HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Ever get the feeling that Dwyane Wade is getting to be a lot like the San Antonio Spurs? Reports of demise have been greatly exaggerated.
No, Wade nearing 32 (Jan. 17) isn’t the same as he was at 24. And maybe his near-32-year-old knees are crankier than some others, but let’s stop trying to pretend he’s not still one of the league’s top superstars. And that the Big Three pushing for the first three-peat the league has seen in a dozen years is reduced to the brilliance of LeBron James pulling a one-legged Wade and whatever it is Chris Bosh isn’t on any particular day.
The fact is Wade really is like Batman. Not in the Batman and Robin dynamic duo sense in which we constantly want to slot a team’s two leading stars. Of course we know in that sense LeBron is the ultimate Dark Knight. Wade’s Batman is the Caped Crusader who suddenly appears out of the darkness as a silhouette in the glow of a full moon whenever Gotham needs him most.
And so it was again Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena. The Indiana Pacers, the enemy and the East’s best shot to dethrone the two-time champion Heat, were in town, fresh off a home victory against Miami eight nights earlier and eager for more.
James was trying to shake a sprained ankle from Monday’s game and wasn’t even sure he’d be able to go. This was the Pacers’ moment to pounce, to take the first two of this four-game regular-season grudge match and gain the upper hand in the chase for homecourt advantage, a valuable commodity Indiana desperately wants for when these two titans will certainly clash again in the East finals.
Indiana and its young superstar-to-be Paul George (25 points, eight rebounds, six assists) had it all going their way, leading throughout and ahead by 15 points midway through the third quarter.
And then Wade stripped it all away: 32 points (18 in the second half and nine in the decisive fourth quarter) on 15-for-25 shooting, plus three steals, including one with 7:30 left in the game that prevented Indiana from going back up by eight and instead sliced the deficit to four.
In a pulsating flash, one might say, the incumbent Heat reasserted their dominance over their hard-charging challengers on a night when for so long it seemed it just wasn’t meant to be. James, despite his ailing ankle, finished with 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, including finding Chris Bosh (15 points, eight rebounds) for the game-tying 3 with 1:30 to play and then Ray Allen 31 seconds later for the go-ahead 3.
More than anything, the night was another reminder not to count out Wade, just as he sporadically reminded throughout the 2013 title run all while managing the pain in his knees. And that will be a constant it appears for the remainder of his career. And we’ve seen it already early this season with Wade missing six of the Heat’s first 25 games to ease the soreness and create periods of extended rest. Miami is 16-3 with him and 3-3 without him.
Wade, averaging 19.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 4.8 apg in 33.7 mpg, logged a team-high 37 minutes on Wednesday, his second consecutive game playing every other day following a convenient three-day break after the 90-84 loss at Indiana. The days between focus heavily on preventative maintenance geared toward another June run for the roses.
“He’s very disciplined and dedicated to that routine, and there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes just in terms of his treatment, his corrective exercises, his weightlifting, his conditioning and his basketball work that he’s doing that nobody else sees except for us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “And that’s putting himself in a position not only to play well right now, but build. That’s the idea.”
Wade has played in just two of the Heat’s six games in their three back-to-back sets. After going for 17 points, five rebounds, eight assists and eight steals in 36 minutes in a home win over Dallas, Wade had four points on 1-for-7 shooting the next night at Charlotte. Following that game he skipped the next two games, another back-to-back, with knee soreness, giving him six full days off. His next game he led all scorers with 27 points on 9-for-16 shooting.
By sporadically taking games off, Wade’s been very good in games he’s played on one day’s rest. In 10 of those, he’s averaged 22.8 ppg on 58.6 percent shooting, 5.2 apg and 4.6 rpg in 34.2 mpg. The Heat are 9-1 in those games. Wade’s played four games on two day’s rest, one on three, one on five and two on six or more.
He’s been on the floor for five of the Heat’s six biggest games. In two games against Indiana and one each against the Clippers, Suns and Mavs (Miami’s only games against teams currently with a winning record, plus one against Atlanta that Wade missed), Wade has averaged 23.2 ppg on 57.4 percent shooting (50-for-87), 4.8 rpg, 6.4 apg and 3.4 in 35.0 mpg. The Heat won four of the five.
The legend continues.