MIAMI — They might be known as the Big Three. But in this series against the Indiana Pacers, it’s been more like the Big One.
LeBron James in his three years with the Miami Heat often has deferred to fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But the latter two certainly haven’t been looking recently like stars.
Wade has been hampered by a painful bruised right knee throughout the playoffs and hasn’t reached 20 points in any of the past 11 games he’s played. In the Eastern Conference finals, which the Heat lead 3-2 entering Saturday’s Game 6 at Indiana, Wade is averaging 15.4 points. That’s well below his regular-season average of 21.2.
Bosh, who is battling big Roy Hibbert at center and has played recently on a sprained right ankle, also has had problems in the series. He’s averaging 12.6 points, below his regular-season average of 16.6.
So what’s James had to do? Take charge even more.
Even though the Heat are scoring more than four points fewer per game in the series than they did during the regular season, the NBA MVP is averaging 28.4 points, nearly two more than his regular-season figure of 26.8. He’s had three games of 30 or more, including 30 in Thursday’s 90-79 Game 5 win.
“He’s in a class by himself when it comes to the best basketball player I’ve ever seen,’’ Heat forward Udonis Haslem said about James. “He’s intelligent. That’s what makes him so special. He knows when it’s time to step up and make plays and when it’s time to get other guys involved.’’
Thursday’s third quarter was a time to step up. With the Heat playing sluggishly and down 44-40 at halftime, James soon took charge. He scored 16 points as the Heat outscored Indiana 30-13 in the third quarter to take control of the game.
James said he “kind of just went back to my Cleveland days’’ and became “more of a scoring threat.’’ In other words, he knew he had to make up for some shortcomings by his teammates, a scenario he faced when playing for the less-talented Cavaliers from 2003-10.
James didn’t phrase it like that. But it’s quite apparent James needs to do more now to make up for difficulties faced by Wade and Bosh.
Wade was candid Friday about his limitations. His knee is bothering him and preventing him from producing as much offensively as he would like.
“It’s very tough,’’ Wade, who managed just 10 points in Game 5. “But I can’t sit at home. I got to come out there and got do to what I can every day and every night to help my team win and do the little things throughout a game, defensively at times, rebound at times …. I just got to try to make plays for the guys and not necessarily worry if I can get 20 points so you guys (the media) can feel good and you guys come in and write a good story.’’
Wade said his knee on Thursday “had some good moments and had some bad moments.’’ He said it’s “kind of understood’’ James has to do more at times to pick up what Wade can’t do. Sometimes, though, they do discuss it.
“My only thing is I can tell him I’m going to give you everything I got and that’s all I can do at this point,’’ Wade said. “I would love to score to 20 to 30 a night …. If (Saturday’s) a night where I’m feeling better and I can go for more points, then I’m going to try to be aggressive. But if it’s a game where I got to make plays for other guys to make shots and give up myself, that’s what I’ll do.’’
Wade has had games of 18 and 19 points in the series. But that’s still below what he normally scores.
“I understand that he’s not 100 percent and he’s giving us everything he has,’’ James said of Wade. “So I got to just be me and go out and try to lead our team and help our team win.’’
James also has had to make up for some of Bosh’s struggles. The 6-foot-11, 235-pound Bosh, a natural power forward who has been forced to play center, has been overpowered in the series by the 7-2, 275-pound Hibbert, averaging 22.6 points and 10.8 rebounds in the five games.
Bosh is averaging just 3.6 rebounds against the Pacers and has put up just seven points in each of the past two games. Not helping matters has been the ankle he sprained in the second half of Game 4, which looked to also have hampered him in Game 5.
“Everybody at this point in time, it’s difficult to play,’’ Bosh said. “Nobody’s 100 percent when you’ve 100-something games. It’s just really all mental …. Everybody is ailing a little bit. But that’s a part of the game.’’
It could be even tougher for Bosh on Saturday due to the NBA having suspended Miami backup center Chris Andersen for one game. Andersen was assessed a flagrant 1 foul Thursday for two hard shoves of Indiana forward Tyler Hansbrough. The NBA reviewed the play Friday and made its determination.
With Andersen out, perhaps James will have to fill in even more inside. The do-all James already has been Miami’s top outside threat in the series.
With normally potent marksman Ray Allen shooting just 6 of 20 (30 percent) in the series and Shane Battier a disastrous 2 of 15 (13.3 percent), James has been the Heat’s most reliable 3-point shooter. He’s shooting 12 of 28 (42.9 percent) against Indiana.
“I can do a little bit of everything, shoot from the outside, score in the paint, I can score in the mid-range,’’ James said. “I’m not trying to compensate for anybody. I’m just trying to do my part and even do a little more just to try to help us win.’’
Sometimes James has to do a lot more to get Miami a victory. But if the Heat aren’t going to have a true Big Three during this postseason, there’s no other Big One any team would want to have.