What Miami Heat Need from Dwyane Wade During NBA Playoffs

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What Miami Heat Need from Dwyane Wade During NBA Playoffs
Lynne Sladky

Dwyane Wade is the key that starts the Miami Heat's transmission. Without him, the Heat offense moves like a Prius. With him, it cruises like a Maserati on Biscayne Boulevard.

Unfortunately, we haven't seen a whole lot of that this season. Wade has been on a maintenance program to keep him fresh for the NBA playoffs.

Now that the postseason is here and one game is in the books, the Heat will need Wade at his season peak to win another title.

Last season, Wade was beaten up by the time Miami played the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. His inability to score and defend consistently pushed that series to seven games. Wade missed 31 games this season, mostly due to rest and preparation for this run. 

In Miami's first playoff game, Wade scored 23 points on a series of post moves and drives that made all of the time off the court seem worth it. The Heat beat the Charlotte Bobcats decisively, with Wade and LeBron James leading the way. The plan is for Wade to cook that up every game.

The stats don't back up Wade's importance at first glance. According to NBAwowy.com, Miami averages more points per possession without Wade. His net rating, player efficiency rating, real plus/minus or whatever impact stat you prefer are nothing special.

Even on his own team, his offensive and defensive ratings are the middle of the pack.

With some digging, though, you can start to see the impact Wade has. NBAwowy.com indicates that Miami shoots a higher effective field-goal percentage and true shooting rate when Wade plays. Heat opponents also score fewer points per possession and at a lower rate when Wade is playing.

The differences are merely decimals that don't add up to much. Within a game that often comes down to a few possessions, those decimals could be the difference between winning and losing—ring or no ring.

With that said, measuring Wade's impact with numbers would be doing him a disservice. His sample size is small compared to those of past years and wildly inconsistent.

For example, if you measured his plus/minus in his last two games, the Heat would be minus-15.5 points with him on the court. Why? Because he was playing with a group of reserves while LeBron James and Chris Bosh rested the final week and the Heat mailed it in just before the start of the playoffs.

On a team with multiple injuries and almost 20 different starting lineups over the course of the season, there are plenty of stretches like this.

To really see how Wade helps his team is to actually watch. That will tell you what the Heat need from him.

Without Wade, LeBron bears a heavy load on offense. The James-to-Wade passing parade is replaced by a James isolation party. Rather than a series of beautifully executed plays predicated on the rhythms of James and Wade's off-ball movement and gravitas, James is left to clearing the left side of the floor.

Wade's cutting adds another dimension to the Heat's offense—an unpredictable and dynamic one. Wade's cuts are often not by design, but spontaneous moves to take advantage of an out-of-position defender. 

In the video above, Indiana's defense is sucked in by the gravity of James. Wade sees the opening and makes the perfectly timed cut.

A team can watch film and practice against plays during playoff practices, but it can only hope that Wade, healthy and spry, doesn't pounce when he sees an opening.

On defense, Wade is an atomic bomb. His help defense is second to none. Look how much ground he covers on this Houston Rockets possession before blocking the shot. 

As for what he can do in the playoffs, this next clip is one of the best defensive plays I've ever seen in the playoffs.

After James gets caught up in a Tim Duncan screen meant for Chris Bosh, Tony Parker rounds the corner and has an open road to the basket before Wade ditches his man, Kawhi Leonard, in the opposite corner and runs over to contest Parker's shot.

The athleticism is one thing, but watch for when Wade starts his help defense.

He recognizes that James is about to get caught up and Parker has a huge opening at the same time as Parker sees it. Parker is looking for something just like this and Wade sees it too while also covering Leonard on the opposite side of the floor.

This is the sort of thing Wade brings to the floor and the Heat need from him. These little, game-changing things that the stats don't always fully account for.

That block didn't come from a 7-footer standing near the rim. That block came from a guard covering two guys and the full width of the court. His points on that cut didn't come on a contested jumper, but from a savvy cut that is always threatening.

That stuff gets in opponents' heads and leads to things like this:

Ray Allen is wide-open because James sets a mean screen on Jeremy Lin and any potential help defenders are watching Wade dribble the ball. 

We already know Wade, a future Hall of Famer, can fill up a box score. However, that's not what Miami necessarily needs from him.

In the playoffs, it often comes down to a few possessions. The impact Wade can have on a possession by either cutting through a defense or blowing up an opponent's scoring opportunity could be the difference between winning and losing.

 

Statistics are courtesy of NBA.com/Stats unless otherwise noted and accurate as of April 20, 2014. Follow Wes on Twitter @wcgoldberg.

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