You wouldn’t know it by the chatter, but the Miami Heat are up 3-1 against the Chicago Bulls with a home game Wednesday night. The Heat could wrap up the series in a few hours, but that’s not the focus of the conversation these days.
The buzz is all about Dwyane Wade and his bothersome right knee.
A bone bruise limited Wade to six points on 3-of-10 shooting in Game 4 after he aggravated the injury in the second quarter. Wade has been hindered by the knee for two months and he’s scoring 12.3 points per game in the postseason on 43.9 percent shooting along with 5.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 3.1 turnovers. Perhaps of more concern, he’s averaging half as many free throw attempts as he did in the regular season.
How bad is the injury? Does this jeopardize their quest to repeat? How will the Heat compensate? Here are five things to know.
1. This injury is different, perhaps less severe than last playoffs’ knee injury
It’s admittedly hard to keep track of all the knick-knack injuries from Wade at this point in his career. Last postseason, Wade needed his knee to be drained in the second round against the Indiana Pacers and eventually underwent surgery to repair it in the offseason.
It might seem this is déjà vu all over again, but it’s a different knee this time around; last postseason’s injury was to his left knee. Contrary to the volume of public concern, Erik Spoelstra has maintained that the bone bruise to Wade's right knee is less severe than last postseason’s knee issue and the team says it has not required an additional MRI after getting it checked out back in March.
2. Rest hasn’t been the cure
The decision whether to rest Wade for Game 5 is complicated by the fact that rest hasn’t seemed to help much. Wade enjoyed almost two weeks off after missing Game 4 against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, but he hasn’t been able to attack the rim and play his typical game even now. He has taken only two free throws in this series, which makes sense if he’s trying to avoid collisions that could aggravate the injury.
Wade also sat out for about two weeks in the beginning of April and missed eight of the team’s final 10 games of the regular season. Still, the bone bruise continues to bother him almost two months later. If the Heat decide to hold out Wade for Game 5 and still win, it could afford Wade at least a week off between games because the earliest the Eastern Conference finals could begin is Monday. If the Heat and Pacers don’t clinch the series in their next game, the next series will be pushed back to Wednesday.
3. It’s nice to have Ray Allen
The Heat already have invested in a Dwyane Wade insurance plan and it’s the 37-year-old wearing a No. 34 jersey. Allen was signed this offseason to help stretch the floor and give the Heat a boost off the bench, but he’s also a safety net for situations such as this one.
Allen has seen a slight uptick in minutes in the playoffs and his PER has jumped from 14.7 in the regular season to 20.6 in the postseason, thanks to an increase in his free throws, where he has shot 27-for-28. Allen, along with Norris Cole, have picked up the slack while Wade has struggled in the playoffs. Ultimately, this is the luxury for the Heat: When one future Hall of Famer goes down, another can step up in his place. Allen isn’t nearly the defender that Wade is, but he’s still as dangerous as any deep threat in the league.
4. Wade can still play
As most coaches would do to stick up for their star player, Spoelstra has gone on the defensive since Wade aggravated his knee injury in Game 4, making it clear that he and the team are not concerned about it. At one point during his Tuesday news conference, the coach frantically grabbed the lectern with two hands and dramatically opened his eyes wide, mocking the media and fans’ panic about Wade’s depleted point totals. Spoelstra also pointed out that Wade is a team-high plus-49 in the plus-minus category during the series, saying, “I don’t care about anything else.”
Spoelstra has a point to an extent. Wade has completely abandoned attacking the basket off the dribble, which is a problem. But he’s more or less the same player in other facets of the game. His assists have been up in the playoffs and his defensive impact hasn’t been hampered nearly as much as his scoring ability. Then again, he’s guarding Marco Belinelli. Speaking of which …
5. The Wade concern isn’t about the Chicago series
This is the most important thing about Wade’s injury. The worry about Wade’s health isn’t for this series, not when the Heat are playing a wholly compromised Chicago Bulls squad. Spoelstra has defended Wade by citing his plus-minus in this series, but it’s mostly irrelevant in the bigger picture when the Heat’s future opponents will be All-Star teams compared to this Bulls team.
Sure, it might be a cardinal sin for coaches and players to talk about the road ahead in the playoffs, but really, that’s what’s important here. In his current state, Wade won’t be able to hide as easily offensively against, says, the Pacers defense, which ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency during the regular season and completely stifled the Knicks’ high-powered offense in the playoffs. The Pacers can make the Heat pay if they aren’t at full health. The Bulls can’t.
Wade has shown in the past that he can bounce back after widespread qualms about his health, so until proved otherwise it makes sense to give him the benefit of the doubt. The Heat can get away with a limited Wade against the Bulls (LeBron James is pretty good). But there’s no question that his knee injury has hurt the Heat’s chances to repeat. If it didn’t, then what does that say about Dwyane Wade?