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Dwyane Wade Reminding Everyone Miami Heat Are More Than Just LeBron James

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Dwyane Wade Reminding Everyone Miami Heat Are More Than Just LeBron James
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Is it a coincidence that the Miami Heat have the best player on the planet and each of the last two NBA titles?

Not in the least.

But Miami's championship strength comes from its numbers, and not just those standard-setting ones that LeBron James seems to put up in his sleep.

The Heat have a collection of superstars, a label that fans and analysts have been all too eager to strip from Dwyane Wade. The 31-year-old might require more careful monitoring than he used to, but he's still an elite force whenever his body allows him to be one.

It's during those moments of brilliance—that come more often than people realize—that the basketball world is reminded that Miami is so much more than a one-man show. Reminders that shouldn't be needed at this point.

 

Caution, Not Panic

The Heat know better than anyone that the NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint. This franchise has made a finals appearance in each of the last three seasons, playing nearly a season's worth of games (67) in the postseason alone.

So Miami's doing the right thing by taking a cautious approach with the 11-year veteran. Wade's 2013-14 campaign has become 82 game-time decisions made by him, Miami's training staff and coach Erik Spoelstra.

Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

"We talk about how I’m feeling, then kind of go from there," Wade said, via ESPN.com's Michael Wallace. "It’s really no perfect way to feel it out. It’s really no schedule; just kind of feeling things out."

That feeling-out process has been tough on the player and his team. Wade his missed six of Miami's 25 games, and his absences have been glaringly apparent. The Heat are 16-3 with him and just 3-3 without.

But there's a method to this madness. There are flashes of the preservation plan's success.

When he's not watching from the sideline, Wade looks nothing like an aging, hobbled player. He pumped in a season-high 32 points during Miami's 97-94 win over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, the latest example that the not-so-old man hasn't lost his touch:

It's not just his box scores spurring this optimism around him. It's the way he's gone about compiling those statsheets.

While analysts are challenging his body, Wade's busy challenging interior defenders. He's playing with both aggression and efficiency:

He's exploiting driving lanes and working his way to the charity stripe (6.5 free-throw attempts per game in December, up from 5.3 in November). He's hit at least 60 percent of his shots in six of his last nine games. He's frustrating shooting guards at one end (14.4 player efficiency against, via 82games.com) and keeping highlight reels spinning at the other.

If these are his twilight years, the rest of us can only hope our descent is this much fun.

His 19.9 points per game rank 20th in the league. He's one of only three players (along with James and Blake Griffin) to have a top-25 scoring average and a field-goal percentage above 50 (career-best 54.0). He and MVP candidate Chris Paul are the only players averaging at least 19 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals on the season.

All of this from someone who's supposedly nothing more than damaged goods. Hard to believe, isn't it?

Wade's knee problems aren't a myth. They've been bothering him since before he ever set foot on an NBA floor.

But the Heat are doing what they can to manage them. With a roster that goes as deep as this one, Miami has a luxury few other franchises have experienced.

 

Starts at the Top

James isn't the first transcendent talent to hit the NBA ranks, and he won't be the last. But the basketball world—the sports world as a whole even—has never seen another player quite like him.

Players aren't built the way he is, and I'm not talking about his freakish collection of size, speed and strength.

He's a selfless superstar, a dominant offensive force more than happy to share the spotlight. Some players make their teams relevant simply by their presence; James has made Miami a dynasty by elevating the players around him.

Thanks to team president Pat Riley's genius, the King has found plenty to work with since infamously taking his talents to South Beach in 2010.

Wade and Bosh have All-NBA ability with or without James' help. They're the best second and third wheels in the game and more than capable of shouldering the load on a rare off night from James.

Miami's collection of shooters is bursting at the seams. There are offensive specialists (Ray Allen, Michael Beasley), cerebral defenders (Shane Battier) and a band of hustlers (Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem, Norris Cole) in the supporting cast. Not to mention the league's biggest question mark in 7'0", 250-pound center Greg Oden, a former No. 1 pick who's still battling back from a series of knee injuries that almost (knock on wood) ended his career.

Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

James is the perfect player to lead this team, and the roster is the perfect group to follow his lead.

The offense comes from some pretty reliable sources, but there are a number of different helping hands that can reach in the pot. Beasley's hit double digits in seven of the 14 games he's played. Allen hasn't lost his automatic stroke, at least not when Miami has needed it most.

Teams often talk of taking the next-man-up approach in the face of adversity. But the Heat are one of the few that actually have spare bodies capable of meeting that challenge.

James deserves the attention he gets. Ditto for Wade. Both are elite talents who had their Hall of Fame tickets punched long ago.

But this isn't a solo act, a dynamic duo or even a talented trio. It's an NBA championship team up and down the roster.

It starts with that headline-grabbing four-time MVP, then trickles down on those two superstars sacrificing stats and opening themselves up to critics in pursuit of the greater good. The rest of Miami's pieces follow suit, and soon all players are moving as one.

One methodical offensive machine. One swarming, suffocating defense.

One team standing on the doorstep of the league's first successful three-peat in more than a decade.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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