MIAMI -- As Dwyane Wade works his way through lingering knee issues this season, he's repeatedly talked about patiently picking spots when to push himself.
Apparently, Wade's selection process had him settling on the third quarter of Saturday's 101-99 win against the Orlando Magic. That's when the Miami Heat's star guard shook off a rusty, 1-for-6 start from the field to spark his team's rally from a 16-point halftime deficit with two vicious dunks.
The outburst of energy and aggression from Wade came after he could barely make it up and down the court on a consistent basis in the first half. Playing in his first game after sitting out a week to address chronic knee soreness, Wade's conditioning was clearly an issue early in the game.
But he was a totally different player in the second half, scoring 19 of his team-high 27 points after the break to help the Heat extend their winning streak to six games.
“I just started to feel my rhythm come a little bit,” Wade said of working through his first-half struggles to finish 9-of-16 from the field and 9-of-10 from the free-throw line. “I knew in the first half I was moving well. I just wasn't finishing the way I wanted. The second half, my opportunity presented itself. Your confidence gets going in your game and in your body. I wanted to keep it going.”
The Heat got as much out of Wade as they could Saturday. But the larger issue in Miami is that Wade's coaches and teammates aren't quite sure when to expect another performance like that from him at this point in the season. They know he's still capable of being remarkable.
But can he be reliable? And if not now, then when?
It's likely the honest answers to those questions might be months away, with even Wade suggesting this week that there's no short-term fix for the bone bruise in his right kneecap he's been dealing with since last season while also managing tendinitis in his surgically repaired left knee.
For now, there will be good nights, such as the one Wade had Saturday against the Magic. And subsequently, there will be bad days -- such as the one Nov. 16 at Charlotte, when he aggravated his right knee after he reluctantly played in games on consecutive nights before his body was ready to accommodate a burden of that extent. Playing in both games of a back-to-back set is essentially off the table for Wade -- and likely will be for a month or so.
But the next step is for Wade's body to respond without too much of a drop-off the next time he's available to play.
“I'm still recovering -- it's that simple,” Wade told ESPN.com. “But any time I'm back on the court, I'm happy. But I also know it's not an easy process to deal with the things I have to deal with in order to play.”
Wade executed his normal role Saturday. He filled the gaps on both ends of the court, feasted on LeBron James' playmaking and carried the offense for stretches midway through the game. Then, James was there to close out the victory on a go-ahead jumper with 15.1 seconds to play.
It was the kind of finish many have come to expect from the Heat, who saw James, Wade and Chris Bosh score 26 of Miami's 30 points in the fourth quarter. Bosh said it was Wade who set the tone after the team's lackluster start.
“When he's explosive like that, it's always good to see that his legs are back and he's able to contribute,” Bosh said. “I think we were all in a funk that first half, but (Wade) really got us off to a good start by getting to the rim, getting some good plays, and I think he almost dunked on someone.”
That was an understatement.
“D-Wade was very aggressive,” said James, who took only three shots in the first half but finished with 22 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. “He helped us get into a rhythm. Defensively, we started to get stops. I remember two straight possessions we were able to get steals, and we started hitting the long ball. That's a key ingredient to our team.”
So is a relatively healthy and confident Wade.
Perhaps Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was being a bit coy about 90 minutes before Saturday's game when he was asked about Wade's status. But there's also a strong possibility Spoelstra wasn't quite sure what would happen with Wade. There have been times this season when Spoelstra figured Wade would play, but then Wade and the training staff would decide that taking a night off was best.
So Spoelstra refused to reveal whether Wade would definitely be in the lineup. He explained the difference between penciling in Wade and actually going through with the process of officially submitting his active roster.
But there was little doubt remaining after the game.
“In the second half, he was exceptional,” Spoelstra said. “Everything about his competitiveness -- his explosion, his elusiveness. Defensively, he was in multiple places and playing with such intensity, that was very encouraging.”
More encouraging for the Heat would be to see Wade's body cooperate and allow him to come back Monday against Phoenix to take another step toward consistency.