SALT LAKE CITY -- They’ve played for four different coaches in two different cities and more than 500 games together.
The terminology in numerous different offenses has varied -- 35 rub, 35 chest, 35 slice, 35 zip, 35 down, 35 side and so on -- but the parts have been the same. The “3” is LeBron James and the “5” is Zydrunas Ilgauskas and all those 35s have meant thousands and pick-and-rolls they have run together.
In the Heat’s impressive 111-98 victory over the Jazz on Wednesday James fed Ilgauskas four times for jumpers off screen-and-rolls. Numerous other times James used Ilgauskas to turn the corner, which contributed to James' racking up 33 points.
James has now found Ilgauskas for baskets 27 times this season, James has handed out more only to Chris Bosh. Much of the time it doesn’t even take one of those play calls since the two have such a comfort level with each other after playing seven years with the Cavs and now with the Heat.
“I know where Z is going to be by just closing my eyes,” James said. “It is funny, I’m in a Heat uniform, Z is in a Heat uniform but it reminds me of being in Cleveland. And it always feels like Z is going to make that shot.”
Ilgauskas has been making a lot of them this season. After going 7-of-10 and finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds against the Jazz, Ilgauskas is now shooting 55 percent in the Heat’s 23 games. The majority of his shots come off pick-and-pop plays for 15-18 foot jumpers, and the large majority of those feeds come from James.
In a season where the Heat have fought hard on offense to find chemistry, Ilgauskas and James’ carryover from Cleveland has been a boost.
“We just have a great feel for each other, we’ve played so many games together,” Ilgauskas said. “Really we don’t even need a play call, we just need eye contact. Sometimes we’ll just keep running it until the other team stops it.”
There has been much made about the Heat’s big men. They have had their struggles at times and the rotation has changed, Ilgauskas has started the past 14 games after Joel Anthony started the first nine. Erick Dampier was signed two weeks ago and is starting to make an impact, he had six rebounds in 22 minutes against the Jazz.
Still, the Heat gave up 58 points in the paint and a combined 43 points to Jazz big men Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. So Ilgauskas has his drawbacks defensively, especially when he has to cover active centers. But he’s inflicting some damage and helping make James better, which at age 35 is what he’s being asked to do.
“LeBron will reward you if you set a good screen for him,” Ilgauskas said. “You’re going to be open. I’ve been getting open for years.”