- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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They’ve got a sense for one another’s mindset and confidence level in much the same way one has a unique feel for just the right time and location to toss the other a lob in transition for a highlight dunk.
But there are still moments when James needs Wade to pass his personal eye test. Considering the ups and downs Wade has been through with troublesome knee issues that have lingered now for two seasons, there are times when James must see certain things in order to believe certain things.
Count Monday’s 30-point performance from Wade in Miami’s 102-96 win over Detroit as more evidence James can trust as the Heat gear up for the season’s stretch run in defense of their second straight title. Over his past two games, Wade has shot 23-of-34 from the field and has averaged 26 points in victories over the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks.
James’ eye test is revealing some specific signs that Wade has regained some of his groove.
“We should all be able to tell,” James said of measuring Wade’s impact. “You know if he has a bounce in his step or not. This last week or so, he’s had a bounce in his step. When he’s landing on two feet [balanced] on his jump shot, when he’s Euro-stepping, his knee is feeling pretty good. Those are two indications of how he’s feeling, for me personally. And he’s done those the last two games.”
When Wade is feeling this way, James doesn’t mind dialing back his own offense to defer much of the action. On Monday, that meant coming up just short of a triple-double yet again to allow Wade to polish off his second double-double of the season. In the final minutes of the game, James had two chances to collect the rebounds he needed to secure his first triple-double of the season.
Ray Allen stepped in front of James to grab one of them.
Then Wade corralled another to add a season-high 10 rebounds to his 30 points on 19 shots. James, meanwhile, had to settle for 24 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.
“D-Wade knew what he had going on, too,” James said. “That’s why he was like, ‘I need this double-double.’”
Wade’s past two performances served as reminders of the attacking, aggressive, explosive elite-level player he has been for many of his 11 NBA seasons. Few doubt that Wade is capable of delivering these kinds of games every once in a while as he continues to balance rehab and rest for a right knee that is healing slower than anticipated and is now seven months removed from an offseason shock-wave procedure.
The concern -- and possibly even growing resignation among some -- is that it’s difficult to predict, or even expect, Wade to string together two or three or four of these dominant nights without running into another setback or modest shutdown. For now, Wade is on the upswing.
And that’s all that matters to him at the moment.
Monday’s game started with James setting up Wade for a dunk on the first play. It continued with Wade scoring 18 in the first half, and ended with five assists and six turnovers he committed as he tried to make plays while perhaps feeling a bit too good about the health of his game.
Wade has now played four games since he sat out four in a row to refocus on strengthening his knee.
“They did a good job of having me involved early,” Wade said. “Since I got back, I try to find ways to be aggressive when I can. I’m just doing what I can. It is just trying to get into my rhythm like I always have. I’m just picking my spots, and confidence helps as well.”
Part of the recent turnaround is the result of Wade benefiting from a respite with his knees. But Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has also capitalized on Wade’s quickness, strength and confidence the past few games by altering the team’s approach a bit to create a more comfortable option.
Wade has feasted on pick-and-roll actions the past few games, where he has been able to operate from the top of the key and pick apart the opposing defense. He has also shown spring on his jumpers, which has allowed him to develop a familiar rhythm with his midrange game. After having a setback with his knees and conditioning amid a six-game trip over 10 days last month, Wade has regained his step.
“Look, he’s been on a great routine,” Spoelstra said of Wade, who spent time in recent weeks working with personal trainer Tim Grover in addition to conditioning with the team. “There wasn’t any sense or need to panic off of that road trip. We felt we made the right decision. We knew it would be highly debated. We’ll figure out how to maintain it on this next trip, but he’s been able to work out, strength train, condition and get a lot of court work. All that work has been paying off.”
Among the reasons Wade wore down recently was because he was unable to push through his normal routine while on the road and didn’t have access to some of the specialized equipment he uses when in Miami. But Wade believes he’ll be able to better manage the Heat’s upcoming trip. Miami plays three home games in February, which are the fewest of any full month in franchise history.
The Heat leave Tuesday for a six-game trip that starts Wednesday against the Clippers. It’s one of the most disjointed trips the team has ever taken, with consecutive off days between their first two games and another two days off after Saturday’s game in Utah. It’s a trip that’s also broken up by All-Star Weekend in New Orleans before wrapping up with the final two in Dallas and Oklahoma City.
Wade said the incremental gaps between the first few games will make it easier to rest his knees and pace himself through a trip in which he, James and Chris Bosh -- all three are All-Stars -- won’t return to Miami until a Feb. 23 game against the Chicago Bulls.
“Right now, my focus is just on the next game and then get a few days off before Utah, etc.,” Wade said. “I’ll get through that, and then I’ll get some days off All-Star Weekend as well. It’s just about understanding that I can’t ever get too high, and I try not to get too low, because this thing [knee] has a mind of its own when it flares up. It’s been two [good] games now, and I’ll try to build off that.”
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