Dwyane Wade Takes Big Step Forward, Has Miami Heat Wondering How Far He Can Go

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterJanuary 5, 2014

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MIAMI — The numbers on Sunday's stat line don't suggest anything spectacular.

Just 14 points in the Miami Heat's 102-97 win against the Toronto Raptors

Just 5-of-13.

Just 38.5 percent from the field, tied for Dwyane Wade's second-least accurate outing of the season.

And yet, another percentage had Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat cautiously excited.

In terms of his availability, Wade went 100 percent for the weekend.

He played Saturday in Orlando.

He played Sunday in Miami. 

Did that matter?

"Yeah, it was awesome," Bosh said. "It surprised me." 

Nov 16, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) goes up for a shot against the Charlotte Bobcats during the first half at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
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It was most surprising that Wade chose to play Saturday, against what seemed the lesser of back-to-back opponents. But even as Wade suggested that he would try to play Sunday, it was no sure thing, not when he struggled so much in his last attemptmaking it through only 23 minutes, and shooting 1-of-7 in Charlotte on Nov. 16. 

Wade felt some internal pressure to play that night, with Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers both out. On this night, the Heat were missing only Shane Battier, who plays in the frontcourt. Still, Wade chose to try it, and Miami attempted to involve him early, as Rashard Lewis hit him cutting to the rim on the Heat's first possession. Wade got up six shots in the second quarter, missing four, including both of his jumpers, which he has cited as the clearest sign of the strength of his knees. 

But while Chalmers couldn't continue into the second half due to Achilles tendinitis, Wade had no issues. He even forced a 20-footer, with Kyle Lowry all over him, early in the shot clock with 2:30 remaining. 

It was good.

And so was this night for the Heat, simply because Wade survived it. 

Wade marked it as a milestone. 

"It was good to play in my first full back-to-back," he said.

He hoped simply to get by without significant discomfort, while staying up with Toronto's quick wings.

"Just that I could move the way I wanted to move," said Wade, wearing a Popeye shirt to the postgame interview. "I felt I did."

So, even though DeMar DeRozan outscored and outplayed him, this still qualified as a success. 

"Hopefully, I can go Tuesday," Wade said. "That will be my biggest test."

That's against New Orleans at home, followed by an off day, then a back-to-back against the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. That's where it will get tricky again. Erik Spoelstra said the Heat haven't gone into any of Wade's recovery with "preconceived notions," although everyone agreed to take a breather on back-to-backs following the setback in Charlotte. 


With 11 back-to-back sets left? 

"We're open-minded about it," Spoelstra said. "As long as he's able to stick to his routine, and it's a very specific routine, of working out, strength training, conditioning and a lot of treatment. If he's able to do all those things and play, we're open to how he feels day to day." 

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 05:  LeBron James #6 and Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the Toronto Raptors at AmericanAirlines Arena on January 5, 2014 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
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Wade's teammates have been patient with his recovery and seem to understand the bigger picturethat they need him healthy in May and June, rather than available for every game now. Still, LeBron James (who scored 30 on Sunday) has repeatedly referred to the challenges of creating cohesion when the lineups have been so inconsistent. (Wade has missed eight games this season, most of any of the regular starters, with Battier missing his third on Sunday.) 

But Bosh best enunciated the prevailing sentiment in the Heat locker room. He spoke of how it was positive for Wade to "shock" his body, to push through mentally and physically, and to do so with a tough turnaround: just 20 hours from the final buzzer on Saturday until the opening tip Sunday. 

"It was good for him, it was good for us to continue to get rhythm," Bosh said. "And us continuing to try to put this thing together, and making sure we're going up, taking steps forward instead of backward, we're going to need everybody playing at their best." 

They do. 

They need Wade's best later rather than now. 

Still, it was an encouraging sign. 

"It's always good to have him in the lineup," James said. "It depends on how he feels, and for him to be in the lineup shows that he feels pretty well."