HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The NBA calendar waits for no man, not even one of the game’s all-time greats.
You are either ready for the grind when the curtain comes up on the 2013-14 NBA season or you are not. The 82-game gauntlet that awaits has no mercy.
That’s why it should be comforting news to Miami Heat fans that Dwyane Wade made his way back to the gym this weekend after a two-month layoff to rest the sore knees that have come to define this stage of his stellar career. Wade hasn’t been on the floor since the Heat’s Game 7 win over the San Antonio Spurs in The Finals.
Wade opted for OssaTron Shock treatments for the tendinitis in both knees rather than undergo major surgery, a move that Wade and the Heat have to believe was the best move for a player nearing his 32nd birthday and with a decade’s worth of wear and tear on his body. As important as LeBron James is to the Heat’s bottom line and as invaluable as Chris Bosh might be to what goes on in Miami, a healthy Wade is the key to the Heat’s three-peat hopes.
They won last season with Wade turning in a career-low 15.9 points per game in the postseason. He came alive when the Heat needed him most during the The Finals. But for long stretches throughout the postseason, starting in the first round against Milwaukee, he just didn’t look like himself. The burst and above-the-rim ability that had become his trademark vanished as he battled bone bruises in both knees.
He missed just one game in the postseason, but he was missing in action during plenty of others. Wade isn’t the first superstar to hit his 30s and find his body playing tricks on him. Kobe Bryant has had to deal with his fair share of knee issues, a problem he handled by opting for a blood-spinning procedure in Germany that saw other stars in the NBA and other sports follow after seeing Bryant’s physical resurgence post-procedure.
Wade made a public promise at his fantasy camp Friday to be ready to go when the Heat start training camp.
“I’ll be coming in prepared and ready, but I won’t be ready for opening night,” Wade told reporters. “I’ll be ready for opening night when opening night gets here. I have a good amount of time.”
Time is of the essence for the Heat. Their championship clock is far from over, but it’s ticking towards what could be a crossroads of sorts in the free-agent summer of 2014. Say Wade doesn’t make it through the 2013-14 campaign healthy and the Heat are unable to complete that Three-Peat, things could change dramatically with James, Bosh, the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony and several other high-profile starts all swimming in those free-agent waters.
But if Wade’s shock treatments work and he has the good fortune of avoiding all of the bumps and bruises that have slowed him down recently, the Heat will no doubt ride through the regular season as the favorites to win it all again. And a third straight title and fourth straight Finals appearance will make it tough for anyone to walk away from.
“The challengers are lining up,” said an Eastern Conference executive from a team outside of that group of contenders. “We all know how hard it is to get back on that horse and ride it to The Finals for third straight year. Everybody understands what kind of toll that takes on the guys who are the true superstars in those situations. If DWade is right and healthy, it’s hard to see anyone knocking them off the top of that mountain. It’s not impossible by any stretch, because Indiana was right there last season. But it is a tall order and nearly impossible with LeBron and healthy Wade doing what they do.”
Wade acknowledged the clear and present danger teams like the Pacers, Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets present to the Heat’s three-peat plans. It doesn’t take a pair of BluBlockers to see that the rest of the East is working tirelessly to catch up to the Heat. And that doesn’t even bring the Western Conference challengers into the equation, as he pointed out to Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com’s Heat Index:
“The East obviously has gotten stronger,” Wade said. “Brooklyn has done something unprecedented — to put five All-Star players on the floor at one time. Not that many people have pulled it off, especially with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. When you think of them, you think of Boston. To be able to take them from there and bring them to their team and bring something to their team that they were missing, in the sense of winning and that toughness.”
Wade said that on paper this might be the most competition he’s ever faced in the Eastern Conference.
“This is going to be a tough year for us,” Wade said about the Heat’s pursuit of a three-peat. “We’re walking into uncharted waters. Right now, we’re the standard team because we’ve been the champions the last two years, so other teams are putting teams together to stop that.”
Wade is right, it’s going to be an extremely difficult task trying to three-peat, even if they get all of the injury breaks they didn’t get last season.
The Heat’s mix has changed a bit, too. Mike Miller is gone. Greg Oden has joined them. Ray Allen and Chris “Birdman” Andersen came back. Bosh will no doubt come back with something to prove after taking his share of lumps on the court and from those of us who observe and report on these things.
What hasn’t changed is the formula the Heat need to achieve their goals. The dynamic duo of LeBron and Wade, when healthy, remains the most powerful force in basketball.
And nothing, not even the NBA calendar, can change that!