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NBA / May 18, 2012 / 11:45 am

Dwyane Wade & Miami Are Feeling The Heat

Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade (photo. David Alvarez)

Let’s say for argument’s sake that Dwyane Wade had scored 22 points last night on 19 shots, had one or two of his customary highlight plays and no back-n-forth with Erik Spoelstra on the bench. Even if Miami had still lost big, would we even be talking about this? This, understandably, is what’s wrong with D-Wade? Is he hurt? Is he tired? Is he – and this is the thing at the back of everyone’s mind, the thing no one wants to admit – hitting the wall?

Wade said recently he’s comfortable with his role in Miami, but as LeBron James has repeatedly shown with his failure to grasp the responsibility of closing opponents out, the Heat will probably still need their favorite son to take them home.

Now the question, after last night’s awful 5-point, 5-turnover Game 3 loss, is can Wade still do it?

Sometimes, and even though they may not teach this, stats can lie. Kobe Bryant nearly won a scoring title this year while pumping in close to 28 points a game. But you’re blind if you can’t see the changes in his game. The real changes. Elevating his play to take over in the final moments zaps everything he has when before, he could do it with a snap of his fingers. He hasn’t been the same late-game player since 2010, and that’s been obvious during the last two postseasons.

He’s not the only scoring guard who’s ever seen his numbers stay high late into his career because of opportunity and minutes, but his effectiveness dwindle. Among others, it happened to Allen Iverson. Mitch Richmond. EvenClyde Drexler. With Wade, he averaged the least amount of points (22.1 per game) this year since his rookie season. His outside shot left him. His rebounding dwindled by nearly two a game, and his free throw attempts fell off a cliff. All of this while playing a career-low in minutes.

In eight playoff games, his shooting percentage, always high for a guard, has dipped to under 43 percent. More alarmingly, his rebounding has been cut in half (down to 3.5 a game) from last spring’s postseason run, which is especially concerning given how weak Miami’s frontline is.

You’ll hear critics say he’s actually 30 years old going on 33 because of the reckless way he plays the game. That has merit. No one hits the hardwood more often than Wade. Perhaps he is just banged up from the shortened season, an ambush of constant pounding that has run down even the youngest, and strongest. But while the eight-time All-Star admits no one is 100 percent at this time of the year, that’s nothing but a hollow cliche.

ESPN‘s Michael Wallace writes:

Wade is dealing with lingering injuries that forced him to miss several games late in the regular season, and the Miami Heat guard required treatment in recent days for knee and leg soreness, sources told ESPN.com on Thursday.

Should the Heat trade Wade this summer and break up their vaunted Big Three? Impossibly early to tell. Stupidly early. Wade is Miami, and is one of the few players on that team that can stand up amidst all the boasting and chest-puffing and actually say he’s done it.

But perhaps these are the first signs Wade isn’t quite the same superstar. I still doubt Indiana beats Miami because LeBron James is easily the best player in this series, and even if he is hurting, Wade is still much deadlier than anyone else Indiana has. The two best players in an Eastern Conference Semifinal play on the same side. Even if the Heat rolled out a D-League lineup beside them – they’re currently not that far off – the playoffs are decided by the big guns, and South Beach definitely has the biggest ones.

However, if Wade were to have another rough night somewhere along the ride, maybe we shouldn’t act so surprised.

Are these the final days of Wade’s prime?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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