It has been like clockwork over the past few years; Dwyane Wade struggles with injuries, leading to discussion about the demise of Wade and the Miami Heat. Then, Wade steps up in the playoffs and the Heat make a run to the NBA Finals.
The questions about Wade's health have reached a fever pitch this season as Miami goes for the first three-peat since the Shaq/Kobe Lakers won three in a row to start this century. The Heat star has missed 15 games this year with various ailments, but his troublesome knees have proven to be the biggest problem.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has insisted from the start that many of the missed games are part of a long-term plan to preserve Wade for the postseason. It's a plan that makes sense because the Heat don't necessarily need Wade at his best to enjoy success in the regular season considering two guys named LeBron James and Chris Bosh are still in the fold. And we all know by now the regular season doesn't mean much to Miami anyway.
It certainly is understandable to worry about Wade. While he may be on a "rest" program, missing more than a quarter of the season to this point would seem to indicate the knees remain a major issue.
However, as it was the last few seasons, it would be a major mistake to write off the 32-year-old.
When Wade has played, he has still shown that ability to be a star player that can carry a team for stretches. Wade may not be the "Flash" of old who could shoulder a heavy burden at all times, but when needed, he still has that extra gear he can hit.
Two of Wade's best performances this season have come against the Heat's top competition. Early in November, Wade put up 29 points and seven assists while shooting 13-of-22 from the field in a 102-97 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. Wade scored 11 points in the fourth quarter of the victory, and his 29 points fell just one shy of the 30 points scored combined by James and Bosh.
Wade was at his best again in a mid-December showdown against the Indiana Pacers. Trailing by 11 at halftime, Wade led a second-half charge that resulted in a thrilling 97-94 Heat victory. Wade scored 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the second half, notching nine points in both the third and fourth quarters. For the game, the three-time NBA champion had 32 points on 15-of-25 shooting. So yeah, when he's on, he's still one of the most devastating offensive forces in the league.
Wade was voted into the All-Star Game for the ninth consecutive year, garnering the most votes out of Eastern Conference guards. It's Wade's 10th straight appearance in the All-Star Game, and this is fourth out of four years that he'll be joined by the two other members of "The Big Three."
One can make the argument that Wade doesn't really deserve to be an All-Star starter due to the amount of games he has missed, but when he has played, he's clearly been at an All-Star level. For the season, Wade is averaging 18.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists. While the scoring may be down a bit, it's not for a lack of efficiency. Wade is shooting an impressive 54.8 percent from the field, which would be a career-high. Because he's not the player he once was, Wade now does a better job of picking and choosing his spots to attack, leading to that robust shooting percentage. Taking fewer threes while hitting at a better rate is also helping matters.
As it stands, it's debatable whether or not Miami is the favorite to three-peat. Indiana is going to be an awfully tough out, while the Oklahoma City Thunder are looking title-worthy despite missing their second-best player. The Heat faced a ton of adversity in the 2013 postseason, and they're sure to face plenty more in the upcoming playoffs.
Wade's knees could be a major part of that adversity, but if a more refreshed Wade shows up in the playoffs, the Heat's demise will be put off once again.