CHICAGO -- There will never be a question about how much Dwyane Wade has given the Miami Heat in his career.
He carried them to one title, bit his lip when several years of his prime were sacrificed on rebuilding, sold the team to LeBron James and Chris Bosh so they’d join him then relinquished his beloved and earned alpha status so James could carry the team to another title.
This dossier has been properly recognized and he’s been afforded plenty of praise for it.
But it can also be used as a crutch and that’s what has been happening so far in the Heat’s postseason.
Wade will explain that he’s being unselfish and his coaches and teammates will back this up with vigor. Sometimes coach Erik Spoelstra will almost be accusatory to the questioner when someone probes how little Wade seems to be producing, explaining just how smart and unselfish Wade is playing.
The party line is that James, Bosh and even Norris Cole are thriving and the Heat are up 2-1 on the Chicago Bulls because Wade is willing to take just seven shots, as he did in Game 3, and not make an issue of it.
“He’s showing a great maturity in this series,” Spoelstra said. “He’s playing very, very intelligent.”
Let us, however, address the elephant in the room. Wade isn’t playing well and he’s hurt and won’t talk about how badly hurt he is. The Heat probably can get past the injury-riddled Bulls with Wade playing a shadow of himself. But if they’re going to win two more series to repeat as champs, it will probably require Wade to return to some semblance of his form.
When the Heat are at their absolute best, it’s because Wade’s relentless offensive attacking combined with James makes them nearly impossible to defend. When they're feeling good, Wade and James strike fear in opponents at the mere hint of a fast break.
When they won 27 games in a row in February and March, Wade was fantastic, averaging 23 points and shooting 54 percent. He even pulled off the feat of beating out James for a player of the week award in that span. It was not unlike last season at this time, where the one-two action Wade and James delivered knocked out the Indiana Pacers’ upset bid when Bosh went down with an injury.
That is the championship Wade and the championship Heat. And simply, in his first six games of the playoffs, Wade has not been himself and is making a minimal impact. He’s averaging just 13.3 points and shooting just 46 percent. And the Heat have not been themselves against the Bulls.
Wade will not talk about the severity of his right knee injury, just like he wouldn’t talk about how bad his left knee was bothering him during the playoffs last season. It seems like it’s costing him explosion because he’s not getting to the basket. He has taken just two free throws in the first three games against the Bulls.
“I’m a big boy, I know I can shoot a shot any time I want to,” Wade said. “When I have the ball I try to make the best play. It’s all about winning to me. When you’re on a team like this you don’t know what night your opportunities are going to come. It’s different from game to game, it’s different from lineup to lineup. As long as we’re in position to win, I will never complain.”
This is where Wade will then talk about how he might miss taking 20 shots a game, as he did when he won the scoring title on an average team in 2008, but he doesn’t want to play that way. He’ll talk about how in 2010, when he was the alpha dog and the Heat were bounced from the playoffs by the Boston Celtics, he vowed never to let that happen again even if it meant slicing off a huge piece of influence by inviting James aboard.
“I had some things to prove five years ago, now I just want to prove I can win,” Wade said.
“I ask myself 'What memories do I want to have?' I want to have memories of winning. Did I think five years ago I would play in a playoff game and take just seven shots? Hell no. At the end of the game was I pissed about it? Nope. We won the game, I moved on and I had a good dinner.”
Again, this is admirable. No one questions that if James was playing for the Bulls right now, which was possible, that Wade would be the man carrying the Heat. And the Heat would be the underdog.
The Bulls, of course, are playing a role in this. They are a strong defensive team and they’ve focused on trying to take away Wade’s post game, which is his go-to when his legs aren’t feeling the best, because they seem to know Wade can’t beat them off the dribble at the moment.
But it isn’t just about the defense, Wade averaged 20 points on 58 percent shooting against the Bulls in the regular season when they were much healthier. Much of this series Wade has been guarded by Marco Belinelli, who is not the team’s best defender.
Several Heat players and Spoelstra said they need to get Wade more involved. Obviously him taking just seven shots in Game 3, just one in the first half, was alarming. It figures getting him more active will be a part of the plan for Game 4.
At least it should be. Other than finishing off the hellacious Bulls, getting Wade into some sort of rhythm again has to be the team’s top priority as the Heat look ahead in the postseason.
“I wouldn’t bet I would shoot seven shots again, but I won’t say I won’t,” Wade said. “I’m not concerned about that. If I was worried about my numbers I wouldn’t be here in this position.”
But someone should start to worry about it.