MIAMI – I’m through doubting Dwyane Wade.
I’ve done it a few times over the years for various reasons – knee surgery, shoulder surgery, ankle injury, etc… — and Wade, the Miami Heat’s superstar guard, always comes back strong. We saw it after his injury-shortened 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, we saw it in last year’s playoffs, we saw it in the second half of this season.
We saw it again Wednesday in the Heat’s 94-91 Game 5 second round series-clinching victory over Chicago.
Wade, who always seems to be battling something, is currently fighting a debilitating right knee bruise. But he still ended with 18 points, five rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block in 37 minutes to help Miami advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the third consecutive year.
“I would love to be one of those guys that never ever gets injured…but that’s not in the cards for me,” Wade said.
In the fourth quarter, when the game was on the line, Wade was at his best, scoring six points (on 3-for-3 shooting), grabbing three rebounds and blocking a shot. By comparison, LeBron James finished with 23 points, four in the fourth quarter.
“Dwyane is uncanny when competition is at its highest,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
No one was even sure Wade would play in Game 5. The final decision wasn’t reached until after his pre-game warmup. After a so-so start, Wade finished like a champion, showing everyone he remains a game-winning threat.
So I’m through doubting Wade.
But I’m not through with the questions about Wade’s health. I’m not sure he should practice the rest of the playoffs.
The bruised right knee that’s slowed him since late March remains a problem. Wade played a helluva game Wednesday. But some thought he shouldn’t have played at all.
I was among those. I figured the Bulls were ready to quit, ready for this series to be over, so Spoelstra might as well rest Wade until the next series as he did in Game 4 of the first round against Milwaukee.
After all, one accidental knee bump could cause Wade’s injury to flare up again the way it did in Game 4. At this point in his career, Wade is almost fragile. Rest him. That’s what I said, and it’s what a lot of other people said.
Wade hears the sentiment, and even granted it a bit of legitimacy.
“I understand certain things that they say,” Wade said, with “they” referring to those who dare to doubt him.
James called the Wade injury dilemma a “Catch-22” for Wade, saying if he doesn’t play people will question his absence, and if he does play people will question why he’s taking such a risk by playing.
“I don’t really care for the trash-talking he receives,” said James, who has endured as much trash-talking as anyone in the NBA.
To play or not to play has frequently been a coin-toss issue when it comes to Wade, who always seems to be fighting some sort of ailment. He missed nine of the final 14 regular season games to rest the knee.
Wade wasn’t himself for much of Game 5.
In the second quarter James rebounded a missed free throw and passed to Wade in the open court in transition. Wade had his shot blocked by Rip Hamilton. Wade hadn’t suffered an indignity of that magnitude in, well, 48 hours, since wearing that tight-fitting, polka dot suit with Capri pants to Game 4 in Chicago.
“Just different looks that I go through, man,” Wade said, explaining the outfit that raised eyebrows nationwide. “That was just another one in the repertoire. Didn’t think it was gonna get that much attention. But you know me.”
OK, back to basketball and what seemed to be an injury-affected Wade…
Late in the first half James fed Wade on a fast break and Wade completed a reverse layup instead of a dunk. And that’s fine. But this is where things are with Wade nowadays.
That bruised right knee is keeping him ground-bound, robbing him of his trademark explosiveness, and you have to figure for the rest of the playoffs it’ll only get worse.
There aren’t many dunks or moves reminiscent of the old Dwyane, the spry, strong guy who could make magic happen at any given moment. The Wade we see today is a jump shooter who has to pick his spots to try to amaze.
There were a couple of times in Game 5, notably halfway through the third quarter with Chicago leading, 63-54, when Wade didn’t even have the speed to get to a loose ball. On one play Bulls guard Nate Robinson beat Wade to the ball, which is no shame considering Robinson is among the fastest players in the NBA. But Wade was moving in slow motion going after that ball.
You saw it again minutes later when Bulls center Joakim Noah whizzed a pass into the lane to Carlos Boozer, right past the outstretched arm of Wade, who was a half-step too late.
Then came the fourth quarter.
Wade’s off-balance fadeaway in the paint gave the Heat an 86-83 lead. He had another to give Miami an 88-84 lead.
Wade flashed again with 3:31 remaining. The shot clock was winding down and the pass went to Jimmy Butler. He faked a shot, Wade stayed with him. Butler stepped back to take a 3-pointer and Wade was right there in his face.
Not long after that, Wade had a putback dunk on a Cole miss to give Miami a 93-88 lead.
Miami went on to win, and Wade seems to be OK. To be sure, there will be more Wade injury drama in the Eastern Conference finals. But I’m not going to doubt whether Wade should play, or how well he’ll play.
Wade will be just fine, and maybe even better.
“Out of all the games in the playoffs,” he said after Wednesday’s Game 5, “this is the best I felt, so hopefully I’m on the right track.”
Chris Perkins is a veteran Miami-based sports journalist who covers the Heat for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.