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Shaun Powell

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Dwyane Wade had just 17 points, but drew the Sixers' top defender in Miami's Game 1 win.
Victor Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images

Game 1 proves Wade -- not LeBron -- is Heat's go-to guy


Posted Apr 16 2011 9:33PM

MIAMI -- A game in which the Sixers missed a chance to stun the Heat told us where this playoff series is headed, not to mention the basketball.

The not-so-big secret is out, and even if Dwyane Wade is laying bricks and handcuffed by fouls and checked by a human octopus, as was the case in Game 1, he's still a safer option than LeBron James with the game on the line. Erik Spoelstra made the "decision" if you will, and it was co-signed by the coach on the other bench.

"Wade was going to have the ball," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "We had planned on that. When Miami took off this year is when they put the ball in Wade's hands. So we were going to have our best on-ball defender on him."

Imagine, a coach taking Andre Iguodala, who's long and quick, from guarding the winner of the last two MVP awards and assigning him to a guy who was 5-for-12 shooting Saturday and couldn't drive to the basket for fear of fouling out. Have you ever seen that happen before in the NBA? Well, Collins knew. The Sixers knew. Everybody knew. Wade was going to take matters, and the ball, in his own hands with two minutes left and the Heat up one point in the biggest game of the year.

And he delivered, isolating on Iguodala from the key, then floating to the lane after getting a pick, then dropping a running bank shot for a three-point play. He also added three more free throws in the final ticks to give Miami a 97-89 win over the pesky Sixers.

You can say Spoelstra did this because he has great faith in Wade, and that much is true.

But feel free to suspect Spoelstra had also seen enough of LeBron in that situation. Didn't LeBron own the ball a half-dozen times this season, game up for grabs, and blow them all? Either with missed shots, turnovers or getting swatted by Amar'e Stoudemire? In a playoff game, where there's no room for error, where the Heat blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead, was LeBron too much of a risk? Wasn't it time for Miami to lean on a player with a history of clutchness, most famously in the 2006 NBA Finals?

If the Heat are falling from the sky and there's two parachute cords, one belonging to Wade and the other LeBron, which one is Spoelstra gonna pull to save his life, er, season?

I think we know.

Spoelstra wasn't having any of it after the game, getting huffy at the insinuation that this, when all's said and done, is Wade's team.

"That's so overstated," Spoelstra said dismissively. "The game will dictate (where the ball goes). That's just the way it turned out tonight."

Well, if that's the case, then we should expect Spoelstra to draw up a play for LeBron either later this series, if the Sixers ever get this close again, or the next, against a great defensive team like the Celtics. Or down the road against the Bulls. We should see the same faith shown to LeBron, and how about late in the fourth quarter of a Game 7? You know, as Spoelstra said, if the game dictates it?

What Spoelstra did was make a wise choice. There's no harm in admitting the obvious, that Wade is championship-tested in that situation. That's not to say LeBron can't make big shots; people tend to forget he made a few in Cleveland. It's just that the Cavaliers didn't have a better option. Miami does.

Spoelstra should've done exactly what he did: Let Wade isolate on his man, then break down the defense either off the dribble or freed by a screen, then allow Wade to either take the shot or pass to LeBron. Or Chris Bosh, who scored 25 points against the Sixers. That's it. Very simple, very reliable, and even if it's somewhat predictable, dare the other team to stop it.

Of course, there's some risk to hurting LeBron's feelings, although that's probably not too much of a gamble. LeBron came to Miami to be Wade's teammate. If Spoelstra asked LeBron to yield to Joel Anthony, OK, there might be a problem. But this is D-Wade, greatly respected by LeBron. This is a guy who has one more championship ring than LeBron. It's cool. And if it isn't, then that's LeBron's problem. Not Spoelstra's. Not Wade's.

As it turned out, the two main principals were fine with it.

"We can feature either guy at that moment," said Wade, ever the diplomat. "I was able to get to the basket. These guys have looked at me for big shots."

Wade laughed. "Most of the time I got the ball, I got it from LeBron."

So there. Even LeBron, through his actions, endorsed the gameplan.

"Hey," said Wade. "It's all about getting a win."

Yes. That's what matters. That's why LeBron came to Miami, not for the ego-gratifying role as a designated go-to guy, but to win a championship, something he lacks, something to help validate him as a winner. What's wrong with having someone to show him the way?

What LeBron needs is help in the final tense minutes of a close game. Not the ball.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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