LeBron James has likely locked in the third MVP award in his career. James went off against the NY Knicks in Game 1 of the first-round series and subsequently made key plays in Game 2, defensively and offensively, to keep the Miami Heat on track.
James has improved his all-around game massively and is arguably the best player in the league as the 2012 NBA playoffs ensue.
Lost in chaos of the barrage of support developing for James is where Dwyane Wade lands in all of this. His name is one that has not been spoken a lot throughout the regular season without having “injury” or “did not play” attached to it. Wade has been hot-potatoed in and out of the lineup due to injuries and it forced him out of the spotlight, somewhere he and LeBron had equally shared the media stage.
Is Wade’s lack of playing time the only reason why fans are not shouting his name? Is there another reason why Wade just doesn’t seem to matter to the Heat as much as he used to? Could he be on the downward slope of his career?
It doesn't look like it when we see Wade barreling up the court full speed for a lob or a dunk. It definitely does not ring true when Wade is slashing defenses on his way to a strong finish around the rim.
However, it seems as if the answer “yes” is inevitable.
This is not some type of knee-jerk reaction to James’ ridiculous season. No matter how efficient he has been in 2011-12, his improvement has nothing to do with Wade. Sure, it may have taken a lot of the pressure off the former frontman of the Heat, but that’s it.
It has nothing to do with Wade’s individual game or if it may be deteriorating in front of everyone’s eyes. Deferring to LeBron is something he did last season and, for the most part, leading up to the 2012 NBA Finals, it worked out for the best.
This season, it appears James not only improved because he wanted to, but because he had to. He has been the focus of Miami’s offense because he has to be.
Wade is not the man he used to be and that can be attributed to a bevy of reasons, but only one of those reasons stand out.
Wear and tear
At 30 years old, Wade suffered a strained calf, a bruised left foot, a dislocated ring finger and a sprained ankle all in this single, shortened season. He has missed a slew of time due to his inability to play.
Recovery time has grown increasingly important to the NBA veteran as he cannot afford to continue to hit the hardwood like he used to and pop back up unaffected. He understands this, which is why he still remains the second most influential man in the locker room.
"I feel older," said Wade, in his ninth season. "No doubt, it's inevitable. You're going to feel a certain way. I'm pretty healthy, I'm in good shape. I just understand what kind of game I can play that's more effective for me than flying in the paint like I used to do when I was 21, 22. That's not a good game for me right now."
Wade understands where his game is at this point in his career and he is behaving accordingly. While most of us are oohing and awing at LeBron’s athleticism and speed, Wade has become a much more calculating and subtle superstar than he has been known to be previously.
There is nothing wrong with that. A great basketball player plays to his strengths, and that is what Miami’s captain is doing. He is not chasing the ghosts of the 2006 NBA Finals past.
Instead, he has refined his game and allows LeBron to shine at epic heights while his key plays down the stretch add to the illustrious nature of the Miami Heat.
Yes, Dwyane Wade is on a decline. However, he is such an amazing player that Miami’s win-column will not notice for another few seasons.
Incredible, isn’t it?