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Sunday, February 19, 2012
Once healed, Wade now dominating

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com

MIAMI -- On the heels of a three-game losing streak and in the midst of a struggle to find some identity, the Miami Heat made a decision last month that seems to have made an impact on their season.

With Dwyane Wade limping through a foot and ankle injuries, the team decided to shut him down for two weeks. He'd been struggling, going through a stretch of eight games where he barely shot more than 40 percent. It took a meeting among Wade, the team's trainers, coaches and even president Pat Riley. The consensus was to shelve him for 14 days no matter what happened with the rest of the team.

Wade could have returned and played through the injuries. In most other years in his career he probably would have, especially with some major opponents on the schedule at the time. But he waited the two weeks and watched the Heat play better and better -- to the point there were some discussions, some with a few legitimate arguments, if the team might have an advantage without Wade.

That discipline to lay low, it has turned out, has led to one of the greatest stretches of Wade's career and an elimination of such theory. He had yet another fantastic game Sunday, scoring 27 points as the Heat won their sixth straight game by double figures in beating the Orlando Magic, a team that had been on a hot streak of their own, 90-78.

For the 10th consecutive game Wade shot better than 50 percent from the field, this time making 13-of-23 shots. That's the longest streak of such games since his rookie season in 2003-04 when he did it 11 times in a row. Wade is shooting 57 percent and averaging 24 points since coming back from his hiatus to get healthy and it's been a major reason the Heat have won nine of their last 10.

"He's playing as efficiently offensively as he's [ever] played," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He's playing in a terrific rhythm and playing within the context of what we're trying to do."

Last year Wade averaged nearly three 3-point attempts per game; this season he's attempted just 12 total in 23 games. His midrange game, which evaporated for a time when he was attempting to learn how to play alongside LeBron James, is now his primary focus and it is paying off.

Wade is averaging the fewest shots and points since his rookie season. But the Heat are currently the top offensive team in the league and Wade is ranked second behind James in the player efficiency rating because he's been so selective and executed so well.

"It's taking high-percentage shots and being in a groove," Wade said. "I'm getting back to taking my shots and I'm hitting them."

Wade has been able to do it sharing the ball and playing off James, who is also having the most efficient offensive season of his career. Sunday James assisted four of Wade's field goals. The Magic struggled keeping up with them in transition, which has been James and Wade's strong suit since they starting playing together with Team USA in 2006, and at times in the half court, which has been a two-year long process to develop.

The Heat still often rely on a trade-off style of offense, where Wade and James dominate the ball during different segments of games. Spoelstra sets his rotation to allow each to have periods when one is the centerpiece of the offense with the other on the bench and sometimes extends this to Chris Bosh as well.

Recently, for example, Wade has gotten the majority of touches in the first half with James taking over in the third quarter. Against the Magic, James had 10 points in the third, the fourth straight game he has scored double figures in the quarter.

But overall, James and Wade seem to have made most progress on their offense during the past three weeks since Wade returned to the lineup.

"He's being aggressive and finding his opportunities," Spoelstra said. "When he doesn't have the opportunity he's getting off the ball and letting someone else attack."

Wade and the rest of the Heat are downplaying the current run of strong play, joking that they're under the radar these days with the Jeremy Lin phenomenon going on in New York and the San Antonio Spurs riding a league-best 10-game win streak. But the reality is that as midseason arrives the Heat are holding the league's best record.

Wade's offensive outburst is a major factor.

"There are times when you're going to miss a lot and some times when you have it," Wade said. "I'm just trying to take advantage of it."