- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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How much can the Heat expect from Dwyane Wade against the Pacers?MIAMI -- Making peace with the pain continues to be a precipitous work in progress for Dwyane Wade.
But even as the Miami Heat star drags his troublesome right knee into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday against the Indiana Pacers, Wade no longer bothers with optimistic hopes and expectations.
He acknowledges the multiple bruises that have been a nuisance the past two months will no doubt continue to slow him. Wade also knows he won't be anywhere near 100 percent healthy for the remainder of the playoffs. So the reality is that he's essentially in a race against time.
“No matter what else I have going on, we've got one month left in the season,” Wade said. “It hasn't gotten better. It hasn't gotten worse. I've just got to go out there and hope I've got it in me to help us get eight more wins. That's all I really care about. That's all I'm worried about right now.”
Eight more postseason victories are what separates the Heat from their second consecutive NBA title. And to complete that mission, the next four of those eight wins must come against a formidable nemesis in a Pacers team that had the Heat stumbling and frustrated in last season's playoffs series.
Even with the 10-year veteran guard at far less than his best, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is confident Wade will still have a major impact on the series against the Pacers. Part of that confidence stems from watching Wade score 18 points and provide a dominant burst in the fourth quarter as the Heat closed out the Chicago Bulls in Game 5 last week.
For the second time this postseason, the Heat's quick work of a playoff opponent landed them a full week off between rounds. Spoelstra was encouraged to see Wade go through all of the Heat's scrimmage work over the past three days without enduring any further issues with his right knee.
“Dwyane's a warrior [and] he's proven himself as a warrior,” Spoelstra said when asked Tuesday what he realistically expects from Wade this series. “He's giving this team everything he's got. He's practiced every day since the end of last series. So I take that as a good sign.”
Wade finds himself facing both a recognizable foe while also coping with a familiar ailment in the process. It was in the conference semifinals last season when Wade's left knee gave him so many problems he required fluid to be drained from it in the middle of the series against Indiana.
With center Chris Bosh knocked out of that series in Game 1 with an abdominal strain and Wade's knee flaring up between Games 2 and 3, the Heat trailed Indiana 2-1 before rallying with three straight wins. Miami came back from a 3-2 series deficit to knock off Boston and then defeated Oklahoma City in the Finals in five games.
The Heat have overcome so much adversity in the playoffs over the past three seasons, they've come to embrace it. And Wade, reluctantly, is the embodiment of that approach.
But the Pacers are the biggest test yet to Wade's resilience.
Despite Wade being in the midst of the least productive playoff run in his 10-year career, the Heat were able to withstand the struggles with his health and game to cruise past Milwaukee in a first-round sweep. Wade sat out the series-clinching win in Game 4 after shooting a playoff-career-worst 1-for-12 from the field in the previous game.
Wade was just as sporadic against Chicago. But the combination of a more aggressive LeBron James and a more engaged Bosh was enough for the Heat to overwhelm the short-handed Bulls in five games after losing the opener.
Through eight games this postseason, Wade's numbers resemble those of a solid role player rather than an elite star. He's averaging 13 points and shooting 45.3 percent from the field, compared with 21.2 points and a career-high 52.1 percent clip in 69 games during the regular season.
Yet even as Wade's knee injury has impacted his offensive rhythm and tamed his explosiveness around the basket, it hasn't tarnished his overall effect on the game in other areas. His 5.4 assists a game in the playoffs is slightly higher than his season average of 5.1, and his 4.8 rebounds in the postseason is on par with his season average.
It's one reason, in hindsight, Wade reflects with pride on his Game 3 stinker of sorts against the Bucks in the first round. Why? Because despite that horrible shooting night, he fought through the pain to stuff the rest of the stat sheet with 11 assists, nine rebounds, five steals and two blocks.
It's the same mentality Wade plans to carry into the series against Indiana, which boasts the league's top defense.
“I've had games before when I struggled and shot badly, and I let that affect the rest of my game,” Wade said. “But you need to do more. For me now, it's just find a moment to help my team get over the hump. That's my approach in this series coming out. From game to game, it's going to be different. I don't know what those different challenges will be. But my mentality going in is to do whatever it takes in that game, in that quarter, in that moment. Do all I can do.”
Wade hasn't revealed specific details about the status or treatment of his knee in recent days since he aggravated it in Game 4 against Chicago. At one time, Wade confirmed some squeamish details of how trainers have helped him slide his kneecap over to the side adjacent to the bruises before taping and wrapping it to prepare him for games.
Heat teammates get to see behind the scenes what Wade goes through daily to get through practices and games.
“He's doing the best he can to get himself prepared and get himself ready physically,” said forward Udonis Haslem, who has been in Miami with Wade since 2003. “But I think, mentally, he understands his situation. He understands what we need from him and he understands what he can bring. Regardless of his situation physically, he's still an All-Star, still one of the top guards in this game, and still commands so much attention from other teams defensively.”
In essence, Wade might be a bit diminished as he deals with the knee. But he's hardly a decoy. That was clear the last time he was on the court with a game on the line.
James shook his head in amazement as he recalled watching Wade take over against the Bulls down the stretch in Game 5. Wade left the bench at the end of the third quarter to get his knee re-taped for what he anticipated would be a tight finish that required his late-game services.
During an eight-minute stretch, Wade scored six points, grabbed three rebounds, made a block and a key deflection as Miami rallied from an eight-point deficit for a 94-91 win. It was the sort of finish that reinforced confidence that Wade can still turn it on when needed and, despite the discomfort, do so in style with a few of his signature moves, as well.
“I know it's still frustrating because he's not nowhere near 100 percent,” James said of Wade. “I think Game 5 gave him a little bit of ease, knowing he could still be who he is. He hadn't had a Euro-step in about three weeks. So to see him do a Euro-step to [shoot] a floater, his two best moves of his career let him know he could still be who he is.”
As he's progressed through the stages of frustration, disappointment and, finally, acceptance that this knee situation simply won't go away, Wade came across a spiritual message that provided a sense of peace. He posted a link to the passage on his Instagram account Tuesday.
It read, in part: “There may be things I don't understand right now but I'm not worried. ... One day it will all come together and everything will make sense.”
Wade hasn't forgotten who he is or what he adds to the Heat. He's just hoping his knee holds up long enough and allows him to provide a few more reminders with his play.
“It's easy right now to make peace with it,” Wade said of coping with the knee problems. “But as this series goes on, it's going to be highs and lows, ups and downs. There are going to be frustrations because you're not able to do exactly everything you want to do. But I'll figure it out.”