It wasn’t clear if Dwyane Wade was unaware how soon he’d be playing again — less than 38 hours after leaving the visiting locker room in Charlotte — or, more likely, if he’d chosen to ignore any information unrelated to completing Friday’s critical task. Either way, as he processed the challenges of playing Game 7 at 1 p.m. Sunday, to accommodate the NBA’s television partners, Wade did strike up a solution.
“Maybe I’ll just stay taped,” Wade said, smiling.
In all seriousness, the early start isn’t ideal for Miami’s closer, who benefits not only from more time in between tipoffs but also from the normal preparation routine that comes with night games. So, as he enters his seventh Game 7 in his 13 seasons — with a 4-2 record, a 21.7 scoring average and 40.7 field-goal percentage — somebody else on the Heat better be ready to help him.
So who will it be?
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Hassan Whiteside? He’d never played in a playoff game prior to this past fortnight, and he’s averaged 13.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks, while shooting 73.3 percent from the field, in the six games so far. But he’s also been disrupted and distracted by the officials at times, including Friday’s disqualification with 2:54 remaining.
Goran Dragic? He’d never been a playoff starter until this series, and that has shown at times, as he’s struggled to contain Kemba Walker while finding his own pace-pushing game. His second half Friday was promising, as he had several good possessions until the Heat got the game back to Wade, but he’s never played in a Game 7.
Neither have rookies Josh Richardson or Justise Winslow, of course. Both were exceptional in elimination games in college — Winslow averaged 14.7 points and 9.3 rebounds during Duke’s six-game 2015 NCAA Tournament title run and Richardson averaged 22 points and eight rebounds with 50 percent shooting in Tennessee’s two games in the SEC tournament, after he averaged 18.8 points on 61.7 percent shooting in Tennessee’s four NCAA Tournament games in 2014. But Richardson’s status is unclear after injuring his shoulder late in Game 6, and Winslow’s minutes have been trimmed of late.
Luol Deng? He’s been Miami’s most consistent two-way player in this series, averaging 19.7 points and shooting 51.4 percent from three-point range, which will certainly make him some money on the open market; worry about the Timberwolves under new president and coach Tom Thibodeau. He’s certainly not shown to be fearful of any situation. But, while Deng’s Bulls played in two Game 7s during his time there, he missed both (a 2009 loss to the Celtics and 2013 win against the Nets) because of injury.
There is someone, however, with as much experience as Wade:
Well, Udonis Haslem, of course, though he’s likely to again have a limited role.
The other guy is Joe Johnson.
The 15-year veteran has had mixed success, with Everest highs and deathly Valleys.
It didn’t start well. He was 5 for 17 for 16 points in the Hawks’ 34-point loss to a much better Boston team in the 2008 first round.
“They killed us,” Johnson said. “But that’s the year they won the championship.”
But then, in 2009, the Hawks and Wade’s Heat went the distance, and Johnson actually had the better finish: He made 10 of 19 shots for 27 points, while also recording five rebounds, four assists and five steals in an easy win.
“That was a pretty good one, because I struggled that whole series,” Johnson said. “And I probably had my best game in that Game 7.”
In 2010, Johnson had just eight points on 4-of-14 shooting in Atlanta’s rout of Milwaukee in Game 7 of the first round. And then, in 2013 against the Deng-less Bulls, he went 2 of 14 and scored just six points in Game 7, as his Nets lost at home by six.
In the first round in 2014, he made plenty of big plays to push the Nets past the Raptors, in a Game 7 on the road: 26 points on 11-of-25 shooting.
“That was probably the most special, because it was on the road, hostile environment,” Johnson said. “And man, down the stretch, we were huge. It was the loudest place I’ve ever played in. I couldn’t [bleeping] hear myself breathe, think or nothing. That was probably the best one.”
No better basketball feeling than ending somebody’s season.
“Knowing that one team has to go home,” Johnson said. “So for us, to have a Game 7 on our home floor, I think we’ll take that.”
The Heat took him in this season, after his buyout from Brooklyn. He’s had a decent series — averaging 11 points while shooting 49 percent from the field, including 47 percent from long range. But Miami needs more than efficiency to advance.
It needs more impact.
The Heat may not get his best Game 7, better than what he gave against Miami in 2009.
But his best performance of the series?
With the start time, this seems the right time for that.