The Heat are better with Dwyane Wade than without him.
This is true even with Wade compromised by a bruised right knee.
This is true even with Wade diminished during the Eastern Conference semifinal series of the NBA playoffs against the Chicago Bulls, which resumes tonight on Miami’s home court in AmericanAirlines Arena.
But it’s beside the point.
The point is that the Heat, with a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven set and a chance to close things out, don’t need Wade.
Not right now, anyway.
That’s why the better play for the Heat would be to rest Wade tonight just as they rested him in the first-round finale against Milwaukee in a four-game sweep. The better play would be to roll the risk/reward dice without Wade tonight in the hope of buying him extra recuperation time in advance of the Heat’s expected Eastern Conference championship series against Indiana or New York.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra can argue all he wants — as he did Tuesday afternoon — about the “impactful” minutes Wade has played against the Bulls and how his plus-49 rating for team scoring when he’s on the floor in the series is tied with Shane Battier for best on the squad.
But the plus-minus statistic can be misleading in that it’s tied as much to group performance as it is a reflection of individual superiority.
Let’s make a list of the reasons why the Heat have pushed Chicago to the brink of elimination, and see where Wade ranks on it:
• LeBron James’ excellence in all phases of the game.
• Chris Bosh’s presence as a scorer and a rebounder.
• Improved play at point guard due to the emergence of Norris Cole.
• A productive bench.
• The mediocrity of the Bulls, who have been decimated by injury and illness.
It isn’t a stretch to suggest that Miami might have swept the Bucks and would hold the lead it holds on Chicago even if Wade had not played a post-season minute to this juncture. That’s less a slight of Wade than it is an indictment of the weakness of both opponents.
But if/when the Heat do move on, they won’t have the luxury of Wade being as passive as he has been in the Chicago series.
And then Wade bumped his already-sore knee in a collision with Chicago’s Jimmy Butler during the Heat’s rout of a win Monday night.
“Some days are better than others,” Wade told the media after that game in which he scored six points on 3-of-10 shooting. “There are certain games (when) I might do a move or do something, and the shooting pain might come up.”
Spoelstra said Wade spent the team’s day off Tuesday undergoing treatment, listed his status as “day-to-day” and lectured about his star’s contributions beyond scoring.
“We all know what he’s dealing with,” Spoelstra said. “He’s helping us win, and that’s the bottom line with me. Everything else gets lost in translation.
“He’s creating triggers for us that open opportunities for everybody else. Ignore the final column on the box score.”
That’s the one having to do with scoring.
Wade averaged 21.2 points per game during the regular season, but is down to 12.3 during the playoffs … and 11.3 against the Bulls.
Give him tonight off so that neither he nor his coach need worry about, in Spoelstra’s words, “unpredictable movements and actions.”
A series against the Pacers or Knicks wouldn’t start until Monday at the earliest or a week from today at the latest, which could afford Wade considerable rest.
The Heat, by the way, are 8-2 when they have had a chance to end a series since James and Bosh became Wade’s teammates in Miami.
“You have to have a team that has built strong habits,” Spoelstra said.
Miami’s winning habits are strong enough to believe it can finish off Chicago tonight without Wade.