Dwyane Wade’s rescue of the Miami Heat earlier this week was Hollywood script perfect, too good to be true yet real, a soaring tale of nostalgia, redemption and hope.
It even took on a soundtrack when coach Erik Spoelstra, spot-on, quoted a Toby Keith country song lyric to describe his guy’s Monday heroics:
“I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good, once, as I ever was.”
Dwyane wasn’t quite that, no. Midrange fallaway jumpers have replaced dynamic bursts to the rim — acrobatics that made you go, Wow! Still, Wade certainly was as good as the Philadelphia 76ers ever want to see him.
But here’s the thing moving forward in this deadlocked NBA playoff series, starting Thursday night with Game 3 at the downtown bayside arena.
The Heat had better not rely on that again. They’d better find other ways to win and count on other players to get there, or Miami’s postseason run won’t survive the first round. The Heat wrestled home-court advantage away from Philly, but the Sixers still should be considered series favorites, assuming they get their best player Joel Embiid back from injury, maybe Thursday night or very soon after.
Wade should be a luxury at this point in his career, not the necessity he was Monday for the Heat. He has moments left. Spurts. A huge shot. A timely steal. Moments. But it wouldn’t be reasonable to depend on Wade always or even often being able to climb into the cockpit of Doc Brown’s DeLorean with its flux capacitor and travel back in time as he did in that serendipitous Game 2 spree.
Miami Heat's Erik Spoelstra says 'playoffs are not about comfort' during the team's practice at AmericanAirlines Arena on Wednesday, April 18th, 2018.
It is too much to ask of Wade, at 36, that he take over games like that. It is too much to ask of a player whose legs don’t get him to the rim the way they once did.
“I’ve had my day in the sun,” as Wade himself said following Wednesday’s practice. “I’ve showed you guys 30, 40 points two games in a row. I’ve done that. I’m done proving to people. I don’t need to.”
So right. The idea that Monday night might be the last time we ever see him so completely take over a game on his own seems every bit as likely as the idea that Monday began a sustained Wade surge that will carry this team through this first round and beyond.
Help him, please. Somebody else, por favor.
In Game 1’s blowout loss the Heat’s best player by far was Kelly Olynyk off the bench. In Game 2 it was vintage Wade (even though Gabby Union doesn’t like ‘vintage’ applied to her husband).
The Heat moving forward is going to need the heavy lifting to be done by theoretically its two best players, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, and collectively by a deep bench that led the NBA in scoring the second half of the season.
Dragic was this season’s lone Heat All-Star, albeit as an injury replacement. Whiteside is being paid ($98 million over four years) to play like a superstar.
Miami Heat's Hassan Whiteside says, "I don't get caught up into my scoring... I just care about winning" after practicing with his team at the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami on Wednesday, April 18, 2018.
The Heat relies on work rate, defense and depth and provides Spoelstra with lots of options. Any of six or seven guys could be playing leading man on a given night, as Wade did Monday.
Dragic must lead, though, and Whiteside must show up in a sizable way by proving he merits more minutes. The Heat needs much more aggression, especially offensively, from their 7-foot center.
Spoelstra, asked what he wants from Whiteside, said Wednesday, “Activity, activity, activity. Force, force, force.”
The chance might increase when Embiid returns. Even as is, though, Miami could use more Whiteside to offset what has been Philly’s clearest advantage this far: offensive rebounding and second-chance points. “They’re absolutely burying us on the glass,” as Spoelstra put it.
Embiid? His return will magnify that.
“Hell of a player. A go-to guy,” Wade described Philly’s center. “When the game gets down to two [points’ difference], they have a player they can go to.”
Miami needs that beyond what Olynyk gave in Game 1 and Wade in Game 2. James Johnson has been terrific in both games. But otherwise? Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and Wayne Ellington are a combined 21 for 64 shooting (32.8 percent) in the series so far.
Rise up, somebody. Rise up, everybody.
Because when your best player is a 36-year-old off the bench, that is not a sustainable business model. It hits all the warm and fuzzy notes because Wade is so beloved here, but it actually is not a good sign for the Heat — especially juxtaposed against the athletic youthfulness and vibrant future of the Sixers.
Wade saved the Heat on Monday night.
It will be a very good sign if they don't need him to again.
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