Dwyane Wade Can Lead the Heat by Getting out of LeBron's Way in Game 7

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJune 20, 2013

Jun 18, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) and small forward LeBron James (6) react during the second quarter of game six in the 2013 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs at American Airlines Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Dwyane Wade has been the leader of this Miami Heat team for nearly a decade now. This was Wade’s team long before LeBron James arrived in Miami, and many still view Wade as the true team leader even since LeBron arrived.

But if Wade wants to be a true leader Thursday night in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, he will lead by simply getting out of James’ way.

Wade has been fighting through a right knee injury that is probably a lot worse than any of us know at the moment, and he is now dealing with some pain in his left knee caused by a collision with Manu Ginobili in Game 6. All of this has caused Wade to severely underperform for most of the postseason.

Wade has averaged 15 points per game this postseason while shooting 45 percent from the field, both of which are well below his season averages. Aside from one strong showing in Game 4, Wade’s jump shot has been off and his mere presence on the floor has been clogging lanes and disrupting the entire flow of the game for the Miami Heat.

While Wade is on the floor, more often than not it means that either Mike Miller or Ray Allen is sitting on the bench. This leaves Miami with just one true outside shooter on the court. The Spurs have been giving plenty of room to both Wade and James, just daring them to take jump shots.

Wade has lost his explosiveness this postseason due to injuries, while James is still as explosive as ever but has very little room to get to the basket because the lanes are clogged by the Spurs sagging off virtually every Heat player on the floor and converging on the paint.

Just look at what happened when Wade was on the bench during the start of the fourth quarter in Game 6—James went to town on the Spurs defense and the Heat went on a 19-7 run to take control of the game.

James is at his best when he is able to penetrate and then make quick decisions as to whether he will finish strong or kick the ball out to one of his outside shooters. Having James on the court along with multiple outside threats opens up the entire floor for the Heat.

James was able to do this during the early stages of the fourth quarter in Game 6, but this run essentially ended when Wade returned to the game with a little more than four minutes left to play. The lanes became clogged, Miami didn’t have as many shooting options, and the Spurs went back to staying off James and Wade and focusing their attention on swarming the paint.

Hindsight, of course, is 20-20, but one could certainly evaluate the fourth quarter in Game 6 and conclude that had Wade never returned to the floor, the Heat would have almost certainly put the Spurs away during regulation.

Wade is and always has been a gritty competitor. He wants to be on the court, and he is certainly not afraid to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line.

However, we are not seeing the true Dwyane Wade right now. He is playing through injuries, which have caused issues with his explosiveness and outside shooting ability and have essentially reduced him to nothing more than a shell of the player he used to be.   

Tonight is James’ night. The Heat will win or lose on the back of James tonight, and a lot of that will depend on the Heat’s ability to create an on-court environment in which James can thrive.      

If the Heat put shooters on the floor and spread the court like they did during the early stages of the fourth quarter in Game 6, there is little doubt that Miami will leave AmericanAirlines Arena with its third NBA title.    

Wade is still the leader of this Miami Heat team, but if he really wants to lead Miami to another title tonight, he will do so by simply getting out of James’ way.