The Dwyane Wade of these playoffs isn’t the one from the regular season or from last year’s postseason. He is scoring more, shooting better from anywhere on the floor and in short, isn’t a problem for the Miami Heat and LeBron James like he was for certain stages in the NBA finals against the Spurs the first time around.
Wade is averaging 19.3 points per 36 minutes in this postseason compared to 16.1 last year. He is shooting 51.9% from the field compared to 45.7% and his 3-point numbers make him seem like a special kind of sharpshooter. Last postseason he hardly took shots, averaging 0.2 attempts per 36 minutes, while he is taking 1.2 this time, hitting 38.9% of them compared to 25% last season. Against a team that clogs the paint and doesn’t allow a lot of space and driving lanes, the ability to shoot is crucial.
For the first three games in last year’s Finals series, the Spurs forced Wade to become a jump shooter. The Heat were actually better when he wasn’t playing, and LeBron James, at least until the series finish, did a lot better when Ray Allen and Mike Miller were playing next to him, forcing the San Antonio Spurs to spread their defense, give up on Tiago Splitter. Suddenly, Kawhi Leonard defending James wasn’t as efficient.
It’s not like Wade didn’t play well. He had a huge game 4 with 32 points and scored 23 points in a big game 7 for both him and LeBron James. But he didn’t take a single 3-point shot in last year’s finals. Just like Chris Bosh, who has said he has given up on scoring in the paint or the post most of the time because 3-point shooting brings one more point with each made field goal, Wade tries to stick to his strengths, which is scoring close to the basket.
But Wade is different, maybe more than anything physically. After resting him and being careful with his minutes throughout the season, we didn’t see him inhibited and limited in the playoffs. Paul George or Lance Stephenson didn’t humiliate him like in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Wade might not be the guy from before his knee problems, but it’s hard to find anyone doing a better job as a number two guy for the best player on the planet.
The Heat have what it takes to once again test the Spurs’ ability to defend a team with shooters. Wade isn’t exactly Kyle Korver, but his 3-point shot will have to be respected. LeBron James is shooting 35.6% from beyond the arc this postseason, and now the Heat have Rashard Lewis to use in the lineup (if they’ll go that way in the opening game) next to Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers. It’s not going to take 3-4 games realizing how to attack the Spurs’ defense this time.
The Heat don’t have ghosts of game 6 and 7 haunting them, and they’re not the ones looking for revenge. It’s not true to say they have nothing to lose or less pressure on their shoulders. There’s always something new to prove and new critics to silence, and there are plenty of those waiting to see the Heat lose. But Wade doesn’t seem like a hindrance this time. He’s healthy (or healthier) and a bit more balanced in his game, which means the Spurs need to count on someone else being a liability.