Even not at full strength, Wade leads Heat to win
MIAMI — Memo to opposing players: Feel free to keep shaking in your high-tops when thinking about the Miami Heat.
The Heat have won their first two playoff games by an average of 17.5 points and guard Dwyane Wade still isn’t fully healthy. He made that pronouncement despite scoring 21 points and shooting 8 of 14 in Tuesday night’s 98-86 win over the Milwaukee Bucks at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“I’m not where I want to be,’’ Wade said about coming back from a sore right knee that kept him out of seven games late in the regular season.
So the guy who flew in for a pair of marvelous third-quarter dunks still isn’t as explosive as he expects to be in this postseason. That hasn’t helped the Bucks, who now trail the Eastern Conference first-round series 2-0.
But it’s good news for the Heat. Even forward LeBron James can’t help but wonder how good Miami can be in the playoffs when Wade is closer to full strength.
“He was flying around, and I know he’s not 100 percent, and it’s just his will,’’ James said. “He’s just playing through it … . So hopefully that knee continues to get better each and every game. If that’s the case, no telling what he can do at that point.”
There is some telling about what the Heat can do. They won 27 straight games in February and March when Wade was generally healthy. Now, they only need 14 more wins to claim a second straight championship.
James wasn’t nearly as efficient in Game 2 as he had been in Game 1 on Sunday, when he shot 9 of 11 for 27 points. He shot a pedestrian 6 of 14 for 19 points.
But Wade helped make up for that. He scored eight points in the third quarter at a time when James said the Heat “weren’t playing the greatest basketball.’’ The score was tied 53-53 with 7 ½ minutes remaining before Miami ended up taking a three-point lead at the end of the quarter and then blitzed the Bucks 30-21 in the fourth.
Wade’s third-quarter highlight was soaring in after a missed jumper by Mario Chalmers for a put-back dunk over Bucks guard Monta Ellis, who has said he’s in the “same category’’ as Wade except for wins and titles. Not bad for a guy still working his way back into form.
“It’s getting better,” Wade said of his knee. “It was better than last game. My job is to try to get better each game …. I’ll continue to do my treatment and continue to do my rehab and do everything I need to do to try to make sure that I can give my team everything I have. So I have a lot more health improvement to get with my right knee. Bone bruises take awhile, and it’s going to take awhile. But as long as it’s getting better every day and I’m able to do some of the things that I’m accustomed to, I can deal with that.’’
Wade said his knee is “sore.’’ Nevertheless, he also had seven rebounds, three assists and two steals Tuesday in 32 minutes.
And now he’s heading to a place where his adrenaline will be racing and he might forget all about any soreness. Thursday’s Game 3 will be played at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, the same arena where Wade starred at Marquette.
It’s also the arena where his No. 3 hangs from the rafters. Wade is the NBA’s only active player who can play in an opposing arena and gaze up and see his retired number. That’s because no active players have NBA numbers retired and Wade is the only one whose number is retired by a college that regularly shares an arena with an NBA team (Memphis and Georgetown do in addition to Marquette).
“I look up,’’ Wade said of when he plays in Milwaukee. “It’s cool. It’s very humbling. Every time I look up there, I think about how far I came and it’s special to be able to play in an arena where your jersey hangs.’’
Thursday will be the first playoff game Wade plays in Milwaukee. He said he did attend some Bucks playoff games when he was at Marquette from 2000-03 and the Bradley Center was “rocking.’’
“It’s always special,’’ Wade said of games there. “Obviously, I went to Milwaukee without a lot of expectations and I came out of Milwaukee with the fifth pick in the (2002) draft, so Milwaukee was special to me …. I’m going back in the playoffs. It’s a cool thing, so I look forward to it.’’
Wade loves playing in Milwaukee even if he did shoot 0 of 7 for just six points in first game there as a Heat rookie in 2003-04. Since then he’s had a plenty of marvelous nights there, including when they retired his jersey Feb. 3, 2007, and he wasn’t playing.
“It’s always special for him to return there and look in the rafters and see his name retired, and it should be fun,’’ James said.
What also should be fun for the Heat is playing when Wade says he is where he wants to be.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or on Twitter @christomasson.