I can already see the hashtag making its comeback. The twitter hashtag that gained some notoriety in basketball circles, specifically in Miami, could be making its return following the Miami Heat’s 98-93 win over the Denver Nuggets.
When a team wins their first game at a location they haven’t won at in nearly a decade without a specific player, you’re bound to find some who are going to jump to a drastic conclusion. Playing without Dwyane Wade, and Mario Chalmers for all but seven minutes, the Heat led by LeBron James were able to win their first game in Denver since January 29th, 2002. James was still in high school the last time the Heat won in the Mile High City.
James paced the Heat with 27 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds, three blocks and a steal in 42 minutes. He hit a few critical baskets in the final minutes to stave off a frantic Nuggets comeback that cut a 19-point deficit to one with five minutes remaining. It was LeBron making baskets and creating baskets, he had the dagger assist on a corner three-pointer by Norris Cole, and helping to salvage a road trip that’s featured difficult wins in Houston and Atlanta, as well as embarrassing losses to Memphis and the L.A. Clippers.
A win against a Phoenix team the Heat dropped 124 points on earlier in the year would have them finish 4-2 on their most difficult road trip of the season.
Wade’s replacement for the night was Mike Miller. The oft-injured swingman had barely played to that point, but put on a clinic converting 4-of-8 from beyond the arc to finish with 12 points. With Wade sitting out, the offense focused mainly around James and the team’s plethora of three-point threats. Miller wasn’t the only shooter who thrived, as Shane Battier made six three-points. Ray Allen, Cole, and Rashard Lewis each had one to enable the Heat to finish 13-of-27 from beyond the arc.
It’s tough to argue against those type of results. With Wade out, the Heat had nothing but perimeter threats on the floor. Cole, who replaced Chalmers at the point, Miller at shooting guard, Battier at power forward and Chris Bosh at center. Four players that can shoot the ball from 20-feet out and beyond, all thriving off of James’ dribble-penetration and his ability to make defenses collapse in order to take attention away from beyond the arc.
Surprised at all that James’ 12 assists were his high for the season? The lineup he was surrounded by Wednesday night is his bread-and-butter when it comes to facilitating. There’s no need for a complex offense. Just let LeBron be LeBron either in isolation or in pick-and-rolls, let him drive and attract defenders and then kick-out to whichever lucky contestant that gets a wide-open shot to pad their stats.
Although it took James playing 42 minutes, the Heat also had to deal with the rare circumstance of Bosh playing poorly. The power forward recorded only 14 points and three rebounds, barely two weeks after dropping 40 points on the same Nuggets team. It’s obvious to see coach George Karl made obvious changes to his defense in order to stop Bosh, which is also part of the reason why guys like Battier and Miller had field days.
Nevertheless, the point is the Heat somehow managed a win, despite playing without two starters, including Wade, getting outrebounded 48-29 and giving up 50 points in the paint. The Heat are now 2-0 without Wade with a 95-89 win over the Atlanta Hawks providing the first win without Wade.
For the game in Denver, it was a foot injury that kept Wade out. However, abysmal performances in Memphis and Los Angeles could have been used as valid reasons too. The perennial All-Star scored eight points on 15 shots against the Grizzlies, while allowing Wayne Ellington to have the game of his career, and then managed only six points on ten shots to go along with five turnovers in the loss to the Clippers.
Outside of the season-opening win against Boston where he scored 29 points on 22 shots, Wade has put up relatively pedestrian numbers. He had 22 points apiece against Brooklyn and Phoenix, and those represent the only other times he has scored over 20 points this season. Yes, Dwyane Wade has nearly as many games where he scored in single-digits than he did scoring over 20 points.
He’s currently averaging career lows across the board: 16.9 ppg, 4.9 apg and 4.1 rpg. He’s also shooting 47 percent from the field and 17 percent from beyond the arc. His PER is at 19.26, which puts him out of the top 50. Wade is currently behind the likes of Anthony Morrow, Luis Scola, Jordan Hill and Ramon Sessions in the PER rating and he’s only four points above the NBA average.
Amongst shooting guards, Wade is 11th in PER. He’s behind the likes of MarShon Brooks, J.R. Smith, and even his backup in Ray Allen.
This isn’t exactly the type of start anyone expected from Wade. Knowing how well he responded to the surgeries in the 2007-’08 season when he would come back and lead the league in scoring, it was believed that Wade would come back with more hop in his step and similar lift to what he had before. Even at the age of 30, it wasn’t believed that Dwyane could ever appear to be this mortal.
I mean, getting blocked at the rim by Eric Bledsoe? I’ve seen Dwyane Wade dunk over Emeka Okafor, Kevin Garnett, Anderson Varejao and Kendrick Perkins. Clearly we are in a parallel universe where nothing makes sense. A universe where Wade has come across as more of a liability than a beneficiary. His backup in Ray Allen at the age of 37 is posting the stats of a starter, and even Mike Miller aids to stretch the floor when he’s inserted into the starting lineup.
When it comes down to it, however, the Heat are going to need Dwyane Wade if they have any hope of winning a second consecutive title. Unless they convert Chris Bosh into being a strong second option that can consistently garner at least 20 points per night, there is still going to be a need for Wade; not just for his scoring abilities, but for the strong defense he provides at the two and the strong chemistry he emits when working with LeBron James, as we saw on full display in the Heat’s Game 4 win over Indiana last year.
Let Wade get his rest now, especially for this upcoming against Phoenix. The Heat get an extended rest following the road trip, which features them not playing against until a Wednesday matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks. Life gets a bit easier for the Heat with games against Cleveland, Brooklyn and Washington awaiting with tough contests against San Antonio and New York also awaiting.
There’s no need to rush Wade back, which is why inserting him into the starting lineup against the Clippers wasn’t one of coach Spoelstra’s brightest ideas. Treat the regular season as the regular season and allow Wade to get the time off he needs to fully recover from whatever is ailing him, so that this Heat team can begin performing at full-strength with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh devastating opponents.