Should Miami Heat Put Dwyane Wade Back on 'Maintenance' Program?

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Should Miami Heat Put Dwyane Wade Back on 'Maintenance' Program?
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

To rest Dwyane Wade, or not to rest Dwyane Wade? That's Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat's greatest query.

Having now won their last 26 games, life is good in sunny South Beach. The Heat have the best record in the Eastern Conference by a comfortable margin and sit atop the league, ahead of both the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Did I mention they've won their last 26 games and are thus currently riding the second-longest winning streak in NBA history?

After pummeling the likes of the Charlotte Bobcats, Miami moved within seven victories of tying the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers' 33-game win streak, the longest the league has ever seen. Eight more successful conquests and the Heat will be in sole possession of that top spot.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
The streak means something to the Heat. It's just not everything.

Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James will (likely) tell you that doesn't matter, though. But they're lying.

They'll also tell you that the streak isn't as important as winning an NBA title, and this time, they're not lying (via Michael Wallace of ESPN.com):

Once, Bosh found himself debating with a friend. The topic was whether potentially being the only team in NBA history to win 34 games in a row was more significant a feat than being one of a dozen to repeat as champions.

Bosh ended the discussion much like the Heat have closed games lately. With a dominant flurry.

"I'm going for the championship every time," Bosh said. "You don't get a plaque, a ring or nothing for 34 wins in a row. You get a record that'll probably be broken one day. Records are meant to be broken. But championships last forever. As a team, we know that. Somebody was telling me it would be way cooler to win 33 in a row. I'm like, 'Man, please. Get out of here with that.' They won't be throwing confetti after [34]. I'll guaran-damn-tee you that."

Save for the confetti reference, believe in Bosh. The Heat are bound to toss confetti, pop champagne, videobomb the hell out of postgame interviews and are even liable to hire another mariachi band if they reach 34 wins a row. And who could blame them?

What they won't do is put the streak ahead of their championship pursuit.

Naysayers of the theory that winning 34 games in a row is more difficult than obtaining a championship are wrong. If you were to win to 34 consecutive playoff games, that would equate to two titles. So enough of that.

The key word here is "championship," though. Singular. Not plural. Stringing together 34 consecutive wins isn't nearly as strenuous a task as building a dynasty.

When LeBron sat perched atop his wooden chair in July 2010, smiling from ear-to-ear, lights flashing and rockstar-esque smoke encompassing the stage, he promised eight championships. Not one, or two, or three and not 34 straight victories. He pledged to help construct a dynasty.

That's what the Heat are after. If creating that includes a stretch of 34 sequential victories, then great. If it doesn't, then so be it.

Doug Benc/Getty Images
Making good on a dynasty pledge is more difficult than this win streak.

Knowing what Miami is actually playing for, the answer to the team's quandary is obvious: Put Wade on a maintenance program to finish out the regular season. Keep him fresh for the playoffs.

Not unlike the Heat did last season (via Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel):

The Dwyane Wade "maintenance" program reached stage four Monday night.

For the fourth time this month, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra elected to hold out his star guard ostensibly to keep him fresh for the playoffs.

Technically, Wade was held out with a sprained right ankle according to the team, but Spoelstra spoke openly before the game against the New Jersey Nets at the Prudential Center of resting Wade in advance of the start of the NBA playoffs, which open a week from Saturday.

"We're keeping him on the maintenance program to make sure he's healthy," Spoelstra said.

Preserving Wade and resting him for the playoffs isn't a foreign concept for Coach Spo and company, and it helped culminate in a championship only last season. Obviously, WOW (still hate it) should be put back on that maintenance program of his.

If only it were that simple.

This season isn't last season, and we've got to understand that.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
The Spurs, and even the Thunder, are giving the Heat something to play for right now.

The 2011-12 campaign was a brutal one for not just Wade and the Heat, but all NBA parties. Piloting a lockout-truncated schedule laden with back-to-backs and the occasional back-to-back-to-backs left factions and players battered, bruised and generally lambasted.

Injuries require rest and rehabilitation. Last year, there was no time for either if your team's fate wasn't etched in stone. Miami's was, so Wade was given the opportunity to relax on certain nights.

Can we say the same about this season?

Actually, we can't.

Winning streak aside, the Heat still have something to play for as we near the end of the crusade that they didn't last season—the best record in the league.

Following their victory over the Bobcats, Miami was 2.5 games ahead of the Spurs for the best record in the NBA. If the Heat's ultimate goal is to win that championship (it is), clinching home-court advantage throughout the postseason is a huge deal.

Miami managed to procure a title without that edge in 2012, but that doesn't diminish the significance of possessing such a luxury.

Until the Spurs (and even Thunder) are safely in the rear-view mirror (remember, objects—or in this case, teams—are closer than they appear), the Heat can't take a see-all, know-all approach. That includes resting Wade just because.

Wade is healthier than he was last season.

I'm not saying that was what the Heat were doing against Charlotte. They weren't. Spoelstra even confirmed his primary objective isn't resting anyone at this point in the year (via Michael Wallace of ESPN.com):

"He got hit in the knee a couple of games back, and it's just sore and bruised," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade before the game. "We are going to be proactive, and hopefully he will get some treatment and feel better tomorrow."

...

Spoelstra has previously given veteran rotation players a couple of games off toward the end of the season as part of what he considers a "maintenance" program to help rest them before the playoffs.

It's likely that Wade is sitting out as more of a precaution, although Spoelstra has recently scoffed at the notion that he might start resting players with about three weeks remaining in the regular season.

Not embraced, but "scoffed," and rightfully so. Spoelstra knows what's still at stake, what has yet to be determined.

With Wade coming off arthroscopic surgery, the Heat do have to take precautionary measures. And fortunately, they have the type of remaining schedule that is conducive to preventive action.

Seven of Miami's final 13 games are against sub-.500 convocations. Of the six that are against winning outfits, four of them come at home, where the Heat are 32-3. If Wade needs to watch from the sidelines, he should sit. But only if he needs to.

Just as the Heat aren't in the same position as last season, this isn't the fragile Wade of last season, either. He will always be considered injury-prone (to an extent), but he's not playing through the pain he was previously. Offseason surgery has made sure of it.

And the numbers support it.

Dotted trend line represents average number of games Wade missed through first nine seasons (via chargo.com).

Through the first 60 games of the 2011-12 campaign, Wade missed 13. This season, he missed just four, and he's now missed just five overall. He sat out for 17 total games amid last year's condensed schedule.

On average, Wade sat out an average of 14 games in each of his previous nine seasons. Having missed just five after the Heat's win over the Bobcats, he's well below the mean this year.

He's healthier this year.

Once again, Wade shouldn't be playing through pain, even slight pain. Not before the playoffs.

Should this knee injury prove more severe than we were led to believe, then give him time to heal. But don't just bench him for the sake of caution. There's still something for the Heat to play for outside of the streak. Wade himself has the potential to miss five games in a season for just the fourth time in his career.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Miami needs Wade on the floor now.

Not to mention the Heat need him on the floor.

Should the Heat put Dwyane Wade back on his 'maintenance' program to finish out season?

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They need him if eclipsing 33 straight wins is even a minor ambition of theirs. They need him if they want to finish with the best record in the league.

They need him if they want to secure the best possible position to snag another title, if they want to put even more distance between themselves, the Spurs, the Thunder and the rest of the NBA.

They need him—the rest of the regular season included—if they want to build that dynasty LeBron promised everyone nearly three years ago.

You can "guaran-damn-tee" that.

 

*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.

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