained right ankle but he finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.