Over on "Heat Index," John Krolik makes the point that Dwyane Wade gets the benefit of the doubt where his mega-star partner, one LeBron James, does not. Case in point, the muted reaction to consecutive questionable plays by Wade in the final moments of Miami’s close-out win over the Philadelphia 76ers:
In a one-possession game, Wade cost his team a point for arguing that he should be shooting free throws instead of his teammate, who happens to be a better free throw shooter.
Later in the game, with the final seconds ticking off the clock and the 76ers declining to foul, Wade punctuated the series with an uncontested dunk that Spencer Hawes would later call "bush league." It was the kind of behavior that becomes an instant controversy with LeBron, but it was a non-issue with Wade, just like the technical foul.
Imagine, just for a second, what the reaction would have been if James had been whistled for the technical, then thrown in that salt-in-the-wound dunk to end the series. While the power of winning as the ultimate deodorant should never be underestimated, I can't imagine that those things would have been complete non-issues if James had done them.
If Wade is getting a pass on some sketchy play in the opening round, he’s also been almost invisible in the hype for the Heat’s drool-inducing grudge match with the Boston Celtics.
LeBron left Cleveland in order to overcome the Celtics, but don't forget that in recent years Wade hasn't fared much better against Boston, or anyone else, in the playoffs. Until a few days ago, Wade hadn’t won a first-round series since 2006.
And against Boston, expect Wade’s play to be the deciding factor.
As Tom Haberstroh and Chris Forsberg have separately noted in pieces fueled by possession-by-possession research from Dean Oliver and Peter Newmann of ESPN Stats & Info, the LeBron James-Paul Pierce matchup has had been relatively predictable. Pierce uses his underrated lateral quickness and impressive upper body strength to prevent James from dominating, but LeBron still produces strong numbers. Perhaps sapped by his defensive responsibilities, Pierce rarely shoots a high percentage against LeBron. In essence, Pierce does just enough on both ends to allow his teammates to outplay those of James.
Meanwhile, Wade has struggled against the Celtics this year, failing four times to shoot better than 35 percent or score even half of the 32.3 points he averaged against Boston in last year’s playoffs. That’s offensive output won't cut it in the conference semifinals.
He’ll also be spending plenty of time chasing around Ray Allen over the next two weeks. Allen has killed the Heat this year, drilling 57 percent of his 3-point attemps against Miami and averaging more points (20.3) against the Heat than against every team but three.
This may be a side effect of Wade’s wide-ranging defensive responsibilities. Along with his lockdown isolation defense, Wade has a unique ability to make defensive plays around the rim, flying out of nowhere to block seven-footers. But against Boston, he’ll need to curb his playmaking instincts on that end. When Wade gambles, Allen cashes out.
And while Allen isn’t much of a defender against the likes of Wade, Boston’s team defense matches up with Wade as well as any. The two-stepping guard has been all left feet in the season series, allowing himself to be pushed into baseline jumpers and ill-advised jump passes.
Will Wade turn it around in time to rewrite LeBron's, and his own, history of failure against Boston?
Almost no matter how well he plays, if the Heat lose, James will receive a heaping helping of the blame. The story is all about LeBron, but this series is Wade's to win.