The unease is understandable, even after a four-month stretch in which the Heat have been nearly unbeatable. It is now seven days since Dwyane Wade has played in a basketball game, a game in which he made only one of a dozen field goals, a game in which he did a good deal of grimacing because of his bruised right knee and tight right forearm.
In the days since, he has sat out the Heat’s clinching contest against Milwaukee, not participated in two practices and not been available for two media sessions. Nor have most of his comments in recent weeks been especially reassuring, as he has continued using the phrase “not even close” to characterize his physical status.
In light of all this, you might deem the following to be an unreasonable request:
Don’t stress about Wade’s health.
Yes, that has become a rite of spring, but this spring should be different.
First, this is not the knee that hobbled him during the 2012 postseason and required offseason surgery. And while coach Erik Spoelstra’s public pronouncements about injuries aren’t always especially accurate, other sources inside the team insist that the knee, while creating discomfort, is not debilitating. There’s no need to worry that you’ll wake up to learn, as Oklahoma City fans learned about Russell Westbrook, that Wade has been shelved for the remainder of the postseason.
Second, as would-be contenders around the NBA continue to suffer more serious injuries, it is clear that the Heat can win the 2013 title – against this weakened field – without Wade at his best.
Naturally, it will be easier if he is, and no one should misinterpret that statement as a suggestion that the Heat benefit from his absence. They do not. No team would.
But what if he struggles, or even sits, as the playoffs proceed?
The Heat can still survive, advance and, ultimately, overcome.
“I don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about,” Chris Bosh said of Wade’s knee. “I think we’ve been in positions like this before. We’re very comfortable playing while making sure he’s getting to where he needs to be, to be as close to 100 percent.”
The Heat clearly are more comfortable playing without Wade than they had been playing without Bosh, when the latter strained his abdomen last spring while playing the Pacers. Miami scored just 75 points in each of the next two games against Indiana, before adjusting to win three games against the Pacers and the first two against Boston. Then they became stagnant again, dropping two to the Celtics, rendering Miami desperate for Bosh’s unexpectedly early return.
They probably wouldn’t have won the championship if he hadn’t.
But here’s the difference: Bosh had missed a total of 14 games over the previous two regular seasons, and the Heat — prior to Chris Andersen’s signing this winter – had no one who could assume any of his responsibilities. Wade has missed 30 games over the past two seasons, 25 of which the Heat have won. And, while LeBron James is the only teammate at or above Wade’s level as an attacker, Miami now has an abundance of options on the perimeter.
As Wade has said himself, “We have highly capable guys on a nightly basis.”
They do, even if their primary capabilities are much different — Ray Allen, Mike Miller, even Rashard Lewis are more comfortable outside the arc.
Wade and James still were the Heat’s most dynamic duo this season, with the Heat outscoring opponents by a team-high average of 8.2 points in the 28.4 minutes that they shared the floor. Still, James hardly looks lost with Wade out, especially when compared to how discombobulated Kevin Durant seems without Westbrook.
Often, with Wade out, James appears more assertive, since the ball is invariably in his hands almost all the time. As was so often the case when he was a Cavalier, the floor is spread with three or four shooters, and the Heat shooters are generally more accurate than those who complemented him in Cleveland.
Miami’s decisive runs in the last three wins against Milwaukee all came with James at the throttle, initiating pick-and-rolls with Andersen and spraying the ball to the likes of Allen and Shane Battier. Wade was most missed when James took a break; the second unit tends to be rudderless without either.
Sunday, Wade promised to play in the second round, whenever it started. It will not start until Monday. By then, he will have had 10 days off. Ten days of cold tubs and stim packs. Ten days of resting — if hardly relaxing — as he prepares to take on the doubters and Heat fans do their best to take deep breaths.
Noteworthy: James donated $1 million to renovate the gym at his alma mater, St. Vincent St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio. The gym, built in 1958, will be renamed The LeBron James Arena, with a new floor, lighting, bleachers and restrooms and an upgraded training room.