This fear was amplified when a gimpy Dwyane Wade struggled as the Heat got blown out by the Clippers, followed by Miami surprisingly besting Denver off the Mile High back-to-back last week. Teams that fly west to Colorado on the B-to-B usually disintegrate upon arrival.
Though Miami is good, and Denver is mildly disappointing this season, the win was quite unexpected.
The Heat have a great backup plan in Wade's absence, as the spread pick-and-roll runs beautifully when orchestrated by LeBron James. With Wade out, Miami surrounds LeBron with shooters and lets him run a better version of what he did in Cleveland.
This fits with the "space and pace" philosophy that animates the Heat. The offense is predicated on slashing and shooting. Wade does the former splendidly, but he's the rare Heat player who falters at the latter skill.
It works better than what the Cavs did, in part, because James plays power forward here, further compromising sluggish defenses. You can see in the below clip that the only reason Chris Bosh comes close to being guarded is that Wade's man sags off the three-point line.
A healthy Dwyane Wade more than compensates for some of the strategic deficiencies he brings. His ability to slash, pass and convert impossible layups is quite the boost when the offense bogs down. His contribution was essential in the comeback against Indiana in last year's playoffs.
Of course, that contribution was preceded by Bad Wade, earlier in the series. Bad Wade demonstrates that the line between genius and destructive madness is quite thin. When fully healthy and spry, Good Wade makes insanely difficult shots.
When gimpy, these shots go begging and are revealed for the out-of-rhythm flights of madness they are. It makes Wade's approach look awkward, team-killing. And the bad shots feel all the more ill-advised because James is so efficient by comparison.
It's been 10 years in the league and Wade has yet to develop a three-point shot. This is a must for him if he has any hopes of aging well in Miami. Kobe Bryant has shown that a 2-guard can play well into his 30s, and Wade, when healthy, is as good as there is.
D-Wade just needs to evolve his game to make that happen.
Eventually, age or injuries will block Dwyane's path to the basket. He must find another way to fit in Miami's philosophy. His next act should include better range. For now, he might not need it.
But he will soon enough.