If your team's managed to make it all the way to the NBA's conference finals, it's no doubt due at least in part to consistently finding the slightest of strategic advantages—in the X's and O's, sure, but in the game's more extracurricular domains as well.
Trash-talking, veiled media swipes, whatever.
And that's great, to a point—and until that point finds you spouting off in public about it.
Lance Stephenson: "D-Wade I think his knee is kind of messed up so I got to be extra aggressive & make him run…make his knee flare up."— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) May 17, 2014
More Lance on D Wade: "...Tell coach to run ‘floppy,’ make him running around, make his knee flare up or something."— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) May 17, 2014
Let's get one thing out of the way first: The game of basketball is, by its very nature, designed to take a heavy toll on one's body, particularly at as sustained a level as embodied by the Miami Heat's All-Star shooting guard.
Whether players want to admit it or not, the very act of trying to "destroy" or "burn" one's opponent is part and parcel with compromising their physical stability.
You just don't often see players outwardly hoping for that outcome.
Here's the Palm Beach Post's Jason Lieser with some helpful context:
Wade’s knee appears to be doing well after a season-long maintenance program to preserve it. He also seems to have fully recovered from the strained hamstring he suffered in late March. He played through an unspecified injury in his right hand in the second round against Brooklyn and says it is a non-issue.
Wade is averaging 17.9 points, four assists and 3.6 rebounds per game in the playoffs while shooting 50 percent from the field.
He and Stephenson have some history and more of it will develop as they go head-to-head in this series. Last time they played each other, March 26, Stephenson was ejected after receiving two technical fouls — the latter of which came from taunting Wade.
I suppose you'd like to see a talkie of said incident. Fine:
Owing to this being the teams' third consecutive playoff showdown (the Heat won the last two en route to a pair of titles), bad blood is basically a given:
"...I ain’t got no problems with them but on the court, it’s no friends." - Lance Stephenson on rivalry w/ #Heat— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) May 17, 2014
At the same time, Stephenson clearly understands the magnitude of his matchup with D-Wade. By taking out or consistently neutralizing any of the Heat's Big Three, thereby putting the pressure on LeBron James to essentially win the series himself, Indy gives itself perhaps the best possible chance at an epic upset.
But while Stephenson has done a decent job of at least holding Wade in check on offense, he hasn't exactly made the man pay at the other end:
For all of Indiana's strange struggles and weird path back to the conference finals, this series promises matchup intrigue galore—not only between Wade and Stephenson, but LeBron and Paul George, and Roy Hibbert and the Miami interior as well.
The two teams' starting shooting guards are quite clearly in the midst of disparate career trajectories, but that doesn't mean Miami's is ready to make his way to the retirement home just yet.