Miami Heat Need Vintage Dwyane Wade to Beat Indiana Pacers

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 30, 2013

MIAMI, FL - MAY 24: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat looks on during a play in the first half against the Indiana Pacers during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena on May 24, 2013 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Indiana Pacers aren't going away.

After a humbling 114-96 loss in Game 3 cost them the home-court advantage they'd stolen in the previous outing, Frank Vogel's team responded with a 99-92 win in Game 4 that saw them outperforming the more experienced Miami Heat in the contest's most crucial stretch.

Panic alarms rarely reach an audible level in South Beach, but there's certainly a concern permeating throughout the oversized resort town.

Indiana has size; Miami doesn't. The Pacers attack the floor with a ferocious intensity that Heat fans have been pleading with their team to show for a full 48 minutes.

But Indiana can't match Miami's star power. So Erik Spoelstra has to find a way to restore the luster to one of his presumably dimming stars in order to restore the hope in another championship-or-bust season.

Dwyane Wade has meant everything to this organization since it wisely snatched him with the fifth overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft.

He shined in a leading role, masterfully guiding the Heat to the 2006 championship. He brushed his ego to the side and welcomed LeBron James to his locker room, then quickly handed him the keys to the franchise and adopted a wildly productive sidekick role.

But hoops heads, perhaps put off by his foul-inducing dramatics or incessant chirping at officials, have raced to become the first to correctly pinpoint the start of his demise.

One day he's a fallen star, the victim of 10 years of self-inflicted damage with relentless attacks of the basket. The next, he's a reprogrammed, refocused efficient offensive course capable of single-handedly tipping the scales in Miami's favor.

Truth is, he's somewhere in the middle, no longer possessing the same physical gifts, but far from a liability on the floor.

But somewhere-in-the-middle Wade won't cut it for this Heat. They need to see some vintage Wade moments, and they need to see them soon.

He doesn't need to the 24.1-points-per-game scorer he's been throughout his career, but he can't be the 37.9-percent-shooter that he's been in Miami's two losses in this series. It's not the quantity of points that matters; it's the quality that takes center stage in the Heat's bid to forget a successful title defense.

When he's correctly choosing his spots, he's still one of the elite offensive weapons in the sport. In what was widely considered a down year for the former Marquette star, he was the league's eighth-most potent scorer and a more efficient shooter than he'd ever been before.

A two-month battle with a bone bruise in his right knee has sapped some of his explosiveness, and his stat line has shown the far-reaching effects of the injury.

Online Graphing


Spoelstra made the first momentum-changing adjustment of the series, sending LeBron James to wreak havoc from the low block in Game 3. But Vogel's next chess move, running help defenders at James in the post in Game 4, is a big reason why this series has shifted to a best-of-three format, via Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports:

Sure, there are other things that Miami can do to alleviate the defensive pressure that James is facing. He's a willing passer, and giving the Heat marksmen clean looks at the cup, their shots (for the most part) just haven't been falling.

But Miami's sharpshooters can't cause the same frustrations as a flashback performance from "Flash" could. If Wade's aggressively driving to the basket, Indiana's premier wing stoppers (Paul George, Lance Stephenson) can't keep swapping James duty and catching their breath when they're free to roam elsewhere.

Spoelstra doesn't have any other great options to man the off-guard spot. Mike Miller and Ray Allen might be better long-range shooters, but they're one-dimensional offensive threats, and both are defensive liabilities.

And don't forget, Wade's a willing, capable shot creator himself. Miami's three-point depth isn't built on the strength of the shooters alone. It's also because defenses don't know where the setups are going to come from.

Most teams would love to be in this position—love to have their season resting on Wade's shoulders. But that's assuming he's still the same player whom fans, analysts and coaches remember.

Miami certainly hopes that he is. It doesn't have any other choice at this point.