Paul George and Dwyane Wade are fighting for a trip to the NBA Finals (Isaac Baldizon/Getty).
After six hard-fought games, the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers will see the fate of their season determined by one game. Monday night's Game 7 in Miami represents a massive moment for the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, one an established power and the other a relative upstart. In the most basic terms, this game will vault either team into the NBA Finals and provide greater meaning to this season.
Yet playoff success means much more than moving from one series to the next. A conference championship can validate a team or player's progress, provide the stepping stone to greater fame, and ultimately help define careers in both the short and long terms. This game could determine much of the immediate futures for several key figures on both teams.
Dwyane Wade: As noted by our Kelly Dwyer before Game 6, Wade has had a hellish series not becoming his reputation as one of the NBA's most marketable and well-liked stars. Although Wade has blamed the Heat's game plan for some of his struggles, he appears hobbled and generally unable to impact the game in any meaningful way. If the Heat win a title, Wade can at least claim a winner's mentality no matter what struggles he has on the court. However, if they lose Game 7 to the Pacers, it's fairly clear which player will get the brunt of the blame for their inability to repeat as champions.
Simply put, Wade needs to save face at some point in this postseason to avoid a very unceremonious exit from the playoffs. Otherwise, he may have to suffer the indignity of not being able to exercise his early termination option next summer because no suitable contract will exist for him on the open market.
[Related: Three role player-related things to keep an eye on in Game 7]
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