With Wade absent, weight of Miami’s offense falls on LeBron

Before the Spurs headed to Florida for back-to-back games against the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked about his approach to defending the Heat and its Big Three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

His response: “As soon as either Dwyane or LeBron catches the ball, I cover my eyes.”

Popovich can keep his eyes open more often tonight. It appears the right ankle sprain Wade suffered Friday night in Denver is going to keep him on the sidelines. Coach Erik Spoelstra won’t give a timetable for his return, but it is almost certainly not for tonight’s game.

Of course, that means more touches for James, the two-time Most Valuable Player who enters tonight’s game averaging 29.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists.

For James, the burden of carrying the Heat for however long they are without Wade becomes one more measure of his value to a team that polarized NBA fans last season after James helped orchestrate the construction of a roster some believed would dominate the league for several years.

This season’s team returned after being humbled by the Mavericks in the NBA Finals and reeled off victories in eight of its first nine games, but comes into its game against the Spurs on a three-game losing streak that revealed, yet again, James’ tendency to shrink from the challenge of the fourth quarter.

Here’s a look at the latest dilemma for James, Wade and the Heat:

LeBron James

The good

• In 11 games (he sat out one game with a sore left ankle, a road win in Atlanta), he is averaging 29.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists in 40.1 minutes per game.

• In the two games he played during the three games Wade missed, he scored 65 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and handed out 22 assists.

The bad

• Until he made 3 of 5 3-point shots in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets, he had not made a shot from long distance all season, going 0 for 5.

• He has committed 23 turnovers in his last four games.

The ugly

• He did not attempt a shot in the fourth quarter of the Heat’s overtime road loss to the Warriors last Tuesday; also failed to get a rebound or an assist in the fourth quarter.

• Acutely aware of the criticism leveled at him for his passivity in the fourth period at Golden State, he scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds in the fourth quarter of what would be another overtime loss, this time to the Clippers, the next night in Los Angeles. However, he also missed 4 of 10 fourth-quarter free throws in that one, including two in the final 16.7 seconds.

Dwyane Wade

The injuries

Today is Wade’s 30th birthday, and he reached this milestone with evidence mounting that time is taking a toll on a player whose game is based on athleticism and reckless abandon. Thus far this season, he has missed two games with a sprained right mid-foot, one with a strained left calf and, in all likelihood, several more with an ankle sprain that hurt so badly when it happened, he feared a broken bone.

The quandary

Playing hurt already had limited Wade’s effectiveness this season, his shooting percentage (43.9) and scoring average (19.6) down significantly from last season (50.0 and 25.5). Spoelstra insisted he was not being coy with the media Sunday when he maintained he could not give a timetable for Wade’s return. The safest course may be to shut him down for a while to allow all his injuries to fully heal, but in a compressed season, that might mean losing a lot of ground to the Bulls in the battle for the best record in the Eastern Conference.


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