- Israel Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer
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MIAMI -- Dwyane Wade doesn't have a problem with growing older.
He has a problem with people assuming his game has fallen off suddenly because he's 30.
Through the first month-plus of the season, Wade's uneven performances had some questioning whether he'd ever be the same dynamic, athletic player who could seemingly score and draw fouls at will.
It all came to a head when Charles Barkley said Wade was "starting to lose his talent," and "when you can't jump over the building anymore, you have to learn how to play."
Since the Spurs-Heat game Barkley broadcast as a color analyst Nov. 29, Wade has shown off a much more consistent game (he's shooting 56.5 percent in December) and even some of the explosiveness that had been missing.
Wade said he used Barkley's comments as fuel. But more important, Wade's health is finally coming around after offseason knee surgery.
And that's where his annoyance with Barkley's comments derived.
"If I say it didn't bother me, I'd be lying," Wade said. "I think what bothers me more than someone saying it -- because a lot of people say things -- is why. What's the reason? Can you give the listeners, the viewers, the reason why I'm not doing what you're expecting me to do right now?"
Even though I might not get as high as I did when I was a rookie, I can still get over the rim when need be -- especially when I get angry.
”-- Dwyane Wade
Wade said his doctors explained to him that his recovery would be a long-term process, with swelling reoccurring at given times.
That was a large reason for some of his more uncharacteristic performances, particularly in mid-November. And it's why his coaches and teammates paid little attention to his struggles. They all knew what to expect.
"We knew he just needed some more time," Erik Spoelstra said. "Everybody wanted to make assumptions and evaluations then, which is totally ridiculous."
Physically, Wade started the season feeling similar to how he did in last season's playoffs. He estimated he went through that postseason at about 70 percent health because of a left knee that was constantly sore and swollen and regularly robbed him of explosiveness.
Through the first few weeks of this season, Wade was experiencing similar lows. And even though they were expected given his recovery, Wade said he had a conversation with Spoelstra, requesting his playing time be reduced by a few minutes a game. Since Nov. 21, Wade hadn't played more than 34 minutes in a game until his 38 against the Thunder on Tuesday.
"Now, I feel good," he said. "I'm able to move the way I want to, do the things I want to do and not necessarily think about it.
"I still have to do my rehab, and probably have to do more than most to continue to stay strong and work it. But when I'm on the court, I feel as good as I've felt in over a year."
Some proof of that was on display in Miami's win against Oklahoma City.
Wade scored over Kendrick Perkins early. He hit a short shot against the defense of Kevin Durant, who told Wade he was "too small" during a game in last year's Finals after scoring over him. He finished a play with what he calls a "big man dunk," which comes off two feet with zero momentum from right underneath the goal. And the most impressive display was his thunderous dunk over Nick Collison.
That's not to say Wade's game hasn't adjusted. And it's not to say he won't hear criticism anymore.
Wade admits he can't jump as high as he did in his rookie season, or even the 2008-09 season when he led the league in scoring. And he acknowledges there are small adjustments he has made as a result.
"It's just certain things that I go through, that I practice," Wade said. "It used to be when I got past a screen, I used to take off. Now, if I get past a screen, I'm going to get to my spot before I just take off.
"It's just a different mindset."
But Wade isn't about to let his dunk total define how explosive he still is.
"I don't want to dunk as much as I used to," he said. "You know how much more effort that takes? When I was younger, I was trying to make a name for myself. I don't want to do that all the time anymore.
"I know when I'm feeling good, I know when my explosion is there, when I'm able to cut through the defense. That's what I look at. I don't look at the dunking aspect. I can dunk when I want to. Even though I might not get as high as I did when I was a rookie, I can still get over the rim when need be -- especially when I get angry."
Spoelstra starts at the defensive end of the floor when assessing if Wade appears healthy.
"He's one of the very best two-way players," Spoelstra said. "When he's healthy, now you start to see the deflections, the steals, the blocks. You see him covering ground.
"Offensively, you see him attacking the rim, you see him able to get into small cracks in the defense, where he makes it look easy but it's not. You see him able to make his floaters, rhythm shots that most players don't have skill for. And finally you see him able to make his midrange pull-ups."
Another adjustment has been sliding into the post more often. It's a place he has always been comfortable playing, but he hadn't parked in the block quite as often as he has this season.
"What he's done is he has kind of reinvented himself," said Udonis Haslem, Wade's teammate for all of his nine-plus seasons. "We joke with him all the time, we call him a 6-3 power forward. Going into the halfcourt game, he's our big and LeBron's our big.
"He still has a step. He still has his athleticism. He just picks his spots to be athletic. But we need him down in the paint. That's what he brings to us is a post presence, even at 6-3."
Wade can't help but laugh at the situation, either, given that he entered the league as a point guard and now posts up like a power forward.
But he has learned to laugh at a lot -- particularly the perception of his diminishing abilities.
Last season, Wade said he told LeBron to take the lead with the Heat. Wade knew that meant less ballhandling and a few less scoring opportunities, but he knew the Heat were at their best when LeBron was orchestrating.
That approach hasn't changed this season. But the scrutiny seemingly has.
Wade sees it as the opposite of the ongoing Russell Westbrook narrative. Westbrook gets criticized for supposedly not getting Durant involved enough and focusing too much on his own offense.
Yet when Wade becomes an agreeable facilitator, or when he simply defers to the best player on the planet, there are questions about his ability.
The end of Tuesday's game was a prime example. With the Heat leading by a point and less than a minute remaining, Wade essentially stood in the left corner and watched LeBron finish a ragged play by finding Chris Bosh under the rim for a dunk.
That's not a result of diminished skills. That's knowing how reliable No. 6 is these days.
"They say all that [about Westbrook], and yet when I become that guy, they say I'm not being aggressive," Wade said. "I know I can't win. I know if I average more shots than LeBron, they're going to say something. I know if I don't, they're going to say something. I can't concern myself with that.
"[LeBron] has a mismatch most nights. So we'd be doing ourselves an injustice not to let him be the three-time MVP. There are times you have to pump the brakes a little bit. I think I'm still effective while playing with the best player in the game today."
His consistent play since Barkley's comments would suggest that, yes, he's still quite effective playing next to LeBron.
And if he maintains his current 51.2 percent shooting clip, it would be a career best, improving on the 50 percent he shot from the floor in his first season playing with LeBron.
So maybe Wade is already back to his old ways -- or rather, his younger ways.
Wade said he learned from Kobe Bryant that it's very much possible to work through injuries and eventually return to familiar form.
"I know the different Kobes that I've guarded over my 10 years," Wade said. "That kind of helped me to say, 'OK, I know when he went through his injuries, he was this player. Then once he got healthy, he was this player.'"
So just like Kobe is a stubborn scorer, Wade plans on remaining a stubborn attacker. Those changes in his game Barkley suggested were necessary don't interest Wade.
He'll continue to make subtle alterations, such as taking an extra dribble before attacking the rim. But Wade doesn't plan on changing his approach just because he's in his 30s.
So when will we all notice a new Wade? When will we see that player Barkley said we'd have to see relatively soon?
"Hopefully never," Wade said. "I don't want to. When I walk away from the game, I want to walk away playing the game that I want to play.
"I think every year you make minor adjustments. But it's in my DNA -- my attack nature is just in me.
"I could shoot three jump shots in a row, or I can take a couple 3s, but I'm an attacker. When I can't attack anymore and I'm just not doing it, then that's when I've got to give it up. But hopefully you will never notice."