We just watched a playoff series in which the Miami Heat won the first game by 32 points and the last game by 33, but still flirted with a first-round elimination in Game 6.
Wild mood swings, that’s the idea. Postseason psychosis.
Making predictions in an atmosphere like this is like playing the stock market. Even the expert opinions are flawed by factors unforeseen. So I’ll say that the Heat will beat Toronto in six games to win the Eastern Conference semifinals and I’ll base it on the one factor we know and trust the best.
Sure, there are better reasons to back other teams this postseason. Wade is 34. He doesn’t get to the free-throw line that much anymore. He doesn’t shoot three-pointers until all other options are exhausted, and three-pointers are really what make today’s young superstars glow.
Think, though, of the basic roadblock Miami must clear in this series. Toronto has the home-court advantage. Throughout franchise playoff history, the Heat are 5-9 when fighting against that particular headwind, about what you would expect.
Wade himself, however, is 5-5 when the opponent has earned the home-court edge in a playoff series. That’s getting coin-flip odds out of what really ought to be more of a rock-paper-scissors winning percentage. That’s getting it done, too, before the dawn of the Big Three era in Miami.
The Heat’s first championship season in 2006 was all about Wade, whose fearless performances did more than anything else to negate the home-court advantages owned by Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals and Dallas in the NBA Finals.
Toronto, of course, is a different team and this, for Wade of all people, is a different time.
Still, if it comes to an elimination game, and if it comes down to one player refusing to let an entire season get away, give me Wade over Raptors’ star DeMar DeRozan.
Wade has 159 games of playoff experience. DeRozan has 18.
Wade has three NBA titles, a reflection of the Heat’s consistent organizational standards. DeRozan has lost 11 of 18 games in his postseason career, and just last year he and the Raptors were swept in the opening round.
Wade, after all these years, still can be counted upon to summon up a good effort against the heightened competition of the postseason. He averaged 19.0 points per game during the regular season, his 13th in the league, and do you know what he averaged in that seven-game series against the Hornets? Again, exactly 19.0.
DeRozan is less consistent. He scored 23.5 points per game during the regular season, ninth in the NBA, but against the physical Pacers in the first round he was good for only 17.9. Included in that were a couple of real clunkers at Indiana. He scored just eight points each in a couple of losses there on a total of 7-for-28 shooting.
Charlotte’s Kemba Walker took a similar snooze in Sunday’s Game 7 against the Heat.
There will come a time in this series, and probably more than once, when Dwayne Casey of Toronto will have to trust a vital possession or even an entire quarter to DeRozan. Shoot, drive, pass, improvise, give me all you’ve got.
Wade was in that spot in Game 6 at Charlotte, a closeout chance for the Hornets. What he came up with was a couple of late three-pointers, which is all the crazier because he hadn’t made one from long range since December.
Of all the things that can be predicted this time of year, here is the one that always works. Wade will never shrink from moments like that, and the Heat won’t be lacking for post-game leadership born of championship pride.
Toronto we’re just getting to know.