5 Reasons Dwyane Wade Knee Trouble Won't Slow Miami Heat
With just 38 minutes left on the pregame clock, however, Mike Miller got the news:
Get ready. You're getting the start.
This was hardly the first time this season that Miller was put in the lineup just prior to game time, and based on Wade's recent injury history, it is unlikely to be the last. And while Miller is now 16-2 in his starts this season, that hasn't reduced the concern about Wade's health.
As Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra explained, "There wasn’t any improvement really from how he felt toward the end of the last game. But he is making progress. The big picture in the last few weeks and month is he’s been making big progress."
So can the Heat still win the big prize this postseason if Wade misses more time, or is limited in any way when he plays?
Last postseason, Wade pushed through left knee problems that led to offseason surgery. He struggled some, but played strong enough in key stretches, especially the last three games of the second round to close out the Indiana Pacers. At the end, he was winning his second championship.
Spoelstra has insisted that this injury isn't as significant as that one, because this knee is structurally sound. Wade vowed to play whenever the second round starts, against the Chicago Bulls or Brooklyn Nets.
But if this issue lingers, there are five reasons the Heat can survive.
(All quotes for this piece were collected through the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post. All statistics were accurate as of Monday afternoon.)
5. It's Nothing New
Few players in the NBA have taken more of a physical beating than Dwyane Wade over the past several years.
While he has tempered his reckless style some, finding cleaner angles or contorting his body to avoid some collisions, he is paying the cumulative price for all those early-career spills to the floor.
His knees, in particular, have been problematic in recent seasons, and he has been honest about the challenges of staying in prime condition at age 31.
"Now, that's all I do, when I'm away from the game, is take care of my body," he said. "When you're younger, you're just thinking about playing. Norris (Cole) came in here the other night to shoot, I was in the cold tub."
When Wade was younger, something else was different, too:
The expectation of his availability.
When he missed a Game 6 against the Detroit Pistons in the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals, panic set in. Miami couldn't adjust and compensate—even with another star, Shaquille O'Neal, still in the lineup.
In the past two seasons, Wade has missed 30 of a possible 148 regular-season games.
So his absence no longer comes as a shock to the coaching staff, especially Erik Spoelstra, who been with Wade since the latter's pro beginning and knows how to monitor and manage his minutes.
Miami would prefer that Wade play. But if he can't, it just moves to the next set of options, all of which have earned some confidence.
"I'm not where I want to be," Wade said prior to Game 3 of the Milwaukee series. "Not even close."
It's not even close to the first time the Heat's heard that. So now they know how to prepare.
4. Team Deeper Than Ever
The Heat still won 10 of them.
That speaks to the depth and versatility of the roster, the deepest and most versatile in franchise history.
Mike Miller, who got major playoff minutes without working thumbs in 2011 and while struggling to walk in 2012, can't get on the floor unless Wade sits.
Rashard Lewis, who once was among the NBA's highest-paid players and who is healthier than he has been in three seasons, isn't a regular in the rotation either.
That's because the rest of the supporting cast hasn't given Erik Spoelstra any cause to make a change.
The eclectic bench of spunky kid Norris Cole, proven pro Ray Allen, glue guy Shane Battier and wild card Chris Andersen has jelled as the season has progressed and was responsible for many of the Heat's surges in the first-round sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Even Udonis Haslem, who has struggled with his jump shot since his foot injury two years ago, has found his range of late. Add James, Bosh and Mario Chalmers to the mix, and you can make the case that Miami is as loaded as any team in the league.
"We have highly capable guys on a nightly basis," Wade said, after sitting Game 4 against Milwaukee.
They do, even when he's just watching.
3. LeBron James Lethal with Shooters
The Miami Heat are not better without Dwyane Wade, no matter what you may hear.
At times, however, LeBron James may be.
Over the past three years, the close friends have overcome a slow start to their on-court collaboration, improved their off-ball activity and learned to operate from different spots on the floor.
That transformation has earned one championship and may earn another.
This season, the Heat averaged a plus-8.2 in the 28.8 minutes that the duo has played together—not surprisingly, the best of any duo on the team.
Still, it's not as if James looks lost when he's the only superstar on the floor.
Sometimes, freed to take over, he looks even more comfortable.
In Game 2 against the Milwaukee Bucks, James paced a 12-0 run with the Heat's four subs. In Game 3, that same quartet was on the floor for most of a 15-1 blitz.
And, in Game 4, with Wade watching, James scored or assisted on all 19 points of a 19-5 surge, drawing two defenders and then kicking out to three-point shooters, with Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers all knocking down those shots.
James has played this way since he entered the NBA, and he has much better shooters around him than he ever did in Cleveland, Sometimes, that seems to fit his complement better than one of the league's all-time best slashers.
2. Ray Allen Is Rolling
And now, after Game 3 of a four-game sweep against the Milwaukee Bucks, no one has made more three-pointers in the postseason.
“It just came out of nowhere. Just thinking about it the last couple of games when I was made aware of it. I think of all the guys who came before me, so many great players, great shooters, so many great athletes in general that have come through this game. And I’ve been able to come here and leave my mark.”
He certainly has, throughout the course of a career that included 16 seasons as a starter before he joined the Miami Heat to back up Dwyane Wade.
So it would be a stretch to say that his sensational play (16.5 points, 46.4 percent from deep) in the first-round series came out of nowhere.
Still, if you've been watching the Miami Heat all season, you haven't seen him put such a strong four-game stretch together on both ends of the court.
"Defensively in the playoffs, every possession counts, and you don’t want to be part of that possession where some guy beats you for a loose ball or you didn’t rotate and help your team. So that really is my focus."
It has shown. After posting so-so plus-minus numbers during the regular season, Allen was part of the two most productive two-man combinations (with LeBron James and Chris Andersen) in the first round. And he was part of the fourth-most productive (with Shane Battier) as well.
Is that sustainable at age 37, even for someone so well-conditioned that Erik Spoelstra calls him "everyday Ray"?
Can he, in a few more nightly minutes, make up for at least some of what the Heat would miss if Wade never quite gets to 100 percent?
He might have a shot.
1. Other Teams Have It Worse
LeBron James is well aware of what has occurred around the NBA this season, with contenders missing their key players for lengthy stretches of the season or losing them at the worst possible time.
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls.
Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics.
Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers.
David Lee, Golden State Warriors.
Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets.
And then, Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder.
James acknowledged that all of those occurrences and absences played a role in his advice to Dwyane Wade, to rest a sore knee in Game 4 of the first-round sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks.
They also play a role in the conversation about whether the Heat could survive another series or two or three with Wade still bothered by that knee, or even needing to miss some of that playoff march.
Simply, the overall field is weaker than it was last season, when Miami probably couldn't have beaten the Celtics or the Thunder if Chris Bosh hadn't returned ahead of schedule from an abdominal injury.
With a dynamic Wade, the Heat are prohibitive favorites, nearly unbeatable.
Without one, they might have enough to win anyway.