At this point in their journey, LeBron James can read Dwyane Wade’s face and know if he’s about to get the best out of the Heat’s shooting guard.
So it was during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. James turned to Wade in the midst of Miami’s blowout of the Indiana Pacers and said, “You look different today.” He played differently, too. Wade’s 21 points arguably were the difference in the Heat advancing to the NBA Finals or going belly up.
In Game 1 of the Finals, the Spurs challenged James’ teammates (Wade and Chris Bosh, specifically) to beat them. They couldn’t. Wade had four points in the second half and Bosh, while scoring just as many points as James in the game’s final two quarters, took four more shots and missed a key three-pointer with a minute left in the fourth quarter. For the Heat to right the series Sunday, the team probably will need greater offensive support from James’ supporting cast.
And for James, that all starts with Wade’s face.
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“What I tell D-Wade is when he’s most in tune with the game, I can see it on his face,” James said. “I think his face just shows where he’s at in the game. I don’t know if it’s maybe his knee or maybe frustrated at times or maybe he’s just not in the rhythm. But I can see it on his face when he’s there.
“That’s what I told him, even if sometimes you’re not in the rhythm, I need to see your face that you’re in tune and you’re ready for the next possession and ready to move on from whatever is going on.”
But therein lies what James likes to call the Catch-22. Wade is fully engaged when he has the ball in his hands, but giving the ball to Wade takes the offense away from the best player in the game. It’s something the Heat will have to figure out before 8p.m. Sunday, because to hear James tell it, the key to the series for Miami is Wade.
“For me as one of the leaders of the team who has the ball in his hands a lot, I have to do my part as well to help [Wade], I guess, get that face, where he feels like he’s involved, and where he feels like he’s a part of everything that’s going on, both offensively and defensively,” James said. “And it helps us out. When his energy level is high, his motor is going — and his face is, he feels like, he looks like he’s in tune — we’re a really, really powerful team.”
Making things easier for Wade will be one of James’ goals in Game 2. A rhythm shooter, Wade sometimes only needs a dunk or a layup to spark an offensive surge. In Game 1 on Thursday, Wade started the first quarter with a dunk and went on to score 13 points in the first half.
“I think it’s more important for [Wade] than anyone on our team … as far as getting him an easy one, seeing the ball going in and pick up his aggressiveness,” James said. “When you’re a scorer, the best thing for you to do is to get an easy one, a dunk or a layup, and it makes the game much easier for you.”
Of course, it’s no secret that emotion is the one of the foundations of Wade’s game. It always has been. He plays better when he’s expressing himself on the court. Wade admitted Saturday that earlier in the playoffs, he let the pain he’s experiencing in his knee affect his “mind-set.” It showed in his stat line. Entering the Finals, he was averaging 14.1 points per game in the postseason.
“Sometimes it’s just the way you look, it’s the way you act, it’s the way you feel,” Wade said. “Your body is not going to get any better at this point — at all. The way you approach things can change.
“And I just changed my approach the last couple of days. I’m starting to enjoy it a little more. It’s changed a little bit, my mind-set.”