Dwyane Wade Needs to Get Heat into East Playoffs
OK, here’s what we know about Dwyane Wade: There’s nothing wrong with him physically.
In case you weren’t watching his gold medal-winning Beijing Olympics performance, when he led the Americans by averaging 18 points per game while shooting 72 percent from the field – off the bench, by the way – then Monday night’s showing should’ve provided some validation about his offseason surgeries.
With his Heat trailing by double digits midway through the fourth quarter against a Nets team that didn’t allow him to do anything in the first half, Wade sliced through the teeth of Jersey’s defense – even hitting some 3-pointers – to end up with 19 points in the final quarter, 33 in the game, and a five-point victory.
Here’s what we don’t know about Wade, though: Can he do that throughout the entire course of an 82-game season?
No, not the taking-over-quarters-and-coming-up-big part. I mean guide a young, unproven team while being the clear-cut leader.
It’s a legitimate question. I mean, we’ve never seen him do it. Come to think of it, he’s never had the opportunity.
In Year 1, after being drafted fifth overall out of Marquette, Wade was the forgotten man in the powerhouse 2003 Draft. Yes, he peaked late in the season and gave us a glimpse of his greatness against the Hornets in the playoffs, but Wade didn’t come into that team as the focal point like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony did. Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and, to some extent, Eddie Jones and Brian Grant were the established guys on that squad.
We all know what happened after that. Shaquille O’Neal came to the Heat, his big shadow spread all over Miami, Wade eventually carried the team on his back in the 2006 Finals, and questions still followed shortly thereafter.
I call it the O’Neal syndrome.
Believe me, nobody has watched – and rewatched – those Finals like I have, and I can tell you this: I’ve never seen anybody dominate a series the way Wade took it to the Mavericks. But despite how irrelevant O’Neal was offensively, the amount of space in the lane he created and the attention he demanded from a stubborn Avery Johnson can not be overlooked.
So, despite the fact Shaq was on the decline of his career and Wade was, shall I say “Jordanesque,” Flash still has that footnote next to his name that says: “Played with Shaq.”
Now, there’s only one way to take that way: He has to lead this young, undersized group to the playoffs.
Is the phrase “has to” a bit too demanding? I don’t think so. Not when you think of how high his stock rose when he averaged nearly 35 points per game and completely sucked the life out of Mark Cuban in the Finals. At that point, he was considered in the company of Kobe Bryant and, although many don’t like to admit it, he had surpassed LeBron.
It’s amazing how much difference a couple of years makes.
After he missed 31 regular season games in each of his next two seasons, suffered a first-round sweep to the Bulls in 2007 and had a terrible following season – when the Heat finished an abysmal 15-67 – Wade was slightly forgotten.
Now, he has to somehow carry his team to a top-eight finish in the Eastern Conference.
He has to because LeBron has done it several times. And he has to because, even on a team that’s not expected to compete for a championship, Wade’s current wing man, Shawn Marion, is better than any No. 2 guy LeBron has ever played with in his career. And guess what? He isn’t even the second-best player on his own roster. That title belongs to the super-talented Michael Beasley.
And, lastly, he has to in order to get back into at least the conversation – Kobe is still the greatest – of being the NBA’s best player.
East is better
But it won’t be easy.
Although the East is still far less talented than the Western Conference – or at least not as deep – there are pretty much six playoff spots already solidified. The Celtics are the class of the conference; the Pistons and Cavaliers will be there; the 76ers and Raptors are two of the best young teams in the league – don’t buy Philly’s slow start – and the Magic are even better.
That leaves two spots to be fought over between nine other teams – considering the Hawks don’t keep this early run up. Of those nine, the Heat have the best player. And if Wade is going to once again be in the conversation of being the best player among 30 teams, he’ll need to do what he’s never had to do – or been in a position to do – and completely carry a team on its back for an entire 82-game season.
Is he up for the challenge?