Can Wade heal right knee this time?
CHICAGO -- It's stressful playing the Chicago Bulls, even in their reduced state. So on a night when the Miami Heat clearly felt some relief by appearing to break them, they apparently let their guard down enough to start being forthcoming about a few taboo subjects.
After struggling with the Bulls for three games, the Heat finally showed some of the form they had for the previous three months. And the Bulls, overachieving for so long, finally started to show wear as the Heat took a 3-1 series lead with an ugly 88-65 victory.
Wade has been dealing with an injury to his knee since March, five different times missing games because of it. He has twice taken two weeks off to rest it. It has not helped that he has repeatedly aggravated it, which isn't hard to do playing competitive basketball.
The Heat have called it a bruise and said MRIs have shown nothing is structurally wrong. Wade revealed at one point he actually has three bone bruises in the knee.
But when he went to the bench Monday night to get it looked at, he had to reveal an odd-looking bandage that was under a protective wrap on the knee that Heat athletic trainer Jay Sabol needed to fix.
"This was just the first time you've seen it, other times I've been able to not show you," Wade said after the game before revealing a rather gnarly detail about the bandage that certainly helps explain his troubles in the postseason.
"I'm taping it. When you have a [bone] bruise, you try to move the kneecap over so it won't rub. When you get into game sweat you have to re-tape it a bit."
Moving the kneecap over, even if that's just athlete/trainer jargon, is not a reassuring revelation.
Might as well come out with it, though, because Wade's performance is suffering and it has become untenable to blame it on such things as his unselfishness or the Bulls' defensive schemes.
He had just six points on 3-of-10 shooting in Game 4 as he has struggled with explosion and lift. For the third time in the series, he didn't get to the foul line. He's averaging just 12 points a game in the series.
"I know what he's going through, I've been around him each and every day," LeBron James said. "It's difficult for him. He hasn't made an excuse; he's giving us what we got."
Wade said he has pursued every treatment known for the knee but everyone knows the best course of action for a bone bruise is rest. The Heat have tried to give it time, but it's still an issue and it's unclear when it will get better, as anyone who has had a bone bruise already knows.
Wade hid a left knee issue for most of last season. He repeatedly got fluid drained from it as a short-term measure, even once in the middle of a playoff series with the Indiana Pacers. Like this year, Wade really never discussed how bad it was bothering him, though there were games when it was obvious. Some nights he struggled to dunk. He ended up having surgery on it last July.
I'm taping it. When you have a [bone] bruise, you try to move the kneecap over so it won't rub. When you get into game sweat you have to re-tape it a bit.” -- Heat guard Dwyane Wade
In the book "Relentless," by Wade's longtime personal trainer Tim Grover, that was recently released, Grover told the story of Wade calling him for help midway through the NBA Finals last year.
"Dwyane had called me after Game Two of the Finals, asking if I would fly to Miami to see if I could get him and his damaged knee through the rest of the series. For the next few days, we worked on things he hadn't done in a long time, sometimes until 2 a.m. alone in the arena away from teammates and media and all the other distractions."
Wade scored 25 points with seven rebounds and seven assists in Game 3 against the Oklahoma City Thunder after getting Grover's help. Then he scored 25 more in Game 4 and 20 in the closeout Game 5.
That sort of midnight miracle stuff probably won't work here. But the Heat and Wade are admitting they're not sure what he can give the rest of the way.
"Look, the thing about Dwyane, he understands to just help us win and he is," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Is he getting 30 [points] a night? No. But he's creating a lot of good things for us. He's making the right plays. He's giving us everything he's got."
In an unexpected show of solidarity, James talked extensively for the first time about what he felt was a similar injury he suffered in 2010. During those playoffs when James played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, he nebulously complained about a right elbow injury. At one point, he took a free throw left-handed because he said the elbow was bothering him.
He got an MRI for it but never directly discussed it at the time or, really, ever since. Until Monday night, which was three years and one day after his unusually poor performance in Game 5 against the Boston Celtics, did he refer to it to sympathize with Wade's situation.
It was his final home game as a Cav and a game for which many fans accused him of quitting in a blowout loss. James shot just 11-of-35 in the final two games of that series, which the Celtics won in an upset. The mysterious elbow issue became a significant talking point at the time.
"My last year in Cleveland, I had an elbow injury that lingered throughout the playoffs," said James, who has often worn on a padded sleeve on the elbow since that injury.
"I just tried to go out there and give it all you got. It sucks because you know you can play much better. You know you can do things but the injury is not allowing you to do it. It was on my shooting arm, so it was very tough. So I know what he's going through."
Moving beyond that new file for the history books that is sure to draw a reaction from his old Cavs fans, what happens the rest of the playoffs for Wade is hard to judge.
Wade has shown a remarkable ability to bounce back and play through injuries in his career. After letting his knee calm down after getting it drained last season against the Pacers, he scored 30, 28 and 41 points in the final three games to close out that series.
With more treatment and rest, anything is possible. But being truthful, Wade said he's not sure what he'll be able to contribute the rest of the way.
"It's just frustrating at times and you just do what you can," Wade said. "Sometimes it feels good and sometimes it doesn't, you can't predict it."