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National Columnist

Winning Wade has turned into whining Wade, and Heat are paying the price

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- After the game, Dwyane Wade was meticulous. He buttoned up his dark purple shirt, nice and tight. Pulled a pair of crisp, checked slacks off a hanger to match his jacket. Wore a fat watch, black sneakers with white soles, and glasses with thick frames. After the game, Dwyane Wade cared very much how he looked.

During the game? It's like he doesn't care at all.

But he looks bad, and not merely from a statistical standpoint. I'm not talking about his shooting percentage or his turnovers. This isn't about points, rebounds or assists. It's not even about winning or losing, though Wade certainly didn't look good as he put the ball down in the final seconds and walked off the court, leaving behind four teammates and a scoreboard that showed the Oklahoma City Thunder beating his Miami Heat 105-94 on Tuesday night in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The stat sheet showed Wade with 19 points, eight assists and four rebounds. That's a great game for most players, though not for one of Wade's stature. It's not necessarily a bad game for him, those final numbers, but it is a misleading game. Nineteen points? He needed 19 shots from the floor to get them, and he hit seven buckets all night -- and two of them came in the final minutes, the Thunder playing soft defense to avoid fouls, Wade taking points because they were easily given.

This game was like most of his games this postseason, in other words. With the exception of the final three games in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Indiana, those glorious games where Wade and LeBron James attacked without mercy, Wade has underachieved this postseason. He hasn't been anywhere near the guy who had four consecutive 30-point games in the 2006 NBA Finals against Dallas, or the guy who was brilliant in the 2011 NBA Finals, also against Dallas, as he tried to make up for James' poor play.

Wade will dismiss what I just wrote, of course. Hell, he already has. He seemed fine Tuesday night after the game, putting in his time behind the postgame podium, until I asked him why his play has been so erratic this postseason. Wade didn't like that, and soon he was sniffing out self-serving comments like: "I'm a winner. ... [I'm] not sitting up here worrying about scoring 30 points. I know that's going to make you guys [in the media] feel better. I'm all about winning."

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Pity, because he almost got it right.

Dwyane Wade is all about whining.

Once upon a time, he was the most daring, the most fearless, the most ferocious player in the league. Wade's sneaker company made a series of commercials feasting off Wade's relentless style, showing him getting knocked to the floor and getting up, over and over and over. He looked like a cyborg back then, strong and stoic and unbreakable.

Now? He looks broken. Other than those final three games against the Pacers, after Wade rebounded brilliantly from his bizarre Game 3 -- he was 2 of 13 from the floor, scored five points, had five turnovers and walked menacingly into coach Erik Spoelstra's space during a sideline spat -- he has been ineffective for a player of his talent. He has looked listless. He starts slow and sometimes never finishes, riding the coattails of LeBron James into these 2012 NBA Finals.

Same thing happened Tuesday. James put up 30 points with nine rebounds, four assists and four steals, but Wade never got untracked -- getting easy assists on perimeter passing as his teammates were knocking down open jumpers, but never attacking the rim.

When nobody was around him, Wade would shoot with confidence. When a Oklahoma City defender would contest the shot, Wade conceded that he's not going to make it and tried to dupe referees into sending him to the foul line -- where he could shoot some more with nobody around him. Otherwise, he flailed his arms and kicked his legs and flopped to the floor, giving up on the shot before he even shot it, then wasting precious seconds staring at the nearest official in disbelief. How was that not a foul?

Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook is dunking at the other end.

The Thunder outscored the Heat 24-4 on fast-break points in Game 1, and there are many reasons for that. The Thunder are younger, smaller, quicker at most positions. They seek out transition points because they're fun and they're easy. And also, the Heat sometimes do a poor job of getting back. That falls on everyone, including Chris Bosh, who runs exceptionally well for a 6-foot-11 player but who was beaten down the court in the second quarter by old man Derek Fisher -- and Fisher was dribbling the ball -- for a layup in the second quarter.

But most of the time it was Wade who was the last player back, Wade who lagged behind on defense Tuesday night because he had flopped to the floor or worse, just stayed behind to stare down an official. These aren't the 2006 NBA Finals, and Wade isn't going to the foul line 16 times a game. Officials are onto Wade's act. Turns out, nobody gets drilled to the deck as often as Wade's sneaker commercials led us to believe. Officials have caught on. He's that little kid who cried wolf a bit too many times, and instead of getting too many calls, he probably doesn't get enough these days. That's the law of averages. It's justice, too.

Wade doesn't get it, of course. He's a winner, and he's all about winning, and nobody on his team is about to tell him otherwise. In the locker room, forward Shane Battier said it was the team's responsibility to put Wade into positions where he could be aggressive. At the podium, Spoelstra said the same thing.

On planet Earth, it's up to Dwyane Wade. Start attacking. Stop flopping. Life isn't a sneaker commercial, and even if it were, Wade is no longer the star.

But he is a diva.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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