Updated: December 21, 2009, 2:13 PM ET
NBAE/Getty Images Despite playing with a sore right wrist, Dwyane Wade scored 25 points and gave out seven assists.

1. Taking A Close Look At Wade's Season

By John Hollinger

MIAMI -- Welcome to the fork in the road. We have two potential paths for the rest of Miami's season, and it's an open question as to which direction it will go.

The first possibility is that the Heat's improved supporting cast, paired with the usual dose of awesomeness from Dwyane Wade, will propel Miami to a top-five seed in the East and perhaps a run into the second round of the playoffs.

The alternate one, however, is that the Heat's upgrades will be made irrelevant by a decline in Wade's numbers, leaving Miami right back where it was a last season as mediocre, first-round roadkill.

The one certainty in that picture is that Wade has more help than he did last season, something the 11 other Heat players proved again Thursday. While superstars Wade and Dwight Howard played to a draw, Miami's supporting cast beat the tar out of the more highly touted Magic ensemble, leading by 29 points after three quarters en route to a 104-86 win.

Consider the evidence up and down the Miami roster:

•  Center Jermaine O'Neal looks as healthy and active as he has in years. He's providing his usual toughness at the defensive end while shooting 56.2 percent from the floor and upping his rebound rate.

•  Quentin Richardson has stabilized an open sore at small forward after losing about 10 pounds for every time he was traded this summer, as well as providing a floor spacer with his 3-point shooting.

•  After a half-decade of idle threats, Miami finally has put Dorell Wright into the rotation and is getting results. He's providing a quality midrange shooter and energy player off the bench, including Thursday's 11 points and eight boards in 26 minutes.

•  Udonis Haslem might not score enough to be an ideal starter, but now that he's the first big man off the bench, his defense, toughness and ability to make open shots make him a strong weapon.

•  Haslem can come off the pine because of Michael Beasley. While he's had his ups and downs, especially when he has to play on the wing, he's providing nearly a point every two minutes at the ripe old age of 20, and his defense has improved considerably from last season. "You can't just pick on him anymore," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said before the game.

•  Finally, the switch of Carlos Arroyo to the starting unit, intended mainly as punishment for the frequent tardiness of Mario Chalmers, might have the unintended effect of getting better shots for O'Neal and Beasley with the first group. Arroyo had seven assists and no turnovers in 26 minutes Thursday, while Chalmers' scoring instincts seem better paired with the offense-starved second unit.

Don't look now, but the support crew has the Heat at 13-11, with a winning road record, even though Wade's numbers are way down from last season.

And that's where we get to the other part of the story. Wade was MVP caliber in 2008-09 but has been considerably short of that standard this season. He entered Thursday shooting only 42.7 percent from the floor, down from last season's 49.1 percent, with a resultant decline of 3.5 points per game off his league-leading scoring average.

Just this week, Heat team president Pat Riley mentioned that he didn't think Wade's conditioning was at the level it was a year ago, and that wasn't news to observers in South Florida. While Wade still has been brilliant by the standards of mere mortals, he hasn't seemed to have the same lift or energy. Locals openly wonder whether he's coasting through this season while he waits for the Heat to bring in some help in free agency.

At first glance, it's hard to find any dip in athleticism or energy from Wade's numbers. He is shooting the exact same proportion of shots as he did last season, according to 82games.com: 66 percent jumpers, 25 percent close range, 8 percent dunks and 1 percent tip-ins. He's averaging more free throws per shot attempt, and while his assist rate is lower than last season, it's not a dramatic difference.

Wade wasn't exactly chopped liver Thursday, either, with 25 points, seven assists, no turnovers and a dramatic block of a J.J. Redick breakaway layup.

"He looked pretty damned good to me," Orlando's Vince Carter said.

Yet, watching him, it doesn't seem he has the same explosion he did a year go. There have been exceptions -- a nationally televised game against Cleveland that included a vicious dunk over Anderson Varejao stands out. But one wonders whether the decline in Wade's shooting percentages is a symptom of the conditioning problem to which Riley alluded.

Just look at Wade's shot chart. He's getting to the same spots on the floor, but he hasn't been nearly as proficient from them. At every range, he's shooting dramatically worse than he did last season (see chart).

Of particular note is the glaring decline in accuracy from 16 to 20 feet; Wade takes nearly a quarter of his shots from that range, so the 105-point drop is enough to sabotage his field goal percentage just by itself.

Of course, opposing coaches remain unconvinced. Van Gundy said Wade's numbers will be back where they always are by the end of the season, using the classic "regression to the mean" argument that stat heads love without saying those specific words.

Additionally, Wade can point to a sore wrist that has plagued him recently as a plausible reason for his diminished shooting accuracy. Unfortunately, he aggravated the wrist making the block on Redick, so if that's the problem, the Heat might have to wait a while longer for a resolution.

Waiting, ironically, might be the biggest problem. Wade had little to motivate him this offseason, knowing that the Heat were essentially playing for next year's free-agent market. Without a Team USA gig to keep him sharp, it's fair to wonder whether he's using the first half of the season to get into playoff shape.

Barring a dramatic personnel move, the Heat will be waiting, too -- waiting to see whether Wade's shooting numbers recover enough to make them a dangerous opponent come spring or whether his current struggles will render them no more than a .500 team that makes a quick exit come April.

What's certain, especially after Thursday's rout of the defending conference champion, is that Wade has a lot more help than last season. We just don't know yet whether it's going to matter.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.

Dimes past: Nov. 30 | Dec. 1 | 2 | 3 | 4-5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10-11 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16

2. Curry On The Comeback Trail?

By Melissa Isaacson

CHICAGO -- You forget Eddy Curry is only 27 years old. Even his tattoos seem tired as he leans up against a table at the United Center, his New York Knicks team finishing up a shootaround before Thursday night's game against the Bulls, Curry's former club.

He jokes about his recent weight loss, to which he will not attach a number but has been estimated at about 40 pounds less than he was last season. And as he smiles, it's hard to reconcile all he has been through.

The headlines were horrifying -- violent and scary and troubling -- and all occurring in the same calendar year.

First there was the sexual harassment lawsuit -- since dismissed and sent to arbitration -- filed by a male chauffeur in January. Then tragically just weeks later, Curry's former girlfriend, Nova Henry, and his 9-month-old daughter Ava were found murdered in their Chicago townhouse, his 3-year-old son Noah found unhurt at the scene.

Curry, who is married to Patrice, with whom he has four children, tried to gain custody of Noah, but Henry's mother threatened to go on the run with the boy. Then in March, the woman handed the child over to Curry's family and he is now living with Curry's mother.

Over the summer, the bank foreclosed on Curry's $5.6 million Chicago house [the same one that he and his family were robbed at gunpoint in 2007].

Due to a combination of his off-court troubles and injuries, Curry played just three games last season for New York. In comparison, his basketball struggles seemed miniscule. Still the questions persisted. What of his career?

It was clear that Curry's weight was contributing to his frequent injuries, and there were no signs that he was working to improve either situation. Over the summer, Curry exercised his option to stay with the Knicks for another two years at a guaranteed salary of $21.7 million as the Knicks insisted on a training regimen.

They are well aware of his potential. Just two seasons earlier, Curry was a force inside, averaging 19.5 points and seven rebounds. The next training camp, he reported out of shape as his numbers dropped to 13.2 points, 4.7 rebounds.

To read the entire column, click here.

3. Daily Dime Live Recap

ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Thursday night's slate of games -- all in Daily Dime Live.


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