After their sideline dustup in a 94--75 loss at Indiana last Thursday, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Dwyane Wade met privately at the team hotel to hash out their differences and cook up ways to get the struggling Wade better looks. We need you, Spoelstra told Wade. On Sunday, Wade delivered with 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists, helping Miami tie the second-round series at 2--all with a 101--93 win.
Wade and Spoelstra are cool, which is good because the Heat can't survive without a major contribution from its 6'4" shooting guard. The absence of Chris Bosh, out indefinitely with an abdominal strain, has made superlative performances from Wade and LeBron James—whose stunning line on Sunday included 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists—mandatory. The 6'11" Bosh has been criticized for being the weakest link of the Big Three, but he is an irreplaceable part of the Heat. Miami initiates its offense through Bosh close to 40% of the time, and he is a threat to score from the low post to the elbow to the top of the key. Miami thrives on the pick-and-pop with Bosh, a 49.5% shooter from 10 to 15 feet this season, according to hoopdata.com. "We could just throw the ball into him, and he could create some offense for us," says forward Shane Battier. "Now we are much more reliant on Dwyane and LeBron to put pressure on the defense."
The Heat's biggest headache has been 7'2" Pacers center Roy Hibbert. With Bosh on the floor Hibbert would be forced to respect the screener, taking size away from the rim and making it easier for James or Wade to get the edge. Without Bosh, says Hibbert, "I can wander a little bit more and make the paint look a little more crowded and block more shots."
Spoelstra has been adjusting his offense on the fly since Bosh was injured during Game 1 of the series. Pick-and-pops have been replaced by pick-and-rolls, with Miami hoping to get a few baskets out of big men Ronny Turiaf and Joel Anthony by pushing them toward the rim. (They combined for 35 points through the first four games.) The fast break has stagnated, largely because James has been forced to stay in to rebound instead of run out in transition. The Heat has had to revert to a give-the-ball-to-LeBron-or Wade-and-hope-they-make-a-play half-court system that infected the offense during the 2010--11 season. Too often the ball has stopped moving: In back-to-back losses in Games 2 and 3, Miami averaged 10.0 assists; in the regular season it averaged 20.0. In Game 4 the Heat had 20.
There is no changing the current lineup; Alonzo Mourning isn't going to walk through the door. But there are players who can make a difference. There is Udonis Haslem, a mini-Bosh with a sweet stroke. The 6'8" forward shot 53.8% from 10 to 15 feet last season, a number that plummeted to 25.9% this year. He played just seven minutes in Game 3 but knocked down four jumpers in the last 5:56 of Game 4. There is also point guard Mario Chalmers, who can put up points in bunches (25 in Game 3) but whose defensive lapses make him a liability down the stretch.
Unless Bosh is able to return, it will be the LeBron and Dwyane show, but a little help could go a long way toward extending Miami's season.
ILLUSTRATION BY JEFF WONG