1. Dwyane Wade Adjusts His Hoops Lens At 30
This time, Tyler Hansbrough was nowhere to be found.
Instead, Haslem took aim at the swarm of media members, skeptical critics and overly concerned fans who have come out in droves to question what is wrong with Wade after seeing his stretch of erratic play continue during a loss to Oklahoma City in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
"You all need to get off Dwyane, man," Haslem said as the Heat prepared for Game 2 on Thursday. "I don't understand what people are talking about with Dwyane. We're in the NBA Finals. I mean, how bad can he be playing? We didn't get here without him. Dwyane's fine. He's still our guy. Y'all want to put the heat on somebody, put it on the Miami Heat. All of of us. Lay off Dwyane."
The last time Haslem stood up for Wade with such passion, he ended up with a flagrant foul and one-game suspension for knocking Hansbrough to the floor during the Heat's second-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers.
The blow was essentially payback for a shot Hansbrough had delivered to Wade's face earlier in the same game. Haslem and Wade have been teammates in Miami since they entered the league together in 2003, so coming to Wade's defense is instinctual for the rugged forward.
For the first time, Wade spoke at length about some of the sobering realities he's dealing with as the Heat look to avoid falling into a 2-0 hole against Oklahoma City. The last time Miami had to rally from such a deficit in the Finals came against the Dallas Mavericks in 2006, when a then-24-year-old Wade ignited four straight victories with one of the most dominant stretches in postseason history.
But, as he reminded everyone Wednesday, expecting him to be the explosive player he was six years ago is unrealistic.
"I was 24 -- totally different," said Wade, 30. "I'm not that athletic as I was in 2006. But I still have something in me. I still have some left in me. I wish it was possible to stay at that same athleticism as I was at 24, but that's not possible."
What is possible, however, is for Wade to finally come to grips with the fact that he's now forced to make major adjustments on three different fronts with where he stands as a player and how he can affect his team this series.
It's a physical, mental and emotional process for Wade.
Physically, Wade lacks the same level of lift and explosion in his legs many are accustomed to seeing when he's healthy. He still will neither acknowledge nor publicly discuss having his left knee drained of excess fluid midway through that series against the Pacers. Prior to that, Wade took time off toward the end of the regular season to rest and treat nagging injuries in his lower legs.
However, Wade pressed through the playoffs, averaging 22.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.3 blocks and 39.1 minutes per game entering the Finals. While those overall numbers are solid, there have been legitimate concerns about Wade's pattern of slow starts. Against Boston, Wade attributed his struggles to get to the basket to a swarming defense that sent two players his way.
After missing 12 of his 19 shots and constantly settling for jumpers in Game 1 against the Thunder on Tuesday, Wade again shot down talk he appeared to be limited physically.
He said Wednesday he simply needed to alter his approach.
"I want to score more," said Wade, who made fewer than half his shots in six straight games and was held to 20 or fewer points in five of them. "I don't deal with the pressure of [scoring]. That's when you start thinking too much, too many questions start coming up in your mind, you start to overanalyze things. I want to give my team more to give us an opportunity to win the series. I'll be more aggressive -- more than I have of late. So that will be my change."
Mentally, Wade already has the Thunder's players bracing for a potential breakout game Thursday after a relatively tame effort in which he finished with 19 points and eight assists in Tuesday's 105-94 loss.
Oklahoma City guard James Harden is well aware of what happened the last time the volume of criticism around Wade's play was raised to these current decibel levels. It almost sounded as if Harden had just emerged from a film session, having watched how Wade responded to that five-point outing in Game 3 against Indiana to erupt for 30, 28 and 41 points the next three game to put away the Pacers.
Wade might not be physically capable of impacting this series in a similar fashion in consecutive games, but he'll mentally have to pick his spots against the Thunder.
"It's still Dwyane Wade, right?" Harden quipped Wednesday. "He can still score the ball. He still can get it done. We can't take that for granted. We just can't allow him to get off. He's capable of doing it at any moment."
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins agreed. One of the positives from their Game 1 victory against Miami was that they contained Wade. One of the negatives is that all the talk and questions since the game ended might set Wade off.
"The scary thing about it is that he always bounces back," Perkins said. "Like every time he struggles in one game, he bounced back with a 35- or 40-point game. We have to make sure we keep them taking contested [shots] and keep them out of the paint. They're going to bounce back, but we're going to bounce back also because we felt like we could have played much better, too."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra vowed to adjust his strategy, in part to ensure Wade is more aggressive and attacks the rim. Only now, Wade might have to will his way through battles he once easily dominated with his athleticism.
Against Boston, Wade had a difficult time getting around the likes of Marquis Daniels. On Tuesday, there was a time when Derek Fisher was defending Wade, and he didn't take advantage by immediately driving into the lane.
There's also the reality that an aging Wade, despite being in the latter stages of his prime, no longer enjoys an overwhelming advantage in speed and athleticism against younger or lengthier players who have guarded him this postseason such as OKC's Russell Westbrook, Boston's Mickael Pietrus and Indiana's Paul George.
Wade was asked Wednesday whether he fears he might soon reach a point where his body won't respond no matter how hard he tries to regroup from a subpar performance.
"One day it'll happen," he said. "Father Time will knock on the door and tap me on the shoulder. But not right now."
For now, Wade insists his up-and-down play from game to game has less to do with physical or mental challenges and is more a product of chemistry adjustments. That's where the emotional aspect comes into play with his game. Throughout the playoffs, Wade has talked about the difficulties that come with yielding the primary offensive load to LeBron James and assuming a secondary role.
It's a sacrifice Wade has been willing to make, and he acknowledges it's best for the Heat and James for the league's MVP to feel as comfortable as possible during the Heat's return to the Finals. Last season, James and Wade continued to work through the kinks of playing with one another all the way through a frustrating end, which culminated with a loss to Dallas in the Finals after squandering home-court advantage and a 2-1 lead.
Miami still has moments, especially late in games, when Wade takes the lead on offense. But it usually comes well after James has already done much of the heavy lifting.
"That's the toughest part about it -- that's the hardest part of playing with another guy with that capability," said Wade, the Finals MVP during the Heat's 2006 championship run. "It's just trying to figure out when to defer and when not to defer. I've played with [Shaquille O'Neal] before -- and I knew when to defer and not defer. Throughout this series, like the other series, I'll figure it out."
The rest of Wade's teammates followed Haslem's lead by scoffing at any notion that these playoffs might just be a clear sign one of the NBA's top players is on the decline. Chris Bosh issued a challenge to those doubting Wade or questioning whether he'll regain his dominant form.
"Guard him," Bosh said, flatly. "You try guarding him, and then tell me after that. We know where we made our mistakes. We're going to get Dwyane going. There's always going to be speculation. We can't help that. But I know one thing Dwyane can do is play the way he's capable of playing. There's going to be some ups and downs. But there's really no excuses. We all know that. He knows that. People won't ask that question after [Thursday's game]."
2. Weary Topic Rises In OKC
The word for today is fatigue.
If there's one element from Oklahoma City's Game 1 victory over Miami that could carry over to the rest of the series, it's that the Heat looked like they were on the second night of a back-to-back in Denver even though they had two days off prior to the game. This showed through in several elements of the game, which we'll get into in a minute, and was the main reason a 13-point Miami lead in the second quarter flip-flopped to an 11-point defeat.
Of course, the usual caveats apply. It was one game, won by the home team, and it was fairly close. The Game 1 winner lost the series in Miami's only two other Finals appearances, and in several other recent years, the Heat prevailed after several peaks and valleys in between.
Additionally, a recent study by our Kevin Pelton shows that a one-game rest advantage at the start of the series is a minor factor historically, worth about 0.2 wins over the course of a series. So perhaps the fatigue story is as much us creating a narrative as it is the Heat suffering from a genuine lack of rest.
So the rational, left side of the brain says there's no need to overreact.
3. Ol' Prickly Heat Issues
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Ever since the circus opened in Miami in October 2010, we've heard a zillion reasons the Heat can't win a title with this group:
• LeBron James has a congenital defect that prevents him from being a champion. He can't close, passes up big shots to inferior teammates, is a Beta Male, a head case, too preoccupied with his global brand and, more generally, a schnook.
• James and Dwyane Wade are redundant offensive players who can't coexist unless you introduce a second basketball onto the court. What we get instead are two guys who alternate possessions rather than play within the kind of coherent offensive system usually adopted by elite teams like the champion Lakers, Spurs and, to some extent, the 2011 Mavericks.
• Erik Spoelstra is in over his head. While he's a pretty darn good defensive mind, he's a young coach incapable of managing stubborn personalities like James and Wade, and more sensitive players like Chris Bosh. And all the Rileyisms in the world won't change that.
• The front office in Miami piggishly hoarded top-shelf talent, but forgot to stock the roster with anyone who can be remotely classified as a complete ballplayer or even an effective role player.See the full Arnovitz post
4. Quote Of The Night
"Now you're getting mad. You're taking on the world and now Jim Rome is pouting."
-- NBA commissioner David Stern, in an exchange with talk show host Jim Rome after the notion that the draft lottery is fixed was introduced.
5. Pindown Move: Defining Durant
The one thing Kevin Durant lacks is a means of defining himself, of setting the parameters for which he should be described. It's always a generic "better." He wants to ascend to huge heights, but he's never named a specific mountain he desires to scale.
When Kobe Bryant entered the NBA, it was clear that Michael Jordan was both his template and target. Maybe that's why Kobe's the closest thing to Jordan. Since Kobe is so good at specifics, we should let him describe what the ultimate manifestation of Durant could be.
"A 6-11 me," Bryant said.
Now there's a terrifying prospect. Someone whose eyes are trained on hell-bent destruction of the league, from the vantage point of someone 5 inches taller than Bryant.
6. NBA Video Channel
7. Tweet Of The Night
8. Kevin And Hoop Heaven
9. The View From JVG
10. The Good Hook On Finals
The NBA Finals are upon us, and I'm sure all of the true fans of the game are pleased with the matchup of the two best teams in the league: the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Game 1 went to the home team, which should surprise no one after OKC's easier trip through the playoffs. The Thunder blew through the Los Angeles Lakers and swept the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in short order. The San Antonio Spurs were more of a challenge, but the Thunder's youth, intensity and versatility were finally too much for the Spurs.
OKC features a young team of emerging stars led by Kevin Durant, who has been the league's scoring leader for three consecutive years. Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka complete as focused and talented a young nucleus of players as you'll find in the NBA. They will have the ability to learn and mature together since all of them are 22 or 23 years old.See the full Abdul-Jabbar story