CHICAGO -- Most of the unusually low numbers from this game should delight Heat fans. Those numbers stunk up this city Monday night and all but required the Bulls arena to be immediately fumigated following this NBA playoff series Game 4 here. Those numbers were Chicago’s meager 65 points scored on abysmal 25.7 percent shooting — both owing largely to a Miami defense that is that good, yes.
Two other unusually low numbers should give a Heat fan pause moving forward in this postseason. Those numbers were Dwyane Wade’s six points Monday on 3-of-10 shooting, on a right knee that isn’t right and might not be as Miami chases a second NBA title in a row.
Shooting pain and a shooting guard are not a friendly combination.
A wincing Wade removed himself at one point from his scoreless first half. A bandage on his bruised knee was removed and replaced, then encased again in a black elastic wrap before he returned to the court.
“Just shooting pain,” he described it casually after the Heat stomped Chicago 88-65 for a 3-1 series lead heading back to Miami. “It hurts, but we were able to retape it and come back. It’s frustrating, but you try to do what you can.”
Wade and his health have become the great wild card in the Heat’s run to repeat.
You will otherwise get from Miami what you got Monday night: a bedrock of LeBron James’ greatness — he had 27 points, eight assists and seven rebounds — and the fundamentally rugged, at times suffocating defense that this club considers its identity.
Miami took early command and siphoned the sound from the home crowd; the loudest thing in the arena was sideline reporter Craig Sager’s violet crushed velvet jacket. As the clock ran away from the Bulls, their fans turned this place so quiet you could hear a chin drop.
Wade is the big mystery. He is what you cannot count on from game to game anymore, not because he is 31 now and not because he defers to James now even when healthy. It’s that knee. It has changed who he is able to be.
And the unspoken reality is this:
Miami didn’t need Wade at all to waltz past Milwaukee in the first round, when he rested the final game of a four-game sweep.
Miami obviously doesn’t need Wade’s A-game to get past a game but lame Chicago.
But Miami will need more from Wade, chances are, than the 12.3 points per game he is providing thus far in the postseason. It will need something far closer to Wade being far closer to himself in the next round and then in the Finals.
Can he be?
“He’s not the same guy!” cried TV analyst Charles Barkley at halftime Monday.
Well, no duh, Chuck. Of course he isn’t. … But can he be?
One star guard in this series, Chicago’s Derrick Rose, politely declines to play through the pain and compete on a knee he doesn’t quite trust.
The other star guard in this series, Miami’s guy, is doing both.
It is admirable. But right now Wade has become almost a decoy out there, someone unable to compete with the frenetic pace. You see it in small snapshots. Like in Monday’s fourth quarter when he was fed an alley-oop pass for a would-be dunk but could not climb high enough to get it. Or later when Wade had a jump shot blocked by Taj Gibson.
Wade is having trouble creating his own shots right now. He did not get to the free-throw line at all Monday.