Dwyane Wade always knew what he was signing up for.
The nine-time All-Star and former NBA Finals MVP set himself up for individual sacrifice in pursuit of sustained team success when he welcomed LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami in the summer of 2010.
"You can only play this game for so long, and when you leave this game, what memories are you going to have? That's what I asked myself. What memories do I want to have?" he said (via Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald). "And those memories that I want to have are memories of success as a team."
Miami's resounding 88-65 win over the Chicago Bulls in Game 4 on Monday night was further proof on both sides of the issue.
Wade scored just six points on the night, suffering through a 3-of-10 shooting performance from the field. It was his second single-digit scoring night in the seven playoff games he was active for, dropping his postseason scoring average to just 12.3 points per game.
His playoff player efficiency rating plummeted to 14.3, nearly a 10-point drop from his regular-season rating of 24.0 (via Basketball-Reference.com). His field-goal percentage (52.1) has seen a similar decrease, now sitting at 43.9 percent for the postseason.
A lingering knee issue certainly hasn't helped matters, and it appeared to have brought his Game 4 run to a premature ending (via Aggrey Sam of Comcast SportsNet Chicago):
The relief provided by the team trainers helped him recover enough to return to action and find the basket for the first time in the game (via ESPN's Daily Dime Twitter feed):
Wade has been battling bouts of inconsistent play all season, and up to this point, hasn't been shy responding to the critics all too eager to predict his decline. Even with his scoring struggles, he's managed to top the 15-point mark three times in these playoffs.
Surely there's some reasonable cause for concern, as the former Marquette star has always been one of the top performers in the league since he made his NBA debut in 2003. But has that level of doubt risen high enough for anyone to question the Heat's hopes of a successful title defense?
Not in the least.
After the game, Shane Battier spoke about the importance of the team picking up the slack during Wade's struggles, and expressed confidence that his All-Star teammate will soon return to form.
Miami hasn't exactly faced a murderer's row in the playoffs. The embattled Bucks looked all too eager to start their summer vacation, and the scrappy Bulls are simply running out of healthy, productive bodies. Furthermore, the Heat's presumed biggest threats for the title have yet to display the type of dominance needed to even be competitive the champs.
Keep in mind, this isn't the same crushing blow as the Oklahoma City Thunder losing Russell Westbrook for the postseason with a torn meniscus.
For starters, Wade's still healthy enough to compete and has found ways to contribute without scoring. But even if he was shut down, Miami, unlike Oklahoma City, has a revolving door of competent contributors ready to fill that void.
Erik Spoelstra has sharpshooters like Ray Allen and Shane Battier to spread the floor. Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers are also willing able to knock down the three-ball, and also offer ball-handling to ease the pressure on James. Last but not least, Bosh is there to help James pick up any scoring slack.
Wade's still active, though, and he's still having an impact, too. Entering Monday night, the team performed better on both ends of the floor and were more generous with the basketball when Wade was on the floor (as outlined below).
Wade is still a factor in Miami's suffocating defense, helping hold the Bulls' Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli to a woeful 3-of-20 shooting line in Game 4. As a team, the Bulls shot just 25.4 percent from the field on Monday night, the second time in three games that Chicago has shot below 36 percent.
He is also helping hold Chicago to a steady diet of half-court chances—plays that both highlight the tremendous losses of Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich and expose the limitations of their replacements. The Bulls managed just seven fast-break points in Game 4, a figure that actually matched their series-high in the category.
Truth be told, the Heat could probably start Wade on his offseason training regimen right now and still waltz to a second-straight NBA championship. That said, the reality is that he makes a championship pursuit a far easier task.
When the competition stiffens in the next round, where the Heat will meet the winner of the New York Knicks-Indiana Pacers series, the champs would gladly welcome a vintage Wade sighting. To answer the question at hand, though, Miami is so supremely talented that I would still like their chances to repeat even if Wade was out of the picture.
However, I would caution any gamblers from heeding my prediction without the guarantee of a healthy Wade. Shooting slump or not, he's still a difference maker on both ends of the floor and one that makes Miami a lock for the championship if he's healthy as opposed to only a favorite if he's not.