MIAMI — The Miami Heat returned to the practice court at AmericanAirlines Arena at full strength after six days off thanks to the extended All-Star break.
Well, almost at full strength.
Chris Bosh was sent home early because of an unspecified illness, but Dwyane Wade was back at it and went through the entire practice session, which head coach Erik Spoelstra said was about 90 percent contact. Shawne Williams (hip) and Hassan Whiteside (ankle) were also full participants as the team prepared for Friday’s road game against the New York Knicks.
With 30 games left and the Heat in the last playoff spot in the East, Spoelstra is excited for this crucial stretch.
"This is the best time of the year," he said. "We’re very fortunate to be in this profession all year long, but after the break is when it’s most competitive. These are the times you live for."
Wade pushed through not just the entire practice session but also stayed behind as the last player on the practice court for an extended one-on-one drill with assistant coaches Juwan Howard and David Fizdale. He wore special headgear that limited his oxygen intake in order to maximize his workout.
Afterward, he repeatedly said he would play Friday after missing seven games since straining his right hamstring early in the second half against the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 27. Including that game, the Heat have lost six of their past eight.
At 22-30, the Heat are tied with the Charlotte Hornets and are one game ahead of the Brooklyn Nets, and having Wade at full strength is crucial.
"It feels like a separate season, but at the same time, we’ve got to take it one game at a time," Wade said. "We can’t go 30-0, and we won’t go 0-30, God willing. We don’t have 82 games to right the ship like when you start the season. We only have 30, and we’ve been playing in and out of the playoff (picture) for the last week and a half. So we’ve just got to take it one game at a time and go up to New York on Friday and try to figure out a way to get a win and just go from there."
As much as their play has suffered with the absence of Wade as well as many other players, team captain Udonis Haslem is excited about the possibilities with a team that may be as close to being as healthy as it was in training camp.
"We’re healthy now, and there’s really no excuses," he said. "We’ve had time to put the pieces together, so right now, we’ve got to hit the ground running in the second half of the season. Obviously, [Wade] is one of our best players. Having him on the court definitely makes things easier for us and improves our chances of winning, makes plays for everybody and we’ve got a guy who we can give the ball to when we need to get a bucket. He just takes our game to another level."
Whiteside has played well in Wade’s absence but said playing alongside the All-Star will help take his game to another level.
"It’s great," he said of getting Wade back. "I always felt like Dwyane was an underrated passer. He’s probably the best passer I’ve ever played with, so normally when I know he’s got the ball, even if he’s not looking at you, the ball can still come your way. So it’s a great privilege."
The Heat’s X factor was not only pumped up with Wade’s return, but also for the entire team to get back on the court and resuming the daily grind of NBA life.
"It basically felt like training camp today and just re-evaluating what we’ve learned before and just refreshing it," Whiteside said. "It was exciting getting to see all the guys with their tans. Just getting back out here and seeing [Spoelstra], seeing you guys, it was exciting."