The 2013 NBA Finals series between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs is set to open on Thursday night in Miami (9 p.m. ET, ABC), and at this point there are more questions than answers regarding Dwyane Wade's health and effectiveness. After a disastrous series against the Indiana Pacers, Wade's playoff numbers have dropped to 14.1 points per game on 44.7 percent shooting, which equates to a ghastly 49.6 true shooting percentage. Everyone is now wondering if Wade can bounce back for the biggest series of the season.
The Spurs' defense was excellent during the season -- they finished No. 3 in defensive efficiency -- but they aren't quite the same beast that Wade faced with the Pacers' top defensive unit. Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have developed a reputation as a savvy team capable of exploiting weaknesses in opponents, but has San Antonio ever found a way to scheme against Wade?
Since he joined the league in 2003, D-Wade has played San Antonio 14 times and posted 24.9 points, 5.9 assists and 4.9 rebounds per contest, according to Basketball-Reference. All of those numbers are on par with his career averages, but the key statistics to note are Wade's 44.7 percent shooting and 6.6 free throw attempts per game against the Spurs.
The Boston Celtics are the only NBA opponent to hold Wade to a lower career shooting percentage, and the low free throw totals could cause problems for him again if his jump shots don't fall. San Antonio has done an excellent job of walling off driving lanes and avoiding fouls in recent matchups, as Wade has averaged just 5.5 trips to the line in the last seven meetings. They tend to go under screen to turn him into a jump shooter in pick-and-roll opportunities, so Wade will have to make an impact on off-ball cuts and in the post against Manu Ginobili and Danny Green to counter this strategy and make San Antonio pay.
In the wake of his poor showing against the Pacers, most people will look to the box score and check for 20-plus points to gauge Wade's early success against the Spurs. If his career stats are any indication, San Antonio isn't worried about giving up points to Dwyane as long as he's forced to produce those points inefficiently.
It's no coincidence that the Spurs are 9-5 against Wade and the Heat over his career. The key stats to watch in assessing Wade's true effectiveness will be his shooting efficiency and his free throw attempts. If those numbers are low, it means the Spurs are getting exactly what they want.