Heat need D-Wade at full strength

MIAMI -- The answer is no.

Let's just get that out of the way right off the top.

No, the Miami Heat can't -- and won't -- repeat as NBA champions without Dwyane Wade being, well, close to Dwyane Wade. That clear enough?

But the magical thing about this Heat team is that the exact same statement can be made with absolute certainty about LeBron James or Chris Bosh or any combination of the 3-point shooters and supporting cast rebounders who round out a roster that is title-worthy as a collective unit.

That fact is obvious on nights like Wednesday, when the Heat had to dig deep within to emerge with an all-in win at home against the feisty Milwaukee Bucks in overtime.

With Wade having missed the previous two games with a foot injury, those silly murmurs were beginning to build around South Florida. The notion that, perhaps, a Heat team that now is 3-0 in games its star shooting guard missed this season is capable of winning a title without Wade.

That segment of the fan base saw the Heat's record without Wade over the past two years improve to 17-3 since the start of last season. But it's a 20-game sample size that proves little because it covers only regular-season games.

What are the Heat in the playoffs without Wade?

No such data exists during the era that covers the time since Wade, James and Bosh came together in Miami in 2010. Why? Because Wade has been there for this team when the games matter most. His soon to be 31-year-old body can be an injury-riddled train wreck at times, but when the Heat need him in big moments he has usually delivered.

And that's what makes this "Without Wade" Debate a tiresome dialog. But that hasn't stopped the subject from seeping into the Heat's locker room. In his return to the lineup Wednesday, Wade scored 28 points, the Heat got another 28 from James, and Bosh's 18 rebounds were the most he's ever grabbed in a Heat uniform.

Take any one of those contributions away from the Heat on a consistent basis, and what's left is a team that might still be capable of advancing to the conference finals and maybe even winning the East. But a title? I don't see it.

And Bosh can't see why it's even a discussion.

"You absolutely hear that stuff from time to time, but it's just crazy chatter," said Bosh, who added 24 points and came four rebounds short of matching his career high. "What it is is people kind of making up stuff to divide and conquer. But that's not happening with us. We need every guy. And the fact that we need each other brings that camaraderie that gets us through nights like tonight."

Despite the balanced box score, this wasn't an atypical night for the Heat. They quickly built a double-digit lead and appeared on their way to cruising into Thursday's break for Thanksgiving with a productive win to launch a stretch in which they play 12 of 14 games at home.

Having Wade back in action provided a luxury that allowed James to coast through the first half and pick his spots without having to carry the bulk of the burden. Having Bosh on a rebounding tear and in an aggressive offensive rhythm allowed Wade to store some much-needed energy for his defensive assignment against the Bucks' speedy backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings.

And with the Heat having all three of their catalysts, it allowed Miami to overcome a sluggish second half that saw Milwaukee rally from an 18-point deficit to lead by seven midway through the fourth quarter. Yes, the Heat made this one harder than it needed to be. But they needed all of their key parts to get through this particular challenge.

"We need balance on the court," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We feel a lot of confidence with the versatility and depth of our roster. But we do need to clean up some things. Dwyane Wade was able to get his rhythm back [starting in practice] … and Chris Bosh has been giving us big, consistent minutes."

And James has been there to facilitate and pull it all together. Before Wednesday's game, Spoelsta talked about how the team is getting away from viewing James, Wade and Bosh as specific first, second or third options.

The pecking order may be understood, but the parts are equally and vitally important. It's why you'll hear Spoelstra refer to Wade one day as the team's most explosive threat, then call Bosh the Heat's most irreplaceable piece just before declaring James as the most valuable cog.

"We don't even have to talk about it," Wade said. "We all know that No. 6 [James] is the No. 1 option. But we can't win without one another. We can't. There are things we have to get better at, we have to fix if we want to make a deep run back to the Finals."

On Wednesday, it took everyone working together to take the Bucks to overtime and eventually pull away for the win.

"Tonight was one of those nights where all of us had it going," James said.

And every bit was needed.

Last season, Wade had fun with all the talk about how the team could survive his absence for the long haul and possibly win a championship.

But this year, it's not even worth addressing.

"I didn't listen or hear anything since I've been out," Wade said. "Without me, they win. With me, they win. So it's all good. Let's just leave it at that."