MIAMI -- When the Miami Heat formed their trio of All-Stars, one of the biggest questions was: Who would take the last shot?
LeBron James? Dwyane Wade? Chris Bosh?
Although the Heat have moved past their 9-8 start and proved they are capable of beating an elite team with a dismantling of the Lakers on Christmas Day, the question still remains as to who exactly should be the team's closer.
Against the rising New York Knicks, led by Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, on Sunday night in what appears to be a matchup worth watching for years to come, James was given the opportunity to come up with a big shot in the closing minutes, much like he has been asked to do all season long.
But was it -- is it -- the right decision?
With 12 seconds left and the Heat trailing 87-86, James had the ball at the top of the key, drove to the basket and saw his shot blocked by Stoudemire.
"I watched it the whole way," Stoudemire said. "I knew what he was going to do. He was trying to go to the right."
James said: "STAT [Stoudemire] is definitely a good weak-side shot blocker, but I felt I got enough room around Melo to just get it up on the glass, and he got a piece of it."
Following a pair of free throws by Shawne Williams, the Heat called timeout with 6.7 seconds left. Again, James got the ball at the top of the key and shot a 3-pointer. As the ball left his hand, he left his follow-through hand up in an upright position, a common gesture by a player thinking the shot is going in and just savoring the moment for theatrics.
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It would have been a great moment for James and the Heat in a rivalry that could be on its way back. The two teams squared off four consecutive years (1997-2000) in the playoffs and the two cities often quarrel with each other, particularly with the prevalence of New Yorkers in South Florida.
Instead, James missed the shot, the Heat lost, and questions remain.
Close losses have been a common occurrence for the Heat this season; they're now 5-11 in games decided by five points or fewer.
"There's a reason why we keep losing these close games, so we've got to figure it out," Wade said. "It's not one thing you can point at -- no fingers pointed at all. It's something we have to figure out."
James, not Wade, has been the Heat's primary ball handler, shooter, and distributor in late-game situations, although coming into the season, the knock on the two-time league MVP was that he was not a closer. Fair or not fair, questions will remain directed at James' ability to get big-time baskets late in games. James, a 34 percent 3-point shooter, also missed a potential game-tying trey in the closing seconds of a loss Feb. 24 at Chicago.
Wade, on the other hand, came into the season widely considered as one of the top two closers in the game, along with Lakers star Kobe Bryant. Not to mention Wade's well-chronicled success in the playoffs when leading the Heat to the 2006 championship.
But this season, down the stretch, Wade has often been a mere onlooker with James handling the responsibilities. Granted, against the Knicks, Wade was only 5 for 15 from the floor, but the late-game struggles and decisions have been a common theme for the Heat this season, and it begs the question as to who should be given the keys down the stretch.
Wade's one-on-one ability is undeniable; that's the strength of his game. He can get to the basket and knock down the mid-range jumper. His agility and ability to weave through defenders and make tough shots make him a difficult matchup.
The Heat are second in the Eastern Conference at 43-17 to Boston (42-15) and have just begun a three-week stretch in which their next 10 opponents all have winning records, which is sure to generate plenty of close-game opportunities for a team still not clicking on all cylinders.
"We will have a breakthrough," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "And as painful as this is right now, there will be a time that we break through and we're able to execute and win a game like this against a quality opponent going down the stretch.
"What you hope is that the pain of a game like this resonates enough to make a change."
Anthony said the Knicks were ready for either James or Wade to take the final shot. Stoudemire wasn't surprised with the decision to go with James down the stretch.
"It's either or with that team," Stoudemire said.
While it can be "either or," it's time to go with a different strategy down the stretch. The answer is Wade.