MIAMI — Dwyane Wade is not planning on missing any more games this season – and that means life on the Miami Heat equipment room staff is going to get considerably more demanding.
They don’t mind. It’s a small price when a team is looking for a third straight title. Wade keeps the equipment guys busy on game days: He needs at least one pair of new sneakers to start games, a backup pair ready, just in case, and usually two full sets of uniforms because his penchant for producing tons of sweat often leads to in-game wardrobe changes. Nobody complains, because everyone around the team knows the Heat are significantly better when Wade is playing.
Such was the case Sunday, when Wade scored 23 points and the Heat won Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series against Charlotte. (The second game in the best of seven series was due to be played this Wednesday.)
“Can’t get no righter,” Heat star LeBron James said, answering a question about whether Wade looked right.
Wade made 10 of 16 shots, added five assists, played 34 minutes and was part of a Heat win for the first time in a month. He downplayed it all afterward but, being on the court, in a win, without setbacks was an extremely positive sign for the Heat guard.
“Just a natural day, didn’t have to think too much,” Wade said. “Just was playing and making reads.”
The Heat had no formal practice on Monday, though that hardly means it was a day off. When Wade doesn’t play, he’s often working harder than when he is on the floor, between treatments and conditioning and weightlifting and all the things he needs to keep an edge.
After he strained his hamstring March 26, Wade wanted to play a few days later. The team kept him out longer than he hoped – or wanted – but the end result was that he was fully healthy for the start of the postseason, which was the biggest key to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
“We had to see certain things before we could clear him,” Spoelstra said. “And nobody wanted a setback. Not now.”
That was the mantra with Wade all season, especially after how both knees hurt so much during last season’s playoffs. To get ready for the toughest time of year, Wade first had to accept some tough realities.
Wade was 155th in the NBA in minutes played this season, appearing in only 54 games. Most of those absences – starting with the second game of the regular season – were because of a knee-maintenance program. He knew there were critics of how much or how little he was playing but the Heat were undeterred and stayed with the plan.
“It was what it was,” Wade said. “Like we said coming in, it was going to be a different year. From year to year, you don’t know what to expect. You come in hoping for the best but you’ve got to be prepared and ready for everything. And that’s where we were and that’s where I was. It happened and we move on and we’ve got two more months of basketball, hopefully.”
It’s simple: When Wade is good, the Heat are great. When he shoots over 60 percent, the Heat are 17-3 this season. When he has at least 23 points, as he had Sunday, they’re 13-4.
“We all still know what D-Wade brings to the table,” James said. “And we’re going to need that.”