MIAMI — For one night at least, Dade County will be Wade County once again.
When the Chicago Bulls (4-4) visit the Miami Heat (2-4) on Thursday, the lion's share of the focus will be on Dwyane Wade, the 6-foot-4 shooting guard, 12-time NBA All-Star and three-time NBA champion.
Wade, the fifth pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, spent his entire career with the Heat until he bolted as a free agent this summer, landing in his hometown of Chicago.
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His decision saddened and disappointed thousands of Heat fans, who grew to love what Wade accomplished in Miami's colors.
Wade's return to his adopted home of Miami will be an event, as evidenced by the national broadcast on TNT.
“I'm looking forward to it,” Wade told ESPN after the Bulls beat the Orlando Magic on Monday night. “I'm looking forward to playing in the environment I played in for 13 years and competing against guys I've played with and have relationships with.”
The Wade-in-Miami angle is so prominent that he talked about it even though there was another game to be played between the Bulls and the Hawks. The Bulls, in fact, lost 115-107 at Atlanta on Wednesday night. Bulls small forward Jimmy Butler led all scorers with 39 points, and Wade added 25.
Meanwhile, the Heat (2-4) have been off since Monday and won't have to travel. That is a significant scheduling advantage for Miami, but it remains to be seen if Wade plays with a huge amount of emotion and if that will be enough to carry the night.
The Heat, during the game's first timeout, are expected to play a video montage of Wade's highlights during his career in Miami.
“I'll definitely be appreciative of that moment,” Wade said. “It will be cool to see the love and support and people being thankful for what I did. Unless you are just cold-blooded, you are going to feel something.
“But it's not like a retirement ceremony where I will have a chance to be real emotional. I'm trying to beat their butt.”
The Bulls (4-4) are trying to get back to the postseason, after all. They missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008.
After the season, Chicago traded away star point guard Derrick Rose and watched center Joakim Noah and power forward Pau Gasol leave as free agents.
The Bulls regrouped by signing point guard Rajon Rondo and getting center Robin Lopez in the Rose trade. They signed Wade to a two-year, $47 million contract after he felt, in essence, disrespected by the Heat's two-year, $40 million offer.
Rondo, Wade and Lopez were added to the Bulls' nucleus, which consists primarily of Butler, the one star on the team who is still in his prime, and power forward Taj Gibson.
Chicago's bench is led by forwards Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic and guard Isaiah Canaan.
Bulls backup point guard Michael Carter-Williams made the road trip even though his bruised left knee likely will keep him out for another month.
The focus on Thursday, of course, will be on Wade. And Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, for one, is looking forward to the game and to the montage that will honor his former star.
“That will be a special moment,” Spoelstra said. “Dwyane means a lot to myself and to all of us in Miami.”
The Heat, though, has enough to worry about in terms of actually winning games. They are 1-2 at home and 1-2 on the road.
Point guard Goran Dragic leads Miami in scoring (18.0) and assists (6.2). Center Hassan Whiteside is averaging 17.5 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Reserve guard Tyler Johnson is playing well, averaging 14.5 points while making 51.6 percent of his shots.
But Dragic, normally a terror while attacking the rim, is shooting just 43.9 percent on 2-pointers. And there is precious little in the way of perimeter shooting on this team once you get past Dragic and Johnson.
Maybe that is one reason why Miami's starting small forward, Justise Winslow, said Wade's arrival means little to him.
“It won't be emotional for us,” said Winslow, who only played one year with Wade. “We play against former players all the time.”