Dwyane Wade's health was a major concern for the Heat throughout the 2013 Playoffs.Wade's troublesome knee very well could have kept the Heat from winning their second straight title. It bodes heavily in the Heat's immediate future chasing that third straight championship and even into the team's long-term future with LeBron James entering free agency.
Miami has already given itself some distance from the Eastern Conference pack and so the team might already have an eye on making sure it is peaking at just the right moment. That seems a little weird to say in late November. The regular season just feels like a formality.
So managing Wade seems like the biggest task for the Heat in those long-term efforts for May and June.
A week ago, Wade sat out two games to rest his bulky left knee, at it was described. As it stands now, Wade is putting up his worst scoring numbers since his rookie year — 18.3 points per game. His field goal percentage is at a career high 52.4 percent which is a product of being on the same team as LeBron James and the weapons the Heat have on their roster.
Wade's knee issues are going to continue to be something to watch throughout the season. It will not simply go away. The Heat recognize this and are taking it slow with him too, keeping an eye on how his knee feels and an eye forward ont he calendar.
"We want to make sure that he's getting stronger and feeling better as the season goes on," Erik Spoelstra said before the Nov. 20 game against the Magic. "Over the weekend, it was sore, so we wanted to use these last couple days to get him healthy, get him back training, start building his legs back up.
"As we said, there's no other way to assess it other than day-by-day. He could wake up tomorrow and feel incredible. We can go from there. We do have a plan. We want to be patient with it. We want to be disciplined with it considering all the circumstances."
It truly is a day-by-day process for the Heat. There were talks that Miami would hold Wade out of some back-to-backs. Clearly that process changes depending on how Wade feels. The Heat hope he can get stronger and feel healthier as the season goes on.
When Spoelstra made those comments on Nov. 20, Wade got a full week off between scoring four points against Charlotte and his return to the court against Orlando that weekend. In the three games since Wade returned from that hiatus, he is averaging 23.3 points per game on 65.1 percent shooting in 34.4 minutes per game. More importantly, Miami has won all three games by more than 10 points.
Miami has an eye on the final goal in June. Even the buttoned-up LeBron James admitted as much when it came to his team's health in an interview with Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld:
Health is number one for us,” James said last night. “In order for us to compete for a championship we have to be healthy or as close to healthy as possible. We understand that. D-Wade is definitely a huge part of the puzzle. We want him to feel as comfortable as possible when he’s ready to come back.
That does not mean the Heat are going to shut Wade down or any other player if it is not necessary.
Spoelstra said there was never any consideration of having Wade not start the season or shutting him down for an extended period of time. He said the team ercognizes how important it is for Wade to continue to work through discomfort and work the muscles.
If he cannot go, he cannot go. The Heat will back off and let him rest and see how he feels. It is about strengthening the muscles around his knee and getting him ready to play when the games really matter.