One week before the end of the regular season, Miami Heat superstar LeBron James spoke about the importance of the team having a healthy Dwyane Wade for the playoffs.
Now we know why.
Wade, an 11-year veteran who missed nine straight games late in the season while nursing a sore left hamstring, hasn’t shown any indications that his health is a concern.
Even after Lance Stephenson’s bold comments last week when the Indiana Pacers’ guard told reporters that Wade’s knee is “messed up” and that he got to be “more aggressiveness and make him run,” Wade hasn’t been anything short of magnificent in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Through the first two games versus Indiana, Wade has been the Heat’s top scorer, averaging 25 points while shooting a career playoff-best .531 percent from the field.
To his credit, the 32-year-old Wade undoubtedly has complemented the play of James during such a critical stretch in the season.
Such was the case in Tuesday’s pivotal Game 2, a game the Heat desperately needed after their sporadic performance in the final’s opener.
Wade, continuing what has been a super-efficient season despite missing 28 games due to an assortment of injuries, scored 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting to help Miami tie the series against the top-seeded Pacers at one game apiece with an 87-83 win. Wade and James combined for 22 of Miami’s 25 fourth-quarter points, including the team’s final 20.
Most importantly, the win allowed the second-seeded Heat to seize home court as the series shift to Miami’s American Airlines Arena for the next two games, starting with Game 3 Saturday night at 7:30 CST.
That Wade — who averaged 19 points per game in 54 regular-season appearances this year — has played a significant role in the Heat’s success of late is exacting what James had been stressing heading into the playoffs.
“It’s very important,” James told MemphiSport during a recent interview, when asked to assess the health of the former Marquette star. “Obviously, he’s one of our Big Three. We’ve won two (consecutive) championships for the most part because our Big Three were on the floor.”
Miami center Chris Bosh who, along with James, joined Wade at South Beach in July 2010, said when healthy, Wade could potentially emerge as the most dangerous player on the floor.
“I mean, he’s our second option,” Bosh said. “When you miss a player like that, you’re going to feel it. And in order for us to be successful, he has to play well. He’s the guy we rely heavily on defense and offense.”
Especially on the offensive end, where Wade has provided the Heat with some much-needed energy, particularly with the game hanging in the balance.
Wade, in fact, was just as impressive in the decisive fourth quarter of Game 2 against the Pacers when he scored 10 points, a display that was highlighted by his reverse two-handed slam off a dish from James in the waning moments that sealed it for the two-time defending champs.
“The way I look at, LeBron James’ presence alone makes most teams a title contender,” ESPN Miami Heat reporter Michael Wallace told MemphiSport Friday in a telephone interview from Miami. “But with Dwyane Wade, he puts them over the top. There’s a reason LeBron James came to join Dwyane in Miami and now we’re starting to see it.”
With the best-of-7 series shifting to Miami and a chance for the Heat to put a stranglehold on the upset-minded Pacers, the biggest question now is whether Wade’s heroics can be sustained.
So much for the dauntless comments about his health.
“It’s not going to be Lance Stephenson bringing out the best in Dwyane Wade,” Wallace said. “It’s Dwyane Wade who’s going to bring out the best in Dwyane Wade. So what we’re seeing is Dwyane Wade at his peak right now.”
A late-season resurgence James and Co. were expecting days before the playoffs began.
“We’re a more dynamic team when (Wade’s) out there,” James said.
Now we know why.