It’s easy to forget how good Dwyane Wade can be. LeBron James was Miami’s best player during their title seasons, and Wade’s struggled with injuries for a few years. Since LeBron took his talents back to Ohio, Wade has had the highest usage rate on the Heat in both seasons, but he’s not the undisputed alpha dog or anything. As he ages, his inability to hit an outside shot becomes more of an acute liability. Without Chris Bosh for the postseason, the Heat’s chances to make a serious run hinge most seriously on how dominant Hassan Whiteside can truly be and how well they can score against packed-in defenses.
Tonight, Wade turned in a throwback performance, and he led his team to a Game 2 win over the Hornets with 28 points and eight assists. His counting stats are decent, but it was the gracefulness with which he played that was most impressive. At his best, Wade is as smooth as NBA players get. He glides, there’s nothing jagged about him. Take this burst to the hoop in the first quarter, where he left all five Hornets looking around at each other.
Wade is also perhaps the greatest shotblocking guard ever (look at this volleyball spike of a block!), and he moved to within four blocks of Michael Jordan for the most shots blocked by a guard in the playoffs with this impressive stretch-and-swat.
Wade also had his signature turnaround fadeaway going tonight, which analytics (or a simple shot chart) would tell you is not the best use of a Heat possession. Rational, statistical analysis is cool and good, but, counterpoint:
The Heat aren’t the best team in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but they’re my favorite teams to watch on that side of the bracket. Their eight-man rotation just makes sense in a way that a lot of other teams’ lineup patterns don’t. Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow are both young and athletic enough to give the Heat easy flexibility between small lineups and big ones (any lineup with Whiteside in it is a big lineup). Joe Johnson looked about six inches taller than Jeremy Lin when he was backing him down, and he has the playoff experience to balance out the young guns’ feistier tendencies. Toss in Wade playing like it’s 2009 again, and this team is both fun and imposing.
Should they meet the Cavs, they won’t be favored, but they should have no problems adapting to opponents and staying consistent over the course of a playoff run.