Throughout the NBA season and into the playoffs we’ve found ourselves asking whether a team can win without a just-injured star. From Rondo to Lee to Westbrook and a few others along the way, injuries have defined the 2013 chase for the NBA title. Now, with four teams within a victory of the conference finals, there’s another question lurking—can Miami win without Dwayne Wade?
At this point the question is still on the theoretical level. Wade is listed as probable for tonight’s Game 5 at home against Chicago. But Wade’s knee has been an issue all year and the sight of a collision and him limping in Game 4 were the only dour note in the Heat’s 88-65 thumping that all but put a stranglehold on this series. And at least as far as the championship goes, it introduced the last hope there is for any drama.
If we just ask the question can Miami win the title without Wade, the answer is obvious—of course they can. They still have the league’s best in LeBron James, Chris Bosh is playing well and their role players all understand their niche on the team and execute accordingly. That amounts to a pretty good team and it’s still going through a bracket where the field is wounded—did I forget to mention that Indiana’s been without Danny Granger basically all year? So yes, Miami can win the championship if Wade were to become unavailable or ineffective.
But asking whether a team can win leaves a lot of wiggle room. The real question would be whether Miami would still be a solid favorite to win it all with a Wade-less lineup. Here you would have to say no. Both Indiana and Memphis are big teams who already match up well with Miami’s soft interior as it is. San Antonio could do the same.
If you’d have asked me this question two weeks ago, I’d have still said the Heat without Wade would win it, due to the presence of LeBron. But the problems of Oklahoma City without Westbrook, in spite of extraordinary performances by Kevin Durant, have left me with a ray of hope that even the star-driven NBA still requires a team concept. If Wade goes down, I’ll still lean Miami to win, but it will be a slight lean and at the very least, their next two rounds would be worth watching.
Miami’s first two rounds certainly haven’t been worth watching, going through a lousy Milwaukee team that wouldn’t have been in sniffing distance of the playoffs in the West, and now a decimated Chicago lineup. The Bulls only shot 25 percent in the Game 4 loss and the Heat are now set up for a close-out game at home in Game 5.
Here’s a look at the other three conference semi-finals…
The Pacers held serve at home, taking Game 4, sweeping the middle set of games and going up 3-1 for the series. New York, having lived by the three-ball all year, is now dying by it. They went 8-of-28 behind the arc and the physical Pacers cleaned up the misses, with a 54-36 rebounding advantage.
Indiana’s frontline of Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George were all in double-digits on rebounds, and George also scored 18 points and dished 7 assists. I’m still a little disappointed that Hibbert disappeared offensively, but when George plays like this, Indiana has the kind of versatile talent that can put them over the top.
As for New York…J.R. Smith still hasn’t played a good game since being suspended for Game 4 of the Boston series, and Carmelo Anthony doesn’t have his shot falling. The good news is that while most of the team didn’t rebound, at least Tyson Chandler did, grabbing 10 boards.
I’m not ready to bury the Knicks. They still have two of the final three games back in MSG and one hot shooting game on the road in Game 6 could get them over the top. What’s disturbing is not that they’ve lost on the road, but their 93-82 defeat represented the second straight defeat of 10-plus points and ever since Smith went into a funk the entire team hasn’t looked good. I expect them to win Game 5, and believe they would win a Game 7. But I also expect that it won’t get that far and Indiana locks this up in six.
Try as he might, Kevin Durant just can’t do it all, and in Game 4 his shooting numbers started to look like Melo’s. Durant still got his points, with 27 in a 103-97 overtime loss that put OkC in a 3-1 series hole. But it took an inefficient 10-of-27 shooting. Asking one player to do it all is always tough. Asking him to do it all against the defense that was rated the best in the West all year long is virtually impossible.
Memphis has its interior combo of Zach Randolph and Pau Gasol rolling. They combined for 46 points/23 rebounds in Game 4 and since losing the first two games to the LA Clippers in the first round, have basically dominated ever since. Mike Conley is emerging as a big-time point guard—he was already a big-time passer, but his 24-point game is the latest example of his newfound ability to stick it in the hole.
The Thunder got one of Serge Ibaka’s best games of an otherwise disappointing postseason, with 17 points/14 rebounds and Kevin Martin shot 6-of-12 from the floor. But with Durant seeming to wear down, Oklahoma City looks ready to go into the offseason. Maybe not in Game 5 at home, but surely in Game 6 on the road.
SAN ANTONIO-GOLDEN STATE
The Spurs and Warriors have played two games since TheSportsNotebook’s last NBA commentary on Sunday morning and are the one series that’s five games deep. Golden State’s overtime win at home on Sunday knotted the series, but San Antonio answered decisively last night with a 109-91 win that put them up 3-2.
Game 4 was a defensive affair, with each team shooting under 40 percent from the floor, and the Spurs settling for three-point shots to excess, going 7-for-27. The Warriors controlled the glass thanks to some phenomenal work by Andrew Bogut. The oft-injured and inconsistent center has really stepped up his game since David Lee went out early in the first round and Bogut had 18 boards in the Game 4 win. And on a day when most players weren’t shooting well, Steph Curry was a respectable 7-for-15, trumping Tony Parker’s erratic 6-of-17.
Last night was a different story. Both teams executed their offenses with efficiency, but the Spurs looked the way they did at the best points of last season. They shot 52 percent from the floor, and were both more measured in their trey attempts—taking 21—and more effective, making 10. Last night it was Parker was in gear, scoring 25, while Curry played his worst game of the postseason. The otherwise red-hot shooter only made 1-of-7 from behind the arc and ended with nine points.
The next two nights could see all four spots in the conference finals filled, although three of the teams would have to do it on the road and the one team with homecourt—Miami—is the one who doesn’t need it. Here’s the lineup…
Chicago-Miami (7 PM ET, TNT)
Memphis-Oklahoma City (9:30 PM ET, TNT)
Indiana-New York (8 PM ET, TNT)
San Antonio-Golden State (10:30 PM ET, ESPN)
TheSportsNotebook’s NBA commentary will return on Friday. Maybe we’ll have conference finals to preview by then, maybe we’ll have a Game 7 in Spurs-Warriors and maybe both. Between now and then, be sure and check out our NHL analysis, as those playoffs have started the second round and MLB coverage, with a weekly feature in both the American League and National League.