MIAMI — It was only one game, and nothing’s guaranteed going forward.
Still, Dwyane Wade’s 23-point performance in Miami’s 99-88 Eastern Conference first-round Game 1 win against Charlotte on Sunday was an encouraging sign as the Miami Heat go for an NBA title three-peat.
Wade played 34 minutes, hit 10 of 16 shoots and added five assists with just one turnover.
”Physically, this is where I wanted to be (coming into the playoffs),” Wade said. ”Felt good today, didn’t feel any limitations.”
The Heat might be able to spell Wade a bit in this series, as a foot injury to Bobcats center Al Jefferson could be a devastating blow to Charlotte’s chances of testing Miami. But Wade will be a major factor going forward.
Wade’s health has been a topic since late last season. Miami won a second straight NBA championship even though the All-Star guard was hampered by a right-knee injury late in the season and through the playoffs. The left knee underwent surgery twice previously.
Following offseason OssaTron shockwave therapy, Wade and the Heat used a maintenance plan to try and assure the player would be at his best for the postseason. He rarely played both ends of back-to-back situations and missed 28 games overall, mostly to protect the knees.
By February and March, Wade was looking as healthy as he had in a long time. He was showing explosiveness to the basket, as well as some patented stop-and-pop moves.
Then came a hamstring injury, which accounted for nine of the 28 absences. He returned to play in the final three regular-season games.
”He’s put in a lot of work,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the win. ”If I hadn’t seen the extra work he’s been consistently putting in, I would have been more cautious about it. He probably wanted to be cleared a week before we cleared him. He’s been putting in all that extra miserable conditioning.
”Other than the fourth quarter, he never really played more than an eight-minute stretch, and that’s probably more important that a full amount of minutes.”
Wade played the final 9:51 on Sunday, scoring seven points during that time.
”It can’t get no righter,” LeBron James said after being asked if Wade looked right. ”He looked right to me: 10 for 16 and he was in attack mode and he got to the rim and he was working in transition and he had his step-back going.
”Any time D-Wade is getting and playing above the rim, you know he’s feeling good.”
James and Chris Bosh did not play in the season’s final two games, and thus only played once with Wade during the final 12 games.
”We didn’t have any rhythm to start the game, but we were able to work through it,” James said.
Bosh said he needed to adjust to playing without Wade, but that the guard’s rest benefitted the team in several ways.
”It gave guys opportunities to get more minutes, see where they fit in, and get a feel for the game a lot better,” Bosh said. ”Hopefully, later on, that will help our bench, so if he gets in foul trouble, we’ll know it’s nothing new.”
With game action different than any practice or workout, Wade said he wanted to call a timeout just a minute or so into Sunday’s game because he was feeling a little tired.
”I think we were all gassed in the opening minutes,” James said. ”It felt like we hadn’t played in two weeks.”
A timeout with 7:06 left in the first quarter allowed Wade, James & Co. a chance to catch their breaths. After that, endurance wasn’t an issue. And in the third and fourth quarters, Wade was at his best.
”I was just playing, making reads,” said Wade, seeking his fourth ring. ”It is just a sign of feeling good. I want to continue to get better and get my conditioning back to where I want it to be.”