MIAMI -- The sample size remains too small to make any big-picture assessment.
And for that reason, Dwyane Wade tempers his enthusiasm and carefully measures his words when analyzing an encouraging start to his playoffs after missing 28 regular-season games for rest and recovery from chronic knee soreness and an assortment of other injuries.
“I’m not going to look too far ahead,” Wade said. “I’m just going to continue to take it day to day and game by game in these playoffs, knowing that things could change from each game. The playoff games are very hard on the body, so we'll see. I’m feeling good right now, and I just want it to continue.”
Considering what he’s been through, it’s easy to see why Wade isn't taking anything for granted these days. There still isn't a day that passes when the Heat’s star shooting guard doesn't feel soreness or some sense of pain in his body. But at least he’s not injured and forced out of action.
And there’s a lot the Heat will need to do to improve their overall performance through the first two games of the playoffs if they're serious about pursuing a third straight NBA championship. But Miami is also the only team in the postseason to hold serve at home with a 2-0 series lead entering Game 3, against Charlotte on Saturday.
Those factors essentially make Wade, 32, a microcosm of his team -- good enough to ultimately get the job done, despite some uncomfortable moments, yet still needing plenty of improvement to tackle what’s expected to be much tougher challenges ahead.
Through the first two games against the Bobcats, Wade is shooting 53.8 percent from the field and averaging 19 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 34 minutes. This comes on the heels of Wade using the final three games of the regular season to tune up for the playoffs after missing nine consecutive games with a strained left hamstring. The minutes restriction Wade had the final week of the season was lifted for the playoffs, and he seems to have handled additional playing time without any issues.
Two factors have helped to make this a seamless transition.
First, an accommodating schedule gave the Heat an extra day to start Game 1 last Sunday instead of Saturday, and there is a two-day gap between Games 2 and 3. It means Miami was among the teams to get the maximum amount of time off through the first full week of the playoffs. That’s huge for Wade and an older Heat team that relies on several players who were banged up at the end of the season.
Secondly, the Bobcats don't have many wing players at Wade’s position who pose a significant threat offensively, although Charlotte has shown plenty of resolve and toughness to threaten Miami in both games. While Bobcats center and leading scorer Al Jefferson has limped through a demoralizing plantar fascia foot injury to average 18 points and 11.5 rebounds, Wade has tried to stabilize his overall game and offer the balance the Heat will ultimately need to reach their full postseason potential.
Wade continues to preach patience, but the initial progress has been promising.
He made 10 of his 16 shots and had 23 points and five assists in Miami’s 99-88 victory in Game 1. On Wednesday, Wade struggled with his shot early but scored eight of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to help the Heat escape with a 101-97 win. His biggest play of the series came on the defensive end, with a steal and a made free throw in the final three seconds to secure the Game 2 win.
After Sunday’s game, Heat forward LeBron James was asked if Wade looked “right” so far.
“He couldn't look any righter,” James quipped. “He’s getting to the rim, working in transition. He’s had his step-back [jumper] on. He is feeling good.”
Aside from James, who is shooting 57.6 percent and averaging 29.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, there has been little consistency from other Heat players early in this series. But James pointed out that Wade has shown hints of getting every aspect of his game back in order. Wade has revealed the lift in his legs that has allowed him to finish drives with dunks. There has been the balance in the post-up game that has led to midrange scores or trips to the free throw line. And there was no hesitation from beyond the arc.
“Whatever the game calls for, I’m just playing,” Wade said. “I’m not really thinking. If I have a shot, I’ll shoot it. I put in a lot of work on my game overall. I've been putting some work in on my 3-point game. I like to have that weapon in the playoffs, even more than the regular season.”
This time a year ago, Wade was dragging two damaged knees through the Heat’s first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. A series of deep bone bruises on his right knee sustained during Miami’s 27-game winning streak last spring caused Wade to miss games down the stretch. He sat out of Game 4 against Milwaukee as the Heat completed the series sweep.
The Heat made it a high priority to preserve Wade’s health as much as possible this season, which led to him missing more than a third of the team’s games and 21 different starting lineups. Miami finished 54-28, which was its worst record of any season since James, Wade and Chris Bosh became teammates in 2010.
But if Wade can maintain the level of play he’s shown so far, few will remember the sacrifices, frustrations and fatigue the team endured to get to this moment.
Wade also has his personal trainer, Tim Grover, with him daily throughout the postseason to help him maintain the level of play he's shown from the start.
“This is a time of the year that I love,” Wade said. “Obviously, we talked all year about, ‘Are you feeling good, aren't you feeling good?’ Or whatever the case may be. Obviously, I'd love to be healthy at this time of the year so I could be the player and do the things I want to do in the playoffs that I wasn't able to do most of the playoffs last year. But this is just that time of the year where it’s time to step up and make things happen. And that’s what I love to do.”
It's only been two playoff games.
But if it works out for the Heat, it might be a sign of what's to come from Wade over the next two months.