MILWAUKEE – Hundreds came to watch Dwyane Wade warm up on the court Saturday night about two hours before he played in front of his college town, where everything plateaued just a decade ago. Every few shots, he took a peak toward the Marquette banner that hovered above him inside Bradley Center. Two NBA championships later, Wade puts everything into perspective during these return trips, and there’s nothing quite like coming back.
“It’s always special to think about for me 10 years ago being here at Marquette and what we were able to do, to now,” Wade told RealGM. “It never gets old. Even though it’s not playing on the Marquette floor, I get the respect before the game starts from the crowd for what I did. I always enjoy it.”
Indeed, there’s still a sense of novelty in Wade’s mind about those two seasons at Marquette under Tom Crean. Wade has admitted he wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school, but coming back to the place he called his home arena always lets him reminisce about where he established himself on a national stage.
At 30 years old now, Wade laughs about how time has flown by and laughs about all the wear and tear on his body in his 10th NBA season. He had an extensive sit down with coach Erik Spoelstra before the season, mapping out how the Miami Heat can ensure his freshness over a full schedule into a long playoff run. They came up with a plan that now has Wade averaging the lowest minutes in his career.
Wade brought some ferocity into Saturday’s game, having served his one-game suspension for the kick to the groin of Ramon Sessions. Still, Wade’s 24 points on another efficient performance, hitting 10 of 19 shots, were futile in the Heat’s tiring 104-85 loss to the Bucks. He knows his long-term planning with the Heat has impacted his stats, and yet he’s been putting up around 20 points, five assists and four rebounds per game and shooting a career-high 51.4 percent.
“We have a big picture in mind,” Wade said at his locker after playing 35 minutes in his return. “We’re trying to keep me as healthy as I can and make sure that I’m there when we really need me. Right now, I’m getting in a rhythm, especially the last two, three weeks I’ve been really getting into a flow. I’m just trying to keep myself healthy, keep myself strong.”
Yes, Wade has heard the outside noise, commentators and observers theorizing that he’s losing his athleticism. And most damning: That he’s declining. Wade accepts their opinion and reasoning behind it, but as long as his own teammates aren’t questioning his abilities, the critics don’t hold much value to him.
“We have our own plan,” Wade said, “and we ain’t worried about the outside plan.”
The Heat, for their part, clearly aren’t playing to prove any point right now, and they’ll continue to search for motivational tactics all season long. For all the Bucks did in spectacular fashion Saturday night – piling up 18 steals on 21 forced turnovers, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds and getting up 99 shot attempts – and for as much as Brandon Jennings dazzled and torched the Heat for 25 points and seven assists, Miami appeared to be running through the motions for long stretches of the game.
They were feeling the fatigue of their fourth game in five nights, as LeBron James admitted, and taking care of the ball and production from the point guard spot were spotty on Saturday. Jennings and Monta Ellis (14 points, nine assists) absolutely shredded the Heat’s perimeter defense, coexisting and balancing each other’s games beautifully, and Larry Sanders and Luc Mbah a Moute combined for 35 points and 18 rebounds.
For these Heat, there’s an understanding that their judgment time won’t arrive until the playoffs – until the Finals.
Just like last season, Wade has welcomed giving up the leading role to James, shifting from an all-time alpha dog to the player who can still carry the Heat at times. He enjoys that he doesn’t have to shoulder the scoring burden game in, game out like before, though.
“My job has changed since when I first game in the league and I’ve accepted it,” Wade said. “That’s why we’ve been successful, why we’ve been in the Finals the last two years. I’ll take those [current] numbers any day over averaging 25, 26 points a game. That’s not what I need to do right now.”
In so many ways, the downfall that took place with Avery Johnson as Brooklyn Nets coach reminds the Heat of their own struggles two seasons ago. The Heat started that first year with the big three 9-8, and there were points where it seemed widespread panic would ensue. Yet, Spoelstra kept his job, earned his standing in the NBA with last season’s championship, and patience then has led to a release of stress now.
“It’s unfortunate for Avery,” Wade said. “But when we were struggling, we kept everything indoor. We said, ‘Listen, we’ll get out of this together.’ And we did. … We had patience and patience is what you need.”