- Heat vs. Bulls: Series Hub
CHICAGO – This ongoing attempt by the Chicago Bulls to unseat the NBA defending champion Miami Heat, an outsized task for an undermanned team, might be going better if Dwyane Wade were 27 years old.
True, it seems counterintuitive to suggest that a younger, healthier, more vibrant and assertive Wade – who launched an average of 22 shots a game in 2008-09 while leading the league in scoring (30.2 ppg) – might actually make the Heat less dangerous rather than more. But that Wade, even with one NBA title tucked away, still had things to prove.
He wasn’t as inclined to wrestle with his ego in those days and, when he did, he lost more than he won. LeBron James? Four and five years ago, Wade saw him as a friend, sure, but also as the competition. James would have remained so even if they had teamed up back then.
And now? Wade can laugh about taking just one shot in the first half of a playoff game played in his hometown, can joke about the “efficiency” of his 5-for-7 performance for a mere 10 points. As Game 4 against Chicago Monday drew near, Wade was fine with his numbers because the Heat’s numbers – six victories down, 10 to go in their quest to reach and win The Finals – were right where they needed to be.
Funny how much wiser 31 can be than 27.
“You only play this game for so long and, when you leave this game, what memories are you gonna have?” Wade told a cluster of reporters after Miami’s workout Sunday at a University of Illinois-Chicago gym. “The memories I want to have are memories of success as a team. That’s why you make decisions like this. It’s not easy. It’s hard.
“Would I have ever thought I’d be in a playoff game, that I’d take seven shots and hit five? Hell no. But at the end of the game, was I [ticked off] about it? Nope. We won the game, moved on, had a great dinner. Now I’m looking forward to Game 4 and hopefully having a different output.”
Hoping for a different outcome was what triggered all this. Back in 2010, four years after Miami’s Wade-and-Shaquille O’Neal push to its first NBA title, the shooting guard dubbed “Flash” by his big buddy was – whoosh! – there and gone from the postseason that spring. He averaged 33.2 points in the first round against Boston and still got bounced in five games. Wade vowed it never would happen again. Two months later, James and Chris Bosh signed on for their big-time buddy ball.
“If I was a selfish player, this team never would have been assembled,” Wade said Sunday, while sitting an arm’s length away from James, dealing with his own media scrum. “If I was a selfish guy, it would have never worked.
“Once we made a decision to play together, that first year, we both were trying to be alphas at the same time and it worked at times and it was hard a lot of times. You just had to look and say, ‘OK, what is going to be best for this team?’ I felt I was a person who’d had to play different roles before, so I understand more a little bit than LeBron how to take a back seat and be a Plan B or be a 1A.”
James’ career arc, after that blip of adjustment in 2010-11, soars again. He is at the peak of his powers and has added two more MVP awards to the pair he won in Cleveland. Wade probably never will win one. But his chances of winning another ring? Those look better than ever.
All he has to do is cope with his aching right knee – there’s no mending that till summer now – and occasional snarky stuff in the media about how disengaged and low-impact he has looked lately.
“I don’t worry about that,” Wade said. “Now if I shoot 5-for-17, it’s a different conversation. But I took seven shots. You’ve got to look at my touches, more so than anything. WhenI had opportunities. … It varies from game to game. I’m a big boy. I know I can shoot a shot any time I want to. That’s not a problem.”
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra and Wade both said the challenge against Chicago’s stingy defense is to get those five guys moving side to side and, ultimately, a little less tied together. So far, Wade has been effective at that, typically probing and drawing a second defender, then passing out to Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers or James for more open opportunities.
The Heat might run a few more post-ups for Wade, given his advantages down low against Bulls counterpart Marco Belinelli. He’s almost certain to get to the foul line more if they do, though boosting his scoring average (13.0) in the series is nobody’s priority. Not the Bulls’, not the Heat’s, not his.
“As long as we’re in position to win and we’re playing good basketball, I will never complain,” Wade said. “Even though we all to an extent have egos, we all have a little selfishness in us as humans, I’m able to take myself out of it at times and try to do what’s best for the team. Even in the moment if it don’t look good.”
As for Game 4 and what’s left of the series and Miami’s postseason, Wade said: “I wouldn’t bet that I’ll shoot seven shots again. I can’t say I won’t, but I wouldn’t bet it would be seven.”