scored 29 points to lead Miami to its third straight victory. (Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
The two-time defending champion Heat served up the latest reminder that they’re the team to beat with a 102-97 win over the Clippers on Thursday.
• Dwyane Wade is still good enough to carry the Heat. He’s more than a decade into his NBA career and no longer among the handful of best players in the league (just ask Kevin Durant), but Dwyane Wade proved Thursday that he's still capable of putting the Heat on his back in select spots. Miami's longtime star thrashed the Clippers in a vintage performance for a game-high 29 points, lifting Miami to its third straight win and further distancing the memory of the Heat's first back-to-back losses since January.
It was only five seasons ago that Wade led the league in scoring, but he's long grown comfortable to a slower life in South Beach, playing a complementary role to LeBron James. Last season, Wade was the top scorer in only 11 of the 69 games he played, but he channeled his volume-shooting salad days on Thursday, hitting 13-of-22 shots on an array of jumpers and drives.
With LeBron riding shotgun, Wade drove Miami's offense most of the night, dishing out a team-high seven assists (and a team-high seven turnovers). While Blake Griffin did a respectable job containing LeBron (18 points on 6-of-13 shooting), the Clippers couldn't stop Wade from exploiting their porous defense. Whether it was J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Willie Green or a different folding chair in a Clippers uniform, Wade had his way with L.A.’s perimeter defense, getting into the lane with regularity and forcing the Clippers to collapse as he attacked the rim, leading to several easy shots for his teammates.
After helping the Heat build an 11-point lead in the third quarter, Wade turned in his best performance in the fourth, scoring 11 of his 29 points (5-of-10 shooting) -- including target="_blank">this thunderous one-handed slam -- and squashing L.A.’s last-ditch effort at a rally.
He may no longer possess the type of explosiveness that earned him the nickname “Flash,” but Wade still has enough talent and know-how to mask his deteriorating athleticism and play at a high level. Even without top-level speed or quickness, Wade can get by defenders and create his own shot. One would assume that a 31-year-old is no longer the finisher he one was, but Wade converted 71.3 percent of his shots at the rim last season, the highest mark of his career.
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He showed the same type of effectiveness against the Clippers, who elected to key in on James and challenge Wade to beat them. That's normally a sound strategy, but it backfired on Doc Rivers. The Heat have now won 51 of their last 57 games when Wade scores at least 20 points, a fact coach Erik Spoelstra is likely keenly aware of. Rather than ride Wade during the regular season, the Heat will continue to preserve him -- they sat him in the second game of the season against Philadelphia -- and risk taking a few lumps here and there if it means Wade can deliver in big spots like he did Thursday.
• The Clippers are as good on offense as they are bad on defense. Entering Thursday, Los Angeles owned the league’s most efficient offense (113.9 points per 100 possessions) but second-worst defense (110.3). That’s a surprising characteristic of a Rivers-led team, but it’s one the Clippers could carry the rest of the season.
Despite having a formidable shot blocker protecting the paint in DeAndre Jordan and a defensive menace patrolling the perimeter in Chris Paul, Los Angeles hasn't stopped much of anyone this season. The Clippers are giving up 108.3 points per game and have allowed an opposing player to score at least 29 points in three of six games. They saw Stephen Curry light them up for 38 (in a game they won) in the first week, allowed Nikola Vuecvic to bully them down low for 30 points and 21 rebounds on Wednesday and surrendered 29 to Wade.
The most troubling takeaway from those three performances? Their diversity. Rather than teams exploiting one specific weakness, opponents are proving the Clippers are susceptible to many types of breakdowns. It doesn't help that Matt Barnes, one of the team's best defenders, remains sidelined, but Los Angeles is going to need more from Redick, Jared Dudley and its cast of offense-first role players to step up on the other end in order to contend. As talented as Los Angeles is on offense, Thursday was a reminder that it needs defense to win (Miami shot 53.5 percent from the field). If Rivers can’t fortify his defense, the Clippers will remain would-be contenders and not a full-fledged title threat.
• Blake Griffin is not to blame (plus an obligatory highlight). Much is made about Griffin’s post game – or lack thereof – but the power forward appears to be doing just fine with half a tool belt. Griffin scored 27 points (on 11-of-15 shooting) and added 14 rebounds against the Heat, upping his season averages to 21.7 points and 11.3 rebounds and improving his field-goal percentage to 59.1.
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Griffin will never have the post-game repertoire of Pau Gasol or the savvy of Tim Duncan, but he’s proving he can still be an efficient scorer with a limited skill set. The Clippers would prefer he take on a more aggressive mindset and ultimately develop into a dominant offensive weapon, but until then they’ll just have to deal with Griffin's getting by on pure athleticism and settle for more 27-point and 14-rebound nights with finishes like this one: