Life is good for the Miami Heat right now.
The Heat swept the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round of the postseason, guaranteeing them at least six days of rest before their second-round matchup with a yet-to-be-determined opponent.
The Indiana Pacers, thought to be their biggest competition in the Eastern Conference, are on the verge of one of the greatest collapses in league history, as they are one loss away from being eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks.
The only other two Eastern Conference teams that most thought had a chance to knock off Miami before the NBA Finals haven't fared much better. The Chicago Bulls were knocked off in five games by the Washington Wizards, while the Brooklyn Nets are tied 2-2 with the Toronto Raptors and appear awfully vulnerable.
The Heat are in a fantastic position right now to get out of the East. With the competition they are to face, Miami could likely stick to the same game plan it employed against Charlotte for the next few rounds and make another trip to the Finals.
But (yes, there is a but) it's not just about going to the Finals for this team. As has been the case for each year of the Big Three era, this season will only be deemed a success if LeBron James and Co. hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Looking at it through that prism, the Heat need to make an adjustment. It's necessary for them to achieve the elusive three-peat.
Miami must get Dwyane Wade rolling and playing elite basketball, which he's done throughout his illustrious career.
Wade performed decently against Charlotte in Round 1 after missing nine of the Heat's last 12 regular-season games.
In Game 1, Wade looked fresh and saw results; he poured in 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting.
However, Wade's play in the final three games of the series was anything but impressive: 15 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the floor in Game 2, 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting in Game 3 and 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting in Game 4.
Think about it this way: Wade's scoring output (15.6 points) and efficiency (43.2 percent shooting) in the final three games of the Bobcats series were worse than his numbers in the 2013 postseason, when he posted by far the worst postseason numbers of his career (15.9 points on 44.7 percent shooting). Wade was also significantly bothered by knee issues in last year's postseason, which isn't a factor this year.
From Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun Sentinel:
Wade said, 'I don't know how many other ways I can answer it. I mean, I am. That's it. I just feel different than I did last year at this time.'
The lack of production from Wade is partly a product of Miami not asking him to do much of the heavy lifting, likely due to the Heat wanting to protect the health of their fragile superstar.
But it can't be ignored that he simply didn't play well. Wade showed a significant amount of growth in his mid-range jumper this regular season, even while he was routinely held out of games, his health closely managed. He made 70 of 170 shots from 15-19 feet away from the basket in the 2013-14 season, according to NBA.com. Compare that to him converting just 4-of-18 from that same range against Charlotte.
Check out his not-so-impressive shot chart for the Charlotte series:
Additionally, part of what makes Wade great is that he's a versatile player. He's not just a scorer, but able to contribute strongly in the other areas of the game.
Unfortunately for Miami, Wade was more one-dimensional than usual against the Bobcats, averaging 3.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists. In the regular season, he averaged 4.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists. And this is the postseason, where one would expect Wade's number to increase, not shrink.
There's just no avoiding it: The Heat are going to need a better Wade, playing in rhythm, if they are to win a third straight league championship.
That's something they don't have right now and can't wait to fix it.
Miami can't just breeze through, say, the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards playing as it did against the 'Cats, get to the Finals and expect Wade ready to help it knock off whichever Western Conference juggernaut emerges.
The Heat must give Wade a bigger offensive role, starting in Round 2. Miami is really going to need his scoring and distributing skills toward the end of the postseason. Also, perhaps more offensive involvement will lead to more production in other facets of the game.
The Heat tried something similar in the '13 playoffs, with it being, for the most part, a failure. As much as the Heat tried to make him a factor, Wade could not get in rhythm and perform well.
However, as we've detailed, this postseason is unlike last year's. Wade is healthy; he's capable of handling a greater workload, rather than drowning in it.
It's time to let Wade go to work, allowing him to once again prove his many critics wrong and help the Heat achieve ultimately glory.
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