What you are about to read doesn’t solidify the fact that the Miami Heat are a better team without Dwyane Wade, but it is no small coincidence that some of LeBron James‘ best games this season have come with Wade on the bench or in street clothes. Last night was a shining example of how Miami can thrive even with their second-best player sitting on the bench.
LeBron carried Miami to a victory last night against the Phoenix Suns. There is no way of getting around it. James led the team in points, rebounds and assists while he also had a team and season-high five steals. James needed a game like this after the clunker of a performance he put on in Utah where he only scored 13 points which was a season-low. Coincidentally, Wade was active and starting that game while he only tallied 19 points and six rebounds. A case can be made here that Wade truly does take away touches from James, affecting his overall output in the game itself. Both players have obviously made this partnership work over the last few years (back-to-back championships confirm this), but it is telling that in a season with Wade so in and out of the lineup, James is struggling to find consistency in his averages.
The biggest issue with both Wade and James is that their styles of play are almost identical and can impede with one another in terms of setting up offensive plays on the court. Wade has been making steady improvements this season in terms of playing off the ball in an effort to give Miami another player who can be extremely efficient without the ball in their hands. While this has worked to some degree, because of Wade’s continued absences, Miami has not been able to develop true cohesion with Wade in this role. This is why when he makes his first appearance after missing several games, he struggles to get into a groove on offense. With Wade out of the picture, James is able to operate a lot more freely with the ball in his hands and utilize proper offensive sets that incorporate more three-point shooters and less dribble-drive players. This is another reason why James has been ridiculously close to notching multiple triple-doubles this season, usually on nights when Wade isn’t in uniform. James has the ability to facilitate and dominate on a nightly basis but even more so when he is given the green light in a player’s absence.
With Miami set to take on the Golden State Warriors tonight, Wade will most likely be back in action and starting. Don’t expect James to notch anywhere close to the 37 points he poured on in Phoenix, but hopefully his sustained aggression and energy can lift Dwyane Wade and this Miami team to a win against Stephen Curry and the eighth best team in the league.