Road to Threepeat: Heat Need Wade in Top Form

If this three-peat thing is going to become a reality, it is clear the Heat are going to need Dwyane Wade to make it happen.

Sure, Lebron James is the best player on the planet and in the league, but Wade is needed to reduce the attention and pressure that James will face for the duration of the Heat’s playoff run.

You can throw out all of the stats, too. The postseason is not about regular season stats and Wade has been used this past season in a way he hasn’t been used before. The Heat have had to juggle starting lineups all year in part because of a policy to rest Wade on back-to-back nights. With the playoffs, that no longer is an issue. Wade is cleared to play and is looking healthier than he has in past playoff marathons.

To make the point, just use the eyeball test. Wade’s ability to cut, work out of the post, and even spread the floor has the Heat offense working like the high-potent threat is was in previous years. Wade is normally an efficient scorer, and not reliant on volume. According to the stats on NBA.com, Wade uses 27.6% of the team’s offensive possessions when on the court (James uses 30.9% and leads the team). With a FG% normally in the 50s, this will help increase the Heat’s offensive threat. Not to mention Wade’s ability to play off the ball and create havoc for defensive assignments who have to keep an eye on him at all times.

The team defense is much more coherent with a healthy Wade, too. He has to be one of the best help defending guards of all time with a penchant for blocking shots. Most of it is recognition and competitiveness – not just athletic prowess. At his age, and mileage, Wade has to pick his moments but defense really comes down to effort and positioning and Wade has the experience and confidence to excel.

Having a healthy Wade adds a lot to the dimension of this team. If the Heat are going to three-peat, they will need the man who helped bring the first-ever title to the franchise playing like he did back in 2006.

 

FINAL GAMER: With 82 in the books, Wade called it a “grueling” regular season while Spoelstra called the Bobcats a ‘worthy’ first-round opponent

And now begins the second season.

The Heat limped and tripped and rested and yawned its way through a regular season that came to a thankful end on Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Dwyane Wade called it the most “grueling” schedule the Heat has faced since 2010, and that’s saying something, considering Wade sat out 28 of those games.

A throwaway 100-87 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers stood as the final measure of the final tune-up before the Heat begins preparations for its first-round opponent, the Charlotte Bobcats. The last time the Heat traveled to Charlotte for a playoff game (2001), the Queen City was still on its first NBA franchise, the Charlotte Hornets. That group moved to New Orleans, and now Charlotte’s latest professional basketball team is owned by Michael Jordan.

An odd rivalry has always simmered near the surface between and Jordan and James, which might stand as the most interesting component of this first-round matchup. After all, since James arrived in Miami, the Heat hasn’t lost to Jordan’s Bobcats. The first game of series is schedule for 3:30 p.m. on Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Potentially awaiting the Heat in the second round is the winner of a first-round series between the No.3-seeded Toronto Raptors and the No.6-seeded Brooklyn Nets. For obvious reasons, a series between the Heat and either one of those teams would be appealing.

Heat forward Chris Bosh used to play for the Raptors, and he has already noted how “insane” Toronto’s Air Canada Centre would be for a series against the Heat. A second-round matchup between the Heat and Brooklyn would create plenty of buzz.

The Heat, which finished the season with 54 wins and 28 losses, rested James, Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen, Mario Chalmers and Rashard Lewis for game No.82 and coach Erik Spoelstra started Dwyane Wade with Toney Douglas, James Jones, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem. Of that group, only Wade and Haslem are expected to contribute significant minutes to start the playoffs.

James and Bosh rested the Heat’s final two games of the regular season and will have a full week of down time before the playoffs.

“I can’t say I was necessarily thinking that or planning that 10 days ago with how the season was going…but the way it turned out, sure, I feel good that they’re both able to get a couple days off,” Spoelstra said.

Wade played in his third game since returning from a hamstring injury suffered on March 26. He finished with a team-high 16 points in 23 minutes. All things considered, Wade said the Heat had a successful regular season.

“We’ve had a lot of different moving parts this year, and a lot of things that have been really different, obviously, with me missing games and other guys missing games …and our schedule was a little more grueling than it was the last couple years, a little bit more challenging from that standpoint,” Wade said. “I wouldn’t look at it and say we were bored with the NBA season at all. We did a pretty decent job with what we had.”

Michael Beasley, who played what could have been his final regular-season game with the Heat, left in the third quarter with an apparent ankle injury. He finished with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field.

And then there was the significance of Shane Battier’s start. Battier has hinted that this will be the final season of his career. If so, he played in 977 games over a 13-year career with 705 starts. He needed 36 minutes on Wednesday to reach a milestone of 30,000 minutes for his career. He played nearly 40 minutes and finished with nine points, going 3 of 4 from three-point range.

Greg Oden returned from back spasms and a stomach illness to play in his first game since March 26. He logged 14 minutes and had two points and five rebounds. He hasn’t conditioned much since injuring his back.

“I haven’t been able to do too much crazy pounding just because we didn’t want to do anything to make sure it didn’t flare up any more,” Oden said. “We did as much as we could to keep it at a good distance. We will see. That’s all I can say.

Heat’s complete first-round playoff schedule

The Heat and Bobcats will begin their first-round playoff series at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, and then will not play again until Wednesday, April 23.

After the first two games of the series in Miami, the Heat will travel to Charlotte for Games 3 and 4. Game 3 will be played at Charlotte’s Time Warner at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Game 4 is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday.

Here’s the complete first round schedule:

Sunday: vs. Bobcats, 3:30 p.m. AmericanAirlines Arena
Wednesday, April 23: vs. Bobcats, 7 p.m. AmericanAirlines Arena
Saturday, April 26: at Charlotte Bobcats, 7 p.m., Time Warner Cable Arena
Monday, April 28: at Charlotte Bobcats, 7 p.m., Time Warner Cable Arena
Wednesday, April 30: vs. Bobcats, TBD, AmericanAirlines Arena***
Friday, May 2: at Charlotte Bobcats, TBD, Time Warner Cable Arena***
Sunday, April 4: vs. Charlotte Bobcats, TBD, AmericanAirlines Arena***

***if necessary

LeBron leads in jersey sales; Heat most popular in team merchandise

It would appear people are buying all those many variations of Heat jerseys, and especially the ones that say James on the back (or King James, which appeared on the highly popular nickname jerseys).

For the second straight period, LeBron James led the NBA in jersey sales. Kevin Durant moved ahead of Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose. Dwyane Wade was seventh on the list.

More surprising, perhaps, than LeBron leading in jersey sales, are sales figures that place popularity of Heat merchandise above all other teams. Lists are based off of sales figures at nbastore.com.

Best-selling jersey

1. LeBron James, Miami Heat
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
3. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
4. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
6. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
7. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
8. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
9. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
10. James Harden, Houston Rockets
11. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
12. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
13. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
14. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
15. Paul George, Indiana Pacers

Most popular team merchandise

1. Miami Heat
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Chicago Bulls
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. New York Knicks
6. Boston Celtics
7. Brooklyn Nets
8. Golden State Warriors
9. San Antonio Spurs
10. Los Angeles Clippers

As the Heat prepares for the Bobcats, Dwyane Wade’s health has the team upbeat

For the first time since preseason training, all 15 players on the Heat’s roster practiced together on Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena in preparation for Sunday’s playoff opener against the Charlotte Bobcats.

“It was like old times,” forward Chris Bosh said. “It was awesome.”

Preserving the health of its players was the top priority for the Heat this season. Shooting guard Dwyane Wade entered the 2013 playoffs with a knee injury, but prescribed rest this season and a procedure last summer has helped control his chronic tendonitis. Wade missed 28 games this season, including nine in a row in April.

“It was definitely worth it,” Heat center Udonis Haslem said. “Obviously we understand the impact that he brings to the game when he’s healthy, so you want a healthy Dwyane Wade in the playoffs when it counts the most.”

Said Wade: “That’s why they pay us the big buck — for this time of year.”

The Heat is 15-0 against the Bobcats since the 2010-11 season, but Wade is expecting a difficult first-round test.

“This is not the Charlotte Bobcats that everyone thinks of when you hear the name,” he said.

FINAL GAMER: Heat locked into No.2 seed in Eastern Conference with loss to Wizards

WASHINGTON — LeBron James and Chris Bosh watched the entire game from the bench and it didn’t take long for Dwyane Wade to join them.

Preparation for the playoffs began in earnest on Monday for the defending back-to-back champion Miami Heat, which is to say the Heat cared little and less about its final road game of the regular season, and, for that matter, the No.1 seed that was still potentially at stake when the NBA’s set of games began on Monday night.

Before the tip, there were several playoff scenarios on the table with almost every position in the standings undetermined. But the suspense didn’t last long, and the Heat’s penultimate game of the regular season was anything but compelling. For the Heat, the fluid standings quickly came into focus during the first quarter at Verizon Center.

In other words, the Heat’s main goal was getting back to Miami as quickly as possible and without any more injuries to its veteran roster. The final, forgettable score: Wizards 114, Heat 93.

The more important outcome from Monday night: The Heat (54-27) locked itself into the No.2 spot in the Eastern Conference standings, officially losing home-court advantage to the Indiana Pacers if both teams reach the Eastern Conference finals. Miami’s first-round opponent will be determined on Wednesday, the final day of the season.

“It will be no disappointment when the playoffs start,” Wade said of losing the No.1 seed. “It will be a new season and we will be looking forward to it.”

Why did the Heat rest players with the No.1 seed potentially still on the table?

“It was out of our control at some point, and those guys have put a lot of mileage, like I said,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our schedule was fairly extreme down the stretch. I have never been a part of a group that have played that many games in that few of days down the stretch run. It’s not an excuse. We just want to make sure our guys are feeling right, that they’re sharp, that they’re feeling healthy and they have minor ailments that a couple days will do wonders for them.”

The Heat will play the Bobcats in the first round unless the Bobcats defeat the Bulls on Wednesday and the Wizards lose to the Celtics. The Pacers, which defeated Oklahoma City on Sunday, needed only to defeat the Magic on Wednesday to clinch the No.1 seed. That game now no longer matters.

Wade said the Heat would not start thinking about the playoffs until Thursday, despite all on Monday to the contrary. The team finishes the regular season on Wednesday with a meaningless home game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

James and Bosh were both inactive against the Wizards after playing sluggish basketball in a blowout loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday. Both players — and perhaps Wade as well — are expected to sit out Wednesday’s game.

“I know neither one of them asked for the time, but this last stretch that we’ve had — 27 games in 47 days — is remarkable,” Spoelstra said.

Shane Battier and Toney Douglas started in place of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, which made for an unconventional lineup. Wade started at small forward against Wizards forward Trevor Ariza.

It wasn’t a good match-up for the Heat.

Ariza led the Wizards (43-38) with 25 points, going 10 of 13 from the field and 5 of 8 from three-point range. Five players scored in double figures for Washington, which, depending on outcomes Tuesday and Wednesday, could finish fifth, sixth or seventh in the East. Whatever happens, Washington is in the playoffs for the first time in six years.

“It’s going to be special,” Washington coach Randy Wittman said. “No matter what the outcome is guys that haven’t been in the playoffs will remember that first game forever because it is so distinct and different.”

Michael Beasley led the Heat with 18 points off the bench. Douglas had 14 points, going 5 of 8 from the field. Wade had nine points in less than 19 minutes.

Spoelstra on why the Heat chose rest tonight with the No.1 seed potentially still on the table

SPOELSTRA: “It was out of our control at some point, and those guys have put a lot of mileage, like I said. Our schedule was fairly extreme down the stretch. I have never been a part of a group that have played that many games in that few of days down the stretch run. It’s not an excuse. We just want to make sure our guys are feeling right, that they’re sharp, that they’re feeling healthy and they have minor ailments that a couple days will do wonders for them.”

A simple truth: The Heat isn’t as good this season as in 2012 and 2013. Will it matter?

JOSEPH GOODMAN

jgoodman@MiamiHerald.com

 

Here’s the simple truth as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh begin preparing for another run at the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Heat isn’t as good this season as it was in 2012 and 2013.

The final regular-season record will be inferior.

The playoff seeding will not be as high.

The team isn’t as deep.

The chemistry isn’t as solid.

The options are not as dependable.

That point was driven home on Monday, but not at Verizon Center where the defending back-to-back champs conceded a No.1 seed to the Indiana Pacers in favor of a few more days of rest before the playoffs. No, it took a game in Phoenix to perfectly illustrate what the Heat is missing.

While James, Wade and Bosh watched Michael Beasley freelance his way to 18 points in a throwaway loss against the Washington Wizards, a former Heat family member was playing a far more important and meaningful role in one of the Western Conference’s more compelling games of the regular season. Mike Miller — the Heat’s two-time NBA champion Mike Miller — scored 21 points in 30 minutes for the Memphis Grizzlies in a must-win game against the Suns on Monday night. The Grizzlies needed a victory to earn the West’s eighth and final playoff spot, and Miller went out and shot 8 of 11 from the field and 5 of 6 from three-point range.

It’s that time of year again, but this time the magic of Miller is on a different team on the opposite side of the playoff bracket.

In the NBA, sometimes you get what you pay for, and sometimes you don’t. Or in this case, the Grizzlies got what the Heat paid for when the NBA’s new luxury tax compelled Heat owner Mickey Arison to make a difficult decision. The Heat is hoping that decision doesn’t come back to haunt the team.

Because here’s another simple truth: It might not matter. The Heat isn’t as good without Miller, and, it should noted, isn’t as good without Joel Anthony either, but the back-to-back champs could still be good enough to win it all.

It’s almost time to find out.

“Like everybody else that’s going to be one of the 16 teams, there’s a storm coming, and it’s time for us to really start preparing for that storm and getting ready for an incredible journey that’s going to test all of us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

On Monday, the Heat locked itself into the No.2 seed for the Eastern Conference playoffs. That means if the Pacers and Heat meet in the Eastern Conference finals and the series goes the full seven (like last year), then Indiana will host the grand finale (unlike last year). Just like during its final road game, the Heat was unconcerned with the standings all season, and chose health for its players over home-court advantage and on-court rhythm. Entering Wednesday’s final game against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Heat has lost 13 of its last 24 games and featured the starting lineup it will use in the playoffs only once.

“Some years, you know, as a team you’re a way better home team than you are a road team, and sometimes, we’ve been a pretty good road team as well,” Wade said after Monday’s loss to the Wizards, which represented his second game back from a strained hamstring. “Seeding is always something that’s important. People love playing at home. So it’s never going to be anything where you say, ‘Aw, we don’t care at all.’ But it doesn’t necessarily guarantee you anything, either.”

The Heat will learn its first-round opponent on Wednesday, the final day of the season. It will be either the Charlotte Bobcats or the Washington Wizards. The Heat, which hasn’t lost to the Bobcats since James and Bosh joined Wade and Haslem in 2010, had plenty of good things to say about the Bobcats on Monday.

“They were a surprise early on, but they had a similar-type start last year, and they were able to sustain it this year,” Spoelstra said. “Steve [Clifford] has done a great job with the team, but the young players have really stepped up with more confidence this year with a system they believe in, and [Al] Jefferson was a big pick-up…he has been one of the better players in the league since All-Star break.”

One of the Heat’s big offseason pick-ups was brought in to counter players like Jefferson, but it’s unclear if Greg Oden will even play at all in the postseason. He hasn’t stepped on the court since the Heat lost to the Pacers on March 26, and didn’t travel with the team for its final road trip. The Heat’s other offseason addition was bringing in Beasley to replace Miller.

76ERS AT HEAT
When/Where: 8 p.m. Wednesday, AmericanAirlines Arena

TV/Radio: Sun Sports/FM 104.3, AM 790 and FM 98.3 (Spanish)

Series: 76ers lead 51-50.

Of note: The Heat can even its all-time series against the Sixers. With the Heat locked into the No.2 position in the Eastern Conference standings, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are all questionable. James and Bosh did not play on Monday in Washington and Wade played 19 minutes. Games involving the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks will be closely monitored on Wednesday night. The Bobcats will be seeded seventh with a loss to the Bulls or a Wizards victory against the Celtics. The Wizards will be seeded seventh if the Wizards lose and Bobcats win.

Heat’s commitment to preserving Dwyane Wade’s health for the playoffs appears to have paid off.

WASHINGTON — The Heat’s commitment to preserving Dwyane Wade’s health for the playoffs appears to have paid off.

After watching Wade suffer through the 2013 postseason with severe pain his knees, the Heat’s training staff and coach Erik Spoelstra were overly cautious with it’s starting shooting guard this season in an effort to protect and save his knees for the playoffs. The approach has worked, says Wade, who reported before Monday’s game against the Wizards that he feels noticeably better right now than he did this time last season.

“The only worse it could get is I wouldn’t be playing,” said Wade, making light of his injury situation last year. “That’s the only worse it could get.”

Wade has missed 28 games this season, and the majority of those games were scheduled days of rest to reduce the wear and tear on his legs. Most recently Wade sat out nine games due to a hamstring injury. Wade has also missed time with a sore Achilles tendon.

“Time off always helps, but you still got to focus on it,” Wade said of his many hurting parts. “So by the time the playoffs come, I can feel as good as I want to feel … right now I’m in a good place, and I just want to continue to move forward.”

That’s a positive sign for the Heat, considering Wade sat out the Heat’s second to last game of the 2012-13 season with a sore right knee. That soreness became a chronic problem in the playoffs with Wade sitting out a first-round game against the Milwaukee Bucks and then willing himself to a third championship.

Wade started against the Wizards but played with a restriction in minutes for the second game in a row. He was limited to 23 minutes on Saturday against the Hawks.

Wade is expected to play again on Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers at AmericanAirlines Arena in the Heat’s final game of the regular season. LeBron James and Chris Bosh, who both sat out Monday’s game, are questionable. In addition to playing in the Heat’s final two games of the regular season, Wade has been working behind the scenes to improve his conditioning before the playoffs.

“I’ve been going pretty strong,” Wade said. “My game-day workouts are pretty intense. When we get to the playoffs, I’ll take it down a notch… More so than anything, I want to be able to have enough conditioning to be able to do the things on the floor I need offensively and defensively to give this team the player that they need.”

SECOND UNIT
It wasn’t a completely wasted 48 minutes for the Heat. The team’s final road game of the season served as important court time for Wade, who recently missed nine-straight games with a hamstring injury. In addition to reestablishing his rhythm and conditioning, Wade also was able to log minutes with the Heat’s second unit.

“That’s going to be a very important unit for us in the playoffs,” Wade said. “Obviously our starters are going to win for us, but at the end of the day what our second unit brings is going to be key in how much success we can have.”

In starting Toney Douglas and Shane Battier for James and Bosh, Spoelstra was able to keep his second-unit together and pair those players with Wade. Over the past two weeks, Spoelstra has made a point to keep his second unit intact in an attempt to preserve continuity off the bench.

“Hopefully we get some [rhythm] with our units as we continue to play together and play off each other,” Wade said before the game. “Even though it’s game 81, we have an opportunity for certain units that haven’t played a lot of minutes together.”

ETC
Greg Oden was not with the team for the second game in a row. Spoelstra said Oden was suffering from a stomach illness.

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