Up 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals, Erik Spoelstra is in no mood to be brought back down a notch. So it was that the Heat coach leaned forward into the microphone Friday when asked if he is concerned about Dwyane Wade’s scoring slump.
“Not as long as we win,” was Spoelstra’s answer, throwing a blanket over the latest little brushfire to hit the defending champions, the notion that there is such a thing as too much LeBron James during the long and arduous postseason run.
This is a sore subject, Wade’s bruised right knee, and an old one. While LeBron powers through any and all obstacles, with a 30-point winning effort against Indiana on Thursday night as his latest trick, Wade is wobbling, wrapped up in a string of 11 consecutive playoff games scoring fewer than 20 points.
It’s an imbalance compounded by Chris Bosh’s own scoring problems against Pacers musclemen Roy Hibbert and David West, and it is enough to have LeBron referencing his life before the Big Three became such a big deal.
“I kind of just went back to my Cleveland days,” LeBron said immediately following Thursday’s 90-79 win, a game he claimed for the Heat by splattering 16 points, four rebounds and four assists across the stat sheet in the third quarter alone.
As the Heat prepared to fly to Indianapolis for a potential series-clinching game tonight, LeBron said, “I’m not trying to compensate for anyone. I’m just trying to do my part, and even do a little bit more, to try to help the team.”
Wade was in a similar position in 2006, leading the Heat to their first championship and winning the NBA finals MVP award with an average of 34.7 points per game against Dallas.
Of course, he had Shaquille O’Neal, but Shaq was sputtering to the end of his greatness. To be on the opposite side of that story now, averaging just 13.9 points in the 2013 playoffs and leaving LeBron to all the heavy lifting, must hurt Wade more than the knee, which has been a problem since at least March.
“Not feeling as good as you can, you’re just trying to be patient,” said Wade, who scored a paltry 10 points in Game 5 and took just eight shots. “Obviously, LeBron had it going and U.D. (Udonis Haslem) had it going. I was just trying to make plays for the guys and not necessarily worrying about getting 20 points so you guys can feel good and come in and write good stories about me.
“Defense, rebounding, doing the little things, that’s what I have to do now until my body lets me do more.”
Sounds good, but it sure doesn’t look good, not with occasional in-game sprints to the locker room thrown in for rapid re-tightening of the knee bandage.
Wade’s first shot in Game 5 was a running one-hander in the lane that missed everything. Two of his five misses were airballs, in fact, including a midrange jump shot over Paul George. Shocking, but increasingly familiar. Last year it was the other knee bothering Wade. The joint was drained of fluid during the second-round series with Indiana and required surgery after Miami’s championship parade.
There were shining moments all the same in last season’s playoffs. Matter of fact, it was a Game 6 close-out situation at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, just like tonight, when Wade broke loose for 41 points on 17-of-25 shooting and chipped in 10 rebounds, too.
Is it possible that he has another magic act in store for tonight?
“If I could tell the future,” he said, “I wouldn’t be here.
“I would love to score 20 or 30 a night. Everybody looks at how many points I score and they think that determines my success, but that doesn’t really determine my success on this team every night. We understand that.”
Well, we’re trying. What’s tougher to accept is the sight of Wade at 31, getting up slower from those trademark crashes to the floor, struggling to get reacquainted with his own grandiose game.
So much superhero wonder, gone in a flash.