Nobody’s going to forget that the Miami Heat have the best player in the world on their team. But even though LeBron James will always give Miami a chance to win games, people are quick to bring up Dwyane Wade‘s health as a chief concern for the Heat’s chances of a threepeat. From what we’ve seen 19 games into the season, those naysayers may be right to do so.
In 19 games, Wade has already missed five of them. Whether it’s because his knees have been bothering him, or because he just needed to rest, or because he was feeling ill (which was the case last night when the Chicago Bulls routed Miami, 107-87), Wade’s been about as healthy as a Portland Trail Blazers No. 1 draft pick. Sure, we’re only 19 games into the season. But that still means nearly a quarter of the season is under our belts. Isn’t it a little disconcerting that the Heat have been on cruise control so far while their second best player still hasn’t really shown up this year?
Even when he has played, Wade hasn’t looked like his normal self. He’s posted respectable averages of 18.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 steals, which are by no means scrub numbers. But other than the steal column, those are Wade’s least impressive numbers since his rookie season. Between the games he’s missed and a decrease in production from what Miami’s used to from their star shooting guard, Wade’s health is slowly morphing into a bigger concern.
Credit Derrick Rose for choosing to repair is meniscus instead of remove it, because if he manages to come back in the future, we’re getting a good look at the kind of chronic knee injuries he’ll be avoiding. Wade has said many times how much he regrets choosing to remove his meniscus back in 2002, but those regrets will multiply tenfold should the Heat fail to deliver a threepeat while he’s forced to watch from the bench.
This is a worst-case scenario of course. Nobody wants to see the NBA without its stars and Dwyane Wade is among the brightest. But this trend of sitting out games Tim Duncan-style (“DNP – old”) is somewhat worrisome for a guy who’s still only 31 years old. LeBron is one of the greatest players we’ve ever seen, but this team isn’t good enough to beat the Indiana Pacers without Wade healthy. Since the Eastern Conference is mostly playoff fodder to this point, the season will likely come down to an Eastern Conference Finals rematch.
Here’s the hope behind Wade resting so much already: With Erik Spoelstra putting Dwyane Wade on the Gregg Popovich plan, the Heat have the ultimate goal in mind – a championship. This team has always been a second half team. They have the ability to flip the switch, almost on demand, and win in the playoffs. By limiting Wade in seemingly meaningless regular season games, they’re (hopefully) preserving him for the playoffs.
There’s just one problem with that. Although it makes sense to save Wade for the playoffs when they need him most, at some point “flipping the switch” won’t work without first establishing that regular season chemistry. At some point, playing on cruise control will catch up with them. And based on the way Indiana is tearing through the league, Miami could have a hard time catching them for the best record in the East, especially sans Wade on a nightly basis. The Pacers took Miami to the brink last season when the Heat had home-court advantage; the prospect of facing an improved Pacers team that has home-court advantage should give Wade and company worse nightmares than a Kevin Durant dunk.
Are the Heat in trouble yet? Not even close. The East is so weak that Wade could miss the whole season and I’d still like Miami’s odds of nabbing the No. 2 seed in the conference. But because of how hard it is to threepeat in the NBA, Wade’s health is a growing concern with every game that he misses. There’s still plenty of time for Wade to rest up and get healthy. But just like Miami’s tendency to half-ass the first two or three quarters of games and play down to their competition, Wade’s knees are something to keep a watchful eye on.