IN MY OPINION

Dan Le Batard: Dwyane Wade must be copilot or Miami Heat going down in flames

 
WEB VOTE Is LeBron James to blame for the Heat being tied 1-1 with the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals?

Dlebatard@MiamiHerald.com

The past clouds the present predicament, and makes it so the future somehow blends both faith and fear.

On the one hand, we have seen Dwyane Wade resurrect himself after public burials, and against this very team no less, to end Indiana’s season just last season.

On the other hand, the tough Indiana Pacers have all the things — size, defense, athleticism, youth, fearlessness — one would need to upset this Heat team if Wade isn’t going to be Wade.

So what do you believe is closer to the truth?

Your faith?

Or your fear?

The answer to this really can’t be to just keep asking LeBron James to do more. How many times are you going to demand the greatest be greater? He is in a Miami uniform in the first place because of how tired he was of that request.

James was amazing Friday night. Candid Indiana coach Frank Vogel said after the game it is one of the best games he has ever seen played by one man. And the Heat still lost at home. When does that ever happen? How about never? In his three years here, James has never scored that much, that efficiently, and lost at home. Not once. So this Indiana team survived the four-time MVP’s best punch because the four-time MVP didn’t have enough help.

James was literally gasping for air in the fourth quarter, something you rarely see, having played more minutes than anyone in the game and having to guard that bull David West on the defensive end. That might have had something to do with James producing two turnovers in the game’s final minute, something that has never happened to him before in a playoff game. James might be the best decision-maker in the history of this business, a fast-twitch calculator of efficiencies on the fly, but you can’t be defending West on one end and carrying Wade on the other while playing more minutes than anyone on the floor and expect the end of Game 1 more often than the end of Game2.

Here are the damning things:

The Pacers have shot more free throws in each of the first two games of this series. That’s not how Miami wins. Miami tilts the game’s math in its favor by being more efficient than the other guys, by getting more points per possession, and you do that by attacking the rim for close-in shots and/or taking free throws when the opponent has to foul to stop you. In extinguishing the Pacers last year, the Heat shot more free throws in all but two of the six playoffs games. And the biggest disparity for Miami was five fewer free throws than Indiana — the game, not coincidentally, Miami lost by 19.

That’s when the howling started around Wade for the first time ever in this city, really. Wade smiled last week when talking about the burden he and LeBron agreed to share when merging. He acknowledged that the yelling and screaming wasn’t really shared at all, that LeBron got the bad end of this shared-burden merger … until that Game 3 against Indiana last year. That’s the worst any of us has ever seen Wade play. Two for 13. Passive. Yelling at his coach. And you remember what he did the game after that. Made 10 shots in a row in the second half of Game 4, changing the series by scoring 30 points. Of course, LeBron had, um, 40, in that one — and was doing a great deal of the feeding to Wade for easy baskets, too.

But what if Wade simply can’t play that style anymore in this condition? We have seen precious little proof in these playoffs that he can. He isn’t exploding. He has shot a total of seven free throws in these two games. Whether it is the Eurostep or splitting the double-team at the top of the key with a burst, the danger of Wade has always been near and around the rim. When was the last time you saw him have the explosion to split a double-team? Without that ability, he offensively becomes too much like another jump-shooter on a team that has enough of those, and not a great one at that, and makes the burden so heavy on James that he is gassed on both ends by the finish, weakening both Miami’s offense and defense in late-game situations. Wade was supposed to be able to carry the offense for at least a few minutes so that James could get his rest. That isn’t asking too much, but it was Friday night.

Consider this: In the series that ended Indiana’s last season, Wade had 14 free throws in one game, 13 in another, 10 in another. You know how hard it is for him to get double-digit free throws in a game now? He hasn’t done it once this month. He did it just once in April. And he didn’t do it once in March. In other words, he did it three times as much against the Pacers last year in six playoff games as he has done it in the past three months. Which would suggest that maybe he can’t do it. And that changes Miami’s options and offense against an elite defense like Indiana’s.

It makes Indiana the team playing the more efficient style near the rim with Roy Hibbert and West exploiting their size advantages, and George testing a wounded Wade, and it turns Miami’s offense into one that is taking too many shots far away from the rim. That’s how a totally broken Chicago team won Game 1 in Miami and almost won Game 5 here, too. Indiana is only 1,000 times better than Chicago.

The best-of-7 format removes some randomness and rewards the better team by reducing statistical outliers, the math tending to even out in a way that would suggest that Indiana’s offense won’t remain this good and Miami’s role shooters won’t remain this bad. Paul George is a 42 percent shooter, inefficient. He has made half his shots in this series, many with Wade trying to guard him. Hibbert averaged 12 a game on 45 percent shooting, god-awful for a big man, but he is 19 for 33 in this series and scored 19 in Game 1 and 29 in Game 2. In other words, Wade’s new normal can still be offset by Pacers reverting to their overall normal.

However, Hibbert said after Game 2 that the Heat might be the champs but that the Pacers were coming for them. Given the results in two games, it sounded less like a threat and more like the God’s honest truth. Maybe it won’t be this year. But these young guys are coming. You saw it on Friday night’s most symbolic play, George soaring right past an exhausted James to dunk on the head of Chris Andersen. It can happen that fast in this game, one play announcing your arrival, new replacing old. Wade knows. He did it to Baron Davis once upon a time in the playoffs back when Wade felt not unlike George does now.

Faith or fear?

Faith or fear?

Faith or fear?

Faith tells you that Miami is the best team in the world, and has the best player in the world, and that was just one fluke play in one fluke game.

But fear sees it as a symbolic metaphor, George rising and taking off as Wade is on his way down.

This is a crucial time for Miami’s future beyond this year. James in all likelihood stays here if big winning stays here. But if Miami somehow doesn’t win the title this year, all that noise will return. The critics aren’t dead; they are merely in hiding. They will return loudly if this Miami team only wins one championship in three years. The blueprint will somehow feel like a disappointment again then because these guys didn’t get together to win just one title.

Wade built this thing.

Miami will need more of his help to save it.

Read more Dan Le Batard stories from the Miami Herald

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