The resurgence of Dwyane Wade
After his benching in Utah, Wade is regaining his form and answering his critics
WASHINGTON -- Dwyane Wade can finally admit it. That benching back in Utah earlier this month affected him.
But enough time has passed since then for the Miami Heat star guard to place his emotions in proper prospective.
Enough progress has been made in the rehabilitation of his surgically repaired left knee to regain a feel for his game.
And enough production has been registered in recent box scores to feel confident about restoring his role on the team.
But it's taken about three weeks and the span of five games for Wade to acknowledge that the breakdown that occurred during the Heat's Jan. 14 loss in Utah impacted him quite a bit more than he initially let on.
After the Heat fell behind by as many as 21 points amid an extended stretch of lackluster play, Wade and Chris Bosh went to the bench as part of coach Erik Spoelstra's routine rotations late in the third quarter. What was out of the ordinary was the fact that LeBron James then rallied a group of reserves to cut the deficit to two points late in the fourth as both Wade and Bosh watched from the bench.
Bosh eventually returned in the final minute after the outcome essentially had been decided. But Wade didn't touch the floor again after he was taken out.
On Tuesday, Wade sat beneath a basket at Georgetown University's McDonough Arena following the Heat's practice and reflected on his feelings from that episode in Utah and what he's gained from it the past few weeks.
"You have a lot of emotions going through you, and sometimes you've got to take yourself out of situations so you won't say the wrong thing that might be taken the wrong way," Wade said as the Heat prepared for Wednesday's game against Brooklyn. "So it's better not to say much at certain times like that."
Since then, Wade's game has spoken volumes. When the Heat resume their four-game road trip after a stopover in the nation's capital to visit the White House in honor of their 2012 NBA title, Wade hopes to extend what has been his most productive stretch of the season.
In his five games since that ordeal in Utah, Wade has shot 52.7 percent from the field while averaging 24.6 points, 6.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 2.4 steals and one block in 38 minutes per game. The Heat have gone 4-1 over that span, with the blemish coming in Sunday's overtime loss to the Boston Celtics.
Wade initially downplayed the notion that his recent spike in production was motivated at least in part by the outcome of that 104-97 loss against the Jazz. On Tuesday, he reiterated that Spoelstra "did the right thing" by sticking with the lineup that sparked the ill-fated rally. Wade also admitted he's altered his approach the past few weeks.
It wasn't necessarily being held out the entire fourth quarter that bothered Wade as much it was a feeling of being held back within the scheme at times. Wade said his own lack of aggression on both ends of the court also needed to change.
"Just my approach to the game is a little different after that," Wade said Tuesday. "Everyone points to that game, points to the fourth quarter, and they make that a big deal when I really didn't. I just felt that throughout that game, I had pockets where I wanted to be more aggressive and I wanted the ability to be more aggressive."
That hasn't been an issue recently.
Offensively, Wade half-jokingly told reporters earlier this month that he missed the days when he was the team's primary scorer who could take 25 shots a game before Bosh and LeBron James arrived in 2010.
In three of the past four games, Wade has attempted 20 shots and has averaged 18 over the past five. That's nearly three more shots a game than his average over the season.
Defensively, he appears to be even more engaged as his steals, rebounds and blocks have also risen during the past five games from his season averages. A less flattering sign of Wade's more aggressive play has been the 15 fouls and 14 turnovers he has committed since the game in Utah.
"There was just one point where he really just started being really aggressive and just attacked a lot more," Bosh said of Wade's recent play. "When you shoot the ball aggressively, when you're attacking the rim aggressively, I think things go more in your favor. After that game (in Utah), you just had to look at it and say, 'I have to do better.' We need him playing at his best, so it's good to really see that spike because we all know what he's capable of."
Wade's resurgence has been equal parts psychological and physical. His approach has only changed because his body has given him the ability to be consistently assertive.
James, for one, believes there's a simple answer that explains the dunks, blocks, steals and explosive play in transition that have returned as consistent staples of Wade's game. Entering Wednesday's game, Wade was averaging 11 points a game in the paint to lead all guards this season.
"Some of the plays he's made over the past few weeks, he couldn't make at the beginning of the season because his knee wouldn't let him do it," James said, referring to the offseason procedure Wade had to clear out minor damage. "His knee is improving each and every month, each and every day. It's a testament to his work ethic, getting his knee strengthened and not really caring about what too many people would say."
There has been criticism from some former NBA players and analysts such as Charles Barkley, who suggests Wade has lost a step athletically and, at age 31, is on the decline.
But those closest to Wade have seen this pattern. Slow starts to the season have typically given way to furious finishes heading into the playoffs, barring injuries.
"He's always proved that as season goes on, he gets in a better rhythm," said Spoelstra, who then noted Wade's increased energy and effort defensively. "And I know he's been feeling healthier and has more quick-twitch to his game right now. So he's been able to set the tone for us defensively, and that's made a world of a difference for us."
Spoelstra still insists he wasn't attempting to send any specific message to Wade back in Utah that night. But that doesn't mean Wade didn't learn something in the process. It's a lesson he's carried onto the court for several games.
"Sometimes, I take things on myself and say, 'You know what, I have the ability to do it, so I can't look and say I'm not getting this and I'm not getting that," Wade said of being more of a self-starter these days. "So yeah, it's very important to have that comfort in my knee to be able to do the moves I want to do and for it to respond the way I want it to respond -- to finally feel like the work you put in is finally starting to come into play a little bit."
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