- Heat vs. Bulls: Series Hub
MIAMI – Never let ‘em see you wince.
That has been Dwyane Wade‘s mostly successful approach since suffering a deep bone bruise to his right knee against Orlando in early March. Heck, that has been Wade’s approach more or less since he reached the NBA and got busy with that fall-down-578-times, get-up-579 business.
The Miami Heat star shooting guard has had good days and bad days since initially injuring the knee. He has aggravated it, pampered it, fought it, ignored it and, through Miami’s first eight games this postseason, made peace with it. It’s not getting noticeably better, it’s not forcing him to miss significant time in the Heat’s quest to repeat as NBA champions. Stalemate.
Until the second quarter of Game 4 against the Chicago Bulls Monday night at United Center, anyway. When Bulls defender Jimmy Butler banged knees with Wade, Miami’s guy lost in the collision. The pain showed on Wade’s face and he quickly subbed out, getting some treatment and a fresh taping on the Heat bench. He returned and scored six points in the third quarter – but they were his only points of the night and Wade played just 2:39 in the fourth, compared to LeBron James‘ nine minutes and Chris Bosh‘s six down the stretch of the blowout victory.
After Wade’s 10-point performance on 5-of-7 shooting in Game 3, he and coach Erik Spoelstra reminded reporters of Wade’s adjustment and growing deference to James over the past three years. It wasn’t exactly a cover story but it was a diversion, a tale of teamwork and chemistry fit for a two-day break between games.
But after Wade’s 3-of-10 effort in Game 4, a tale of noble motives gives way to the urgency of his injury, his prognosis and timeline for healing and his availability not just for what’s left of this series – the Heat lead the Eastern Conference semifinals, 3-1, with Game 5 Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena – but what’s left of Miami’s title defense.
Spoelstra got defensive on behalf of his star and friend when talking with reporters, as chronicled by the Sun Sentinel’s Shandel Richardson:
“He’s helping us win right now,” Spoelstra said Tuesday. “OK. One of these days boxscores will have your plus-minus impact and maybe eventually people will start to look at a boxscore differently and eventually a new generation of fans, the media, staff will see that’s the most important one and he’s having that impact.”
The Heat have lost just once in the playoffs despite Wade averaging only 12.3 points, nearly nine below his season average. After Monday’s six-point effort against the Bulls, he is averaging 11.3 points in the series.
Wade, 31, ranks fourth in scoring for Miami this postseason and isn’t even the top scoring Marquette product in the series (Butler, 23, is averaging 12.8 for Chicago). But that’s the sort of comparative stuff that rankles Spoelstra.
“I understand the interest level in it, but what you dislike about team sports is people lose sight of the main thing being the main thing,” Spoelstra said. “Dwyane’s proven himself as a warrior, he’s helping us win and at the end of the day we’re up 3-1 with a chance to close out. We knew going into this series that it wasn’t going to be about averages and that was one thing we had to have a discussion about before the series.”
Wade is considered day-to-day, though a guess at his status for Game 4 might be possible, based on the previous round. The Heat were comfortably in control through three games against Milwaukee, so Wade sat out the finale of that sweep. As undermanned and overtaxed as the Bulls are, skipping Wednesday’s game could be the smart option, allowing maximum treatment time before Miami faces the eventual winner of the New York-Indiana series in the East finals.
It’s not as if Wade hasn’t missed time with injuries previously or that the Heat struggle in his absence (they were 12-2 this season when he did not play). Even if his knee doesn’t heal completely in the coming weeks, he’ll do what he can to play through it.
The Bulls, however, don’t have enough firepower or depth to make a diminished Wade a serious problem. That might change in the next round or in The Finals. Also, nagging injuries can sometimes lead to the same outcome as debilitating ones, as James talked about after Game 4 Monday. Remember his aching right elbow and how much attention that got in his final playoff run with Cleveland?
“It lingered throughout the whole playoffs,” James said. “You just try to go out there and give it all you got. It sucks because you know you can do things that the injury isn’t allowing you to do it.
“I know what he’s going through.”