Miami Heat Index: Dwyane Wade

Wade's loyalty warrants royal Heat response

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
12:43
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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The hashtag spread quickly the moment Dwyane Wade used his Instagram account Tuesday to confirm he signed a new contract and planned to be a Miami Heat for life.

#LoyaltyoverRoyalty.

The symbolism is hard to miss.

That message, which instantaneously served as a stamp to hundreds of social media posts, was a way of embracing Wade for recommitting to the only NBA team for which he has ever played in his 11-year career. It was also a parting shot at LeBron James, aka King James, from a still grieving group after the four-time league MVP bolted Miami and returned to Cleveland as a free agent last week.

It was equal parts love for Wade and loathing LeBron.

The truth is Wade was never going anywhere after he opted out of the final two years and $41 million left on his contract to help the Heat shore up the roster after last month’s loss in the Finals to San Antonio. This round of negotiations for Wade, 32, was only a matter of how much less he’d be willing to take and how long the Heat would have to fork over significant -- and potentially crippling -- cap space.

Wade did the Heat a huge favor on both fronts Tuesday by signing a reported two-year deal worth at least $31 million, which includes a player option for the second season. It was widely believed Wade would push for a four-year, $60 million contract that would essentially guarantee he’d retire as a member of the Heat and never go through high-end free agency again.

But there’s a unique thing about this form of loyalty and sacrifice. By accepting a shorter deal for less money and greater flexibility for the Heat, Wade has locked himself into a lifetime commitment. NBA rules prohibit promises and agreements by teams to take care of players beyond their contracts.

[+] EnlargeHeat Fans
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsDwyane Wade's hefty contract give-backs show his dedication as the face of the Heat franchise.
Still, there’s no doubt Wade has only solidified his stake in this franchise, this town, for life. There are only four people getting reservations ahead of Wade at any establishment in Miami. Dan Marino. Don Shula. Pat Riley. Tony Montana. And Riley may have just gotten bumped.

“He has shown his commitment to the Heat many times over the course of his career and has always been willing to sacrifice in order to help build this team into a champion,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “This time is no different. I am ecstatic to have him back in the fold and I am confident that Dwyane, as always, will be leading this team as we look to contend for NBA championships.”

By taking a deal worth half as much and for half as long as Wade could have commanded, the Heat are in position to be a major player in free agency again in 2016. Leaving that much money on the table as part of plans to retain LeBron and upgrade the supporting cast this summer was the expectation.

The reality played out completely different. Wade’s sacrifice this time around allowed Miami to re-sign Chris Bosh to take a max deal worth $118 million over five seasons and to sign Luol Deng to replace LeBron at small forward for $20 million over two seasons. The Heat continued their recent run of signings Tuesday by bringing back Udonis Haslem, who opted out of $4.6 million due next season to agree to yet another team-friendly deal, and securing 2013 second-round pick James Ennis.

This seed planted by Wade was laced with loyalty and legacy.

All anyone needs to know about either of those coatings can be summed up by the bargains and sacrifices associated with Wade’s place in the team’s salary structure the past dozen years. A vital part of all three of the Heat’s championship teams, Wade is Miami’s all-time leader in points, made field goals, free throws, assists, steals, starts, games played and, now, dollars given back.

Yet, he has never been first in salary during any of the 11 Heat seasons.

Over the years, that distinction has gone to Eddie Jones, Shaquille O’Neal, Shawn Marion, Jermaine O’Neal, LeBron and Bosh. The NBA’s rookie pay scale assured Wade would be a built-in bargain his first four seasons. When Wade earned $3 million during his 2005-06 NBA Finals MVP season, he was the lowest-paid player to earn that award over a span of 22 years. That stretch ended when Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard was named Finals MVP last month following a season in which he was paid $1.9 million.

But it was by choice the past two times Wade ended up with discounted deals in Miami. In 2010, he took less than a full maximum contract, also convincing LeBron and Bosh to pitch in, to make sure there was room under the salary cap to re-sign Haslem and other key role players.

This time, Wade did it again to give the Heat the best chance to recover from LeBron’s abrupt departure. But this is more than about money for Wade, who has $121.3 million in NBA career earnings and likely a matching amount in endorsement deals.

He’s not exactly starving.

Yet expect Wade to be as hungry as ever to prove he can lead a post-LeBron push to remain prominent, especially in a wide-open Eastern Conference void of a clear frontrunner. Wade benefited as much as anyone from playing with LeBron. When he missed 28 games last season, mostly due to knee issues, it was LeBron who carried the extra load and got the Heat to a fourth straight NBA Finals.

But when Wade was healthy, there was a recurring burden he carried at times through a difficult adjustment to a secondary role the past four years. Wade has also talked about dealing with perceptions his legacy has been overshadowed by LeBron’s breakthrough as a two-time champion in Miami.

“I think when all the smoke clears -- because right now, so much is viewed on LeBron’s legacy and I’m wrapped up into that,” Wade recently told ESPN.com. “Obviously mine doesn’t get talked about or seen as much, and rightfully so. I understand. But when all the smoke clears, you sit down and it’s something you can talk about in terms of what I’ve been able to accomplish and how I’ve accomplished it.”

Wade compares his circumstances with those of other marquee players who have remained with one franchise their entire careers. He admires how the Lakers treated Kobe Bryant, 35, who was awarded a two-year, $48 million extension during an injury-plagued season because of what he has meant through the years.

Wade also respects how Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki have been more flexible with their salaries in recent years to give San Antonio and Dallas, respectively, a chance to retain key players, remain in the mix for valuable free agents and stay in title contention.

“There’s a different way to look at things when you’re at this stage of your career, in terms of helping your team and your team helping you,” Wade said. “My way has been different than some guys'. But I’m just continuing to add to what I am, my so-called legacy. I’m fine with it, whatever it’s going to be.”

Giving back salary at a time when few could have blamed Wade for holding onto every dime of that $41 million he was due is the clearest sign of the lengths he’s gone to sacrifice for his franchise.

No player in NBA history has opted out of that much money to take that steep a cut.

Now, one unprecedented move deserves another. Wade’s No. 3 jersey is certain to be hanging from the AmericanAirlines Arena rafters soon after he’s done playing.

But why wait? There’s no league rule against doing so while he’s still playing, perhaps as early next season’s home opener. There would be no greater show of gratitude for the singularly restored face of the franchise.

For what Wade has given the Heat time and time again, he has already earned it.

No hashtag movement necessary.

Despite loss, D-Wade's return cheers Heat

April, 13, 2014
Apr 13
12:04
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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ATLANTA -- After missing nine games over a stretch of three weeks, Dwyane Wade knew he’d face plenty of questions Saturday in his return from a nagging hamstring injury.

Among the least of his concerns were the inquiries about rhythm.

With the two-time defending champion Miami Heat a week away from starting the playoffs, Wade brushed off suggestions he might initially struggle to re-establish the timing and continuity he’s had with LeBron James and Chris Bosh when the team performs at its best.

Wade instead countered with a bit of a history lesson. He pointed to the relatively turbulent 2010-11 season when the Heat’s Big Three first came together and stumbled off to that 9-8 start.

“We didn’t have rhythm our first year together, and we went to the Finals,” Wade said Saturday of overcoming kinks three years ago before Miami ultimately lost in six games to Dallas. “That’s not really a big worry of mine. The best rhythm for us is [having] all of us out there together on the floor, giving ourselves an opportunity every night ... to be a very, very good team. I just wanted to be back on the floor with them. That there, the rhythm, it will take care of itself.”

Wade’s play was the only silver lining from the Heat’s otherwise sluggish and lackluster performance in a 98-85 loss to the Hawks at Philips Arena. With the victory, Atlanta clinched the eighth and final playoff seed in the East and eliminated the New York Knicks from postseason contention.

And with the loss, the Heat (54-26) fell back into a tie with the Indiana Pacers (54-26) with two games remaining for both teams. A horrendous, 13-point third quarter was the difference in Saturday’s outcome for the Heat, which came a day after Miami dominated the Pacers in that same period to pull away for a victory that provided the half-game cushion in the standings.

But everything the Heat gained from one of their most impressive wins of the season a night earlier was squandered Saturday when they missed 19 of 25 attempts from 3-point range, 10 of 19 free throws and surrendered 29 points to the Hawks on 20 turnovers. Players and coaches acknowledged the blunders and admitted to lacking the focus, energy and defensive intensity that led to Saturday’s meltdown.
[+] EnlargeDwyane Wade
Kevin Liles/USA TODAY SportsDwyane Wade made 10 of 14 shots en route to 24 points in the loss to Atlanta.

Yet overall, the Heat seemed relieved in the locker room after the game.

They were glad to be done with a brutal stretch of five games in seven nights that had taken a mental and physical toll on the team like no other week in the season. And they were far more encouraged by the return of Wade, who made his first seven shots and finished with 24 points on a 10-of-14 clip from the field in the 23 minutes he played in six-minute increments.

Wade’s night began with a dunk in transition on a pass from LeBron James during the Heat’s first possession of the game. For the past three weeks, it would have been the sort of transition moment James would have exploited, a one-on-one matchup in the open court to attack the basket.

Instead, he deferred.

“That was the best part about tonight; we were able to get him out on the floor, get him into a good rhythm,” said James, who had 27 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 37 minutes. “Me personally, the first play of the game, I had a break versus Kyle Korver. I usually go for that. But knowing [Wade] has been out for a while, trying to get him his rhythm, I was able to dump it off to him. The best thing you can get coming off an injury is a layup or a dunk. To come out of this without a setback is the best part.”

The Heat have preached for weeks now that they much more prefer to enter the playoffs as healthy as possible than with the No. 1 seed in terms of how they’d manage the final stretch of the season. Their adherence to that philosophy somewhat explains the team’s festive mood just moments after falling flat in a loss to an opponent they could see in the first round of the playoffs next week.

And the Heat’s approach also sheds light on how they might approach the final two games of the season when they travel to face Washington on Monday and return home Wednesday against Philadelphia. James, Wade and Bosh each said after Saturday’s game that they would consult with coach Erik Spoelstra and the training staff to determine whether the best course of action is to sit out either or both of the last two games, which would provide a full week of rest heading into Game 1 of their first-round series.

Spoelstra said that every decision he makes right now will be based on the team’s overall health. He was encouraged by what he saw in Wade’s first game back since he sustained the hamstring injury in the final two minutes of a March 26 loss at Indiana. The Heat trailed by 11 with six minutes left in the fourth -- still within striking distance -- when Spoelstra maintained the minutes restriction plan and pulled Wade out although Miami’s second-leading scorer for the season showed no signs of slowing down.

“If we had gotten it closer,” Spoelstra said before shifting his thoughts. “[Our trainer] and Dwyane said he could [continue] to go if needed. Obviously, we were very encouraged by that. We’ll proceed with a very careful eye and see how he feels [Sunday]. He’s been doing a lot of work behind the scenes. He probably felt like he should have been cleared a week ago, but we wanted to be very patient with him.”

Wade, who admitted Saturday the hamstring strain was more severe than he and the team initially thought, spent the past week pushing through rigorous workouts in practices, during morning shootarounds and on game nights before the team took the court for warm-ups.

On two occasions, Spoelstra suggested Wade was on the verge of returning but the team opted to hold him out under further precaution. On Friday, Wade went through three different workouts before the Heat’s game against the Pacers. After enduring another -- his fourth in a span of 24 hours -- he was cleared to play against the Hawks.

“I’ve just been a workout fiend,” Wade said. “It’s been good [to] go from where you can’t do much, and then when you start feeling it turn a little bit and then you start feel yourself getting a little better, then you feel yourself getting much better. Now, you’re able to start working and trying, as much as possible, to get some kind of flow, some kind of rhythm, some kind of confidence back in it. Being this close to the playoffs, I didn’t want to come back too soon. So it’s just trying to be as smart as I can be.”

The next time Wade and James work in tandem again could come in the playoffs.

While Wade suggested he hopes to continue to build from Saturday’s outing, James hinted that it just might be time for him to squeeze in a few days off before the postseason grind begins. As part of a routine that dates back to his days with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James prefers to take off the last week of the regular season. The decision usually is made easier by his teams having secured a specific playoff seed. That’s not the case this season with Miami, which could be locked into the battle with the Pacers for the top spot in the East through the final night of the regular season on Wednesday.

“I’ll be smart about it and go into the postseason as healthy as I can be,” James said of weighing his next decision. “The last three years, I’ve kind of done that, and I felt pretty good going into the postseason. Even after this seven-, eight-month grind, there’s nothing like the two months of the postseason. It’s harder than the eight months of the regular season. So I’ve got to be smart about it.”

Despite the loss, Saturday can be viewed as a win-win night for the Heat.

The result on the scoreboard was easily overshadowed by Wade’s return and James’ quest for rest.

No wonder they left Atlanta in a good mood.

Heat Reaction: Grading Pacers-Heat

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
10:09
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Wade's absence leaving Heat out of rhythm

April, 5, 2014
Apr 5
1:33
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- About two hours before the start of Friday’s game, Dwyane Wade pushed himself through a rigorous workout on the AmericanAirlines Arena court that offered the only recent glimpse of progress amid his most extensive injury absence of the season.

The Miami Heat certainly could have used a few of those shots on a night when they ultimately ran out of firepower in a 122-121 double-overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. In a game that saw the teams combine for 243 points, 192 shot attempts in 58 minutes and 21 lead changes before the final buzzer, there was another number that resonated when all was settled.

Wade missed his 24th game of the season on Friday, including his fifth in a row as he continues to work his way back from a nagging hamstring strain. Wade’s teammates and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra continue to temper their level of concern about Wade's status, but there has been no indication as to when the team’s second-leading scorer might return to action.

Before he carried the Heat for nearly 48 minutes and led Miami with 34 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four steals and a block in the loss, LeBron James said he’s seen enough from the workouts to believe Wade could be back in the lineup relatively soon. James revealed that in addition to the hamstring injury Wade suffered late in the March 26 loss to Indiana, he also is still dealing with soreness from the strained Achilles he sustained in March 19 loss to the Celtics.

The Heat (52-23) have seven regular-season games remaining, with Sunday’s matchup against the New York Knicks the first of six consecutive against teams that are battling for playoff position.

“He’s been looking better and better every day,” James said of Wade, who has not spoken with the media in recent days. “Obviously, testing out that Achilles is something he didn’t want to push too far, or the hamstring. So he’s been strengthening and conditioning. I think he’s getting back to where he needs to be, and probably within the next week he should be back on the floor.”

Both the hamstring and Achilles injuries are in Wade’s left leg. The majority of the games he’s missed this season have been the result of his continued recovery and rest regimen from an offseason procedure to heal his right kneecap of multiple bone bruises.

Relegated to a navy suit jacket, white shirt and tan pants, all Wade could do Friday night after his workout was stand near the bench and watch a win slip away from the Heat on multiple occasions. The Heat led 115-111 with 3:27 left in the second overtime period, but the Timberwolves used a 10-3 run, sparked by Kevin Love’s relentless play on both ends of the court, to take a three-point lead.

Minnesota (38-37) made enough free throws the rest of the way to hold off the Heat, whose final shot to win it failed when Ray Allen was forced into an errant jumper while defended by Love. James said it took him a few moments after the game to get over his frustrations from not getting the ball for the final shot. James expressed a similar sentiment after Spoelstra called a play for Chris Bosh to get the last shot with two seconds left in the 84-83 loss to the Pacers.

“It’s a little frustrating, being in this position again and not being able to get the last shot,” James said. “It happened in the Indiana game and tonight as well. It’s a little frustrating, but I’m over it.”

The Heat scored 29 points off 18 Minnesota turnovers and won the rebounding battle 52-46. But the Timberwolves eventually outlasted the Heat with a balanced offense that had six players score in double figures, led by Love’s 28 points and 11 rebounds.

The Heat believe these are the kind of games that will get them prepared for playoff intensity, but there’s still some level of concern about the team’s overall rhythm with so many key players rolling in and out of the lineup. Allen had 10 points in his first game back after missing five with a flu-like virus.

The Heat won’t rush Wade back, but the sooner he’s available, the sooner they can develop some sense of continuity for the postseason. Wade’s teammates expect him to need a few games to get back into the flow after missing so much time.

“He’s got to get his rhythm, and that’s going to be the main thing,” point guard Mario Chalmers said. “Hopefully, he’ll hurry up and get out there. I think we can figure it out. But as a player, you always want to have that rhythm going into big moments like the playoffs. With D-Wade, he’s a big rhythm player, but it’s easy for him to find his rhythm. So we’re not too much worried.”

Bosh said there are too many unsettled aspects of the Heat’s game to feel overly confident about their level of play the past few weeks. As competition gets tougher, Miami can’t afford to be short-handed. They also don’t want to risk trying to figure everything out once they’re in the playoffs.

“We need everybody,” Bosh said. “As far as rhythm and timing and the sets we run, team chemistry, we need some games under our belt for that. You always have to be concerned. Every team around the league is concerned. If you don’t have any concern, you’re probably going to get beat in the playoffs, quite frankly. I want us to play our best basketball. We have a lot of improving to do. We still have a long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long way to go. And it’s not going to be easy at all.”

D-Wade shows strong back-to-back game

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
12:45
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- For Dwyane Wade, this was all about timing and progress.

With less than six weeks remaining before the NBA playoffs, it was time to speed up the process of shoring up the newer aspects of his game he’d been experimenting on throughout the season.

And having experienced mixed results the past two times he’s attempted to push through games on consecutive nights, Wade needed to gauge the progress he has made amid the season-long maintenance program designed to treat and preserve his troublesome knees.

Throw in the fact the Miami Heat returned home on a three-game losing streak, the conditions were set for Wade to pursue the kind of answers he sought from himself and his team heading into a challenging four-game homestand that started with Monday’s visit from the Washington Wizards.
[+] EnlargeDwyane Wade
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesDwyane Wade gave Miami a strong performance late on the second night of a back-to-back.

“I felt good enough to do it, and I wanted to challenge myself,” Wade said after Miami’s 99-90 victory over Washington. “I knew we had a lot of games this week, but I just decided to do it. I came in and didn’t feel like I couldn’t go out there and do the things I needed to do.”

This wasn’t simply Wade going through the motions a night after he played nearly 40 minutes and scored a game-high 25 points in Sunday afternoon’s overtime loss in Chicago. Instead, this was Wade dominating down the stretch with emotion and devotion.

Wade scored 13 of his 22 points in the decisive fourth quarter to help the Heat pull away from the Wizards after the teams were tied at 73-73 entering the final period. This was two-way Wade, who dished three of his six assists in the fourth and also blocked a shot that initiated the Heat’s closing run.

This wasn’t the level of production the Heat have grown accustomed to getting from Wade on both ends of a back-to-back set this season. The first time Wade tried to play in games on consecutive nights was in November, when he played one of his most complete games of his career in a Nov. 15 home win against Dallas but limped off the court with soreness in the third quarter the next night in Charlotte.

The decision to test his right knee too extensively too soon after an offseason procedure to address multiple bone bruises resulted in a weeklong setback in Wade’s recovery process. It would be another two months before Wade dared to attack another back-to-back.

The outcome was more encouraging in early January. Wade had 20 points, six rebounds and four assists in 36 minutes in a Jan. 4 win in Orlando and came a night later with 14 points, nine rebounds and two steals in 35 minutes on the way to a home win against Toronto.

So based on the every-other-month schedule, perhaps it was time to check again. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra scoffed at the notion that part of the team’s proactive approach with Wade was designed to keep him out of games on consecutive nights this season. But that was clearly the way Miami handled Wade, with the focus exclusively on building Wade’s confidence and health for the playoffs.

A week ago, Spoelstra said the team’s only goal for Wade was to get him playing -- and feeling -- his best in time for the Heat to begin their push for a third consecutive championship.

“People made sweeping assumptions that he won’t play any [games] back-to-back, but that’s never been the case,” Spoelstra said. “When we say everything is day-to-day, that’s what we mean. If he can pass a series of exercises and tests of the routine ... if his legs feel good, why hold back? He’s ready to go and he can play. We anticipated early in the year that as the season went on, he would feel better.”

Spoelstra also said there was no hesitation from Wade or the training staff to allow him to play Monday. But the coach also said there was a moment in the fourth quarter when he thought about taking Wade out as a precaution but decided against it because he was playing so well to close out the game.

Nine other times this season, Wade split back-to-back sets by playing one night and resting the other. Had that trend continued Monday -- as it did a week ago when he sat a Monday win against Charlotte and played in a Tuesday loss at Houston -- there’s a strong change the Heat’s losing streak would have reached four games.

LeBron James bounced back from a weeklong slump by his standards to finish with 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting, and Chris Bosh had 22 points on 14 shots. But the offense ran through Wade for much of the second half against the Wizards, largely because he was able to drive and finish at the rim or set up teammates. He was also able to get to the free throw line while James did not attempt a free throw in consecutive games for the first time since his rookie season in 2003.

This was the Heat leaning on Wade on a night they otherwise would have been without him.

“It was great,” James said. “He had the ball in his hands and made the right plays for himself and for his team. He didn’t let us down.”

There were times throughout the season when teammates didn’t know whether Wade would play or sit out until just before they hit the court for pregame warm-ups. It reached a point that Wade started to inform his teammates earlier on game days when his body wasn’t cooperating so that they could better adjust and prepare for him to sit out.

With the playoffs looming, Bosh said he’s confident in Wade’s approach.

“We’re to the point now where the playoffs will come early this year,” Bosh said of the Heat increasing their intensity as they chase Indiana for the No. 1 seed in the East. “I expect him to play. We need to be at full strength.”

Neither Wade nor his team are there quite yet.

Last week’s losing streak exposed some offensive chemistry issues and defensive lapses the Heat will need to fix over the final 21 games. There are no back-to-backs in the playoffs, so there’s really no reason for Wade to get himself accustomed to playing on consecutive nights. And he warned Monday that it’s unlikely he will continue at this rate and play in both games of the five remaining back-to-back sets.

Considering the timing and opportunity, this was about Wade proving that there has been progress.

And that he could be there when needed.

“I paced myself,” Wade said. “We just needed this win and it was good for us. At this time of the year, I would love to play every night as we get into the groove to go into the playoffs.”

Dwyane Wade's game aging gracefully

March, 2, 2014
Mar 2
2:02
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- After 11 seasons in the league, Dwyane Wade has reached the point at which many opponents believe they’ve got his game figured out on a given night.

The star Miami Heat guard loves the sound of that process at work.

"Sometimes, it’s funny, because you hear guys trying to call out your moves, or you hear the [opposing] bench saying, 'Don’t let him do this. Don’t let him do that,'" Wade said Saturday night. "And you just counter it. That’s what I was able to do."

At age 32, Wade has essentially reached the wise-man stage of his career. Knee issues that have hounded him each of the past two seasons have forced Wade to get here a bit sooner than he planned, but he’s at the point now at which the combination of athletic limitations and physical preservation has rendered it more prudent for Wade to attack the game with his mind as much as his body.

Wade took another modest step in that transformation during the Heat’s 112-98 victory Saturday against the young and struggling Orlando Magic. Playing in his second game with a highly scrutinized mask to protect his broken nose, LeBron James has 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in only three quarters as the Heat cruised to their seventh straight win.

But it’s in these kind of matchups in which Wade’s veteran savvy and "old-man game" come clearly into focus as he sizes up more athletic and less experienced defenders before breaking them down. Methodically dissecting the Magic with a balanced midrange attack, Wade made 10 of his 14 shots to lead the Heat with 24 points and added four assists, three rebounds, a steal and a block in 30 minutes.

When he wasn’t backing smaller defenders into the post, Wade was slipping past bigger players to get to the rim. He mixed pull-up jumpers with running hooks -- basically feasting on the kind of moves gracefully aging fathers historically rely on to squeeze out those final one-on-one games against sons.

There’s no shame in Wade’s maturing game.

"I think as you get older, your game has to change," said Wade, who has scored at least 20 points in each of his past four games. "You have to think the game more than anything. When you’re young, you just react and you just do [it]. Now, you have to think. And certain games, when I’m frustrated with myself, it’s because I’m not thinking the game the way that I should. But for [the] majority of them, I do a good job of thinking and reading the game more differently than I have [in the past]."

That cerebral process has resulted in Wade's shooting percentages increasing to career-high marks each of the past two seasons as he’s gradually settled into a comfort zone within the Heat’s structure alongside fellow perennial All-Stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Although the Heat have advanced to the Finals each season since the three came together in 2010, meshing their games hasn’t been easy.

James has led the way primarily as a dominant facilitator, who instinctively knows when to pull back, set aside his own game at times and makes sure Wade still has opportunities to take over games. Bosh has had to embrace an entire makeover to his game on both ends of the court while being a third option.

Wade has had to dance between them both, which has also been complicated by knee injuries that have seen him evolve from one of the most relentless and reckless attacking guards that largely played above the rim to a more measured, methodical player who feasts on a balanced floor game.

"The worst-kept secret is the fact that he has worked on his game and developed his game for the last three years to not only reinvent himself, but -- more importantly -- to add a skill set that is important for this group," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Saturday. "He couldn’t just be the same player that he was before the way this team had been put together. It has been a long, steady process of developing his post-up game and his midrange game."

Since the All-Star break, Wade is shooting 61.6 percent from the field while averaging 21.4 points, 5.8 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 32.6 minutes. Before the break, Wade had missed 15 of the Heat’s 51 games mainly to rest and recover from lingering soreness in his right knee.

Heat coaches and teammates have seen a different Wade over the past two weeks, with his upswing in production and consistency two clear signs of his improving health entering the season’s stretch run.

"He’s in a great rhythm right now," James said. "It starts with his health. He’s not 100 percent, obviously, but he’s got his legs under him and a bounce to his step. He’s playing his game, and he’s not second-guessing it. And it’s great to see. His ability to go outside-inside, then inside-outside is definitely a benefit to him and to this team."

Bosh agrees with James’ assessment of Wade, who is shooting a career-high 55.1 percent overall.

"He’s even more deadly than he was before because he’s more efficient," Bosh said. "We’re getting him in more pick-and-roll situations, which he can do in his sleep, but getting him down on the block a lot against mismatches has been very effective for us. This is what he does now, and we see it every day."

Wade has also benefited from an accommodating schedule in recent weeks. After sitting out the past two games on the road before the break, Wade requested, and played, limited minutes during the Feb. 16 All-Star Game in New Orleans. The Heat since had five games spaced out over 12 days.

But the Heat’s schedule picks up from here, with five games in eight days. That stretch also includes a three-game trip to play the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls. It begins with a back-to-back that starts Monday at home against the Charlotte Bobcats before facing the Rockets on Tuesday and ends with a home game against the Washington Wizards on March 10 a day after playing the Bulls.

Wade has not routinely played games on consecutive nights amid his early-season recovery from a summer shockwave treatment on his right knee for an injury that lingered from the Heat’s run to a second straight championship last season. Both Wade and Spoelstra have said the approach over the remaining months of the season will be just as cautious as it was during the first few months.

The object is to keep Wade feeling healthy and playing at a high level going into the playoffs.

So far, so good.

"When I feel good, I play well; sometimes, it’s just as simple as that," Wade said recently. "I’m in one of those grooves right now, just taking my shots. Some of them are wide open, and some of them are not. I’m just taking the ones I’m comfortable with. Just reading, giving guys different moves."

Heat Reaction: Grading Heat-Blazers

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
1:39
AM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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Heat Reaction: Grading Heat-Kings

December, 28, 2013
12/28/13
2:21
AM ET
Gutierrez By Israel Gutierrez
ESPN.com
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Friday fireworks for LeBron and the Heat

December, 21, 2013
12/21/13
1:02
AM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- It was Sacramento Kings rookie Ben McLemore’s “Welcome to the NBA” moment.

In Friday's first quarter, Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers set a high screen for LeBron James to strategically force a mismatch. This wasn't just any mismatch. Chalmers was being guarded by Isaiah Thomas, who stands all of 5-foot-9.

Predictably, James turned Thomas into a traffic cone and barreled toward the rim, where McLemore stood in his way. McLemore, bless his heart, had rotated over from the weak side and tried to take a charge in James’ path.

You can probably guess what happened next. James skied over him with a patented tomahawk, flattening McLemore and sending the nearby Heat bench into a screaming frenzy as James towered over the rookie. No charge called.

“It sucks that it was him,” James said after the game. “Because I like him. That sucks.”

After the game, McLemore was in good spirits, laughing off the play. James and McLemore go back to the rookie’s high school days in Missouri.

“I just went over there to try and take the charge,” McLemore said before letting out a smile. “And he dunked the ball.”

[+] EnlargeLeBron James
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesNext time, Ben McLemore may think twice about contesting a LeBron James dunk attempt.
There’s a lesson underneath the highlight reel. You see, the play showcased a classic dilemma in the game: Do you bravely challenge a player launching for a dunk? Or just let him roll through -- maybe the cowardly thing to do in some eyes -- to avoid the potential humiliation?

McLemore made his choice, but not without second-guessing himself.

“Afterwards, I thought maybe I should have just fouled him,” McLemore said. “Knowing it was LeBron, I knew they weren't going to call (a charge), but I was just playing to my defensive principles. Even though they didn't call it, I didn't let that mess my game up.”

In the eyes of Kings head coach Mike Malone, McLemore made the right play, the more admirable one. McLemore could have given up and let James score an uncontested bucket. But instead, McLemore made a play, trying to cover for his teammates who blew the pick-and-roll coverage.

“Some guys would duck and get out of the way because they do not want to be on the ESPN highlight tape,” Malone said. “But Ben is a competitor and he hates to lose. I’m proud of Ben.”

After much pondering, Shane Battier thinks it was a rookie mistake. As one of the foremost charge-takers in NBA history, the Heat forward has been in McLemore’s spot countless times.

What did the expert think of McLemore’s choice?

“You get out of the way,” Battier said. “Even if you go for the foul, you’re going to hurt yourself. At some point, you just cut your losses and do the fake trip and or something and say, ‘Oh well, I tried.’"

Battier continued his lecture.

“That’s a skill, a learned skill,” Battier joked. “I don’t expect a rookie in his first 20 games to understand that. That’s the biggest difference between the NBA and college: the speed of the game. You have to understand what you can get away with. So he’ll learn. It was a learning experience.”

James’ dunk will be replayed over and over, but it also symbolized the game. The Heat scored a season-high 122 points against the porous Kings defense and won easily, by 19 points. The defensive intensity of Friday’s matchup was on the level of the All-Star Game. Maybe lower.

Put it this way: The Kings shot 58.1 percent from the floor and lost by almost 20. In fact, a team hasn't shot that well and lost by that much in over 25 years.

Not since April 5, 1986, when the Phoenix Suns shot 61.1 percent and lost by 19 to, ironically enough, the Kings. How’s this for perspective: New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson was starting for the Kings at shooting guard.

All in all, James’ dunk on McLemore was just one of 20 dunks in the game, the most in any NBA game this season. Believe it or not, Ray Allen dunked for the first time this season. And then dunked again, marking the first time he’s dunked twice in a game since Feb. 10, 2011, against the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Ray looked good getting up there,” James said. “I was watching ‘He Got Game’ last night and he dunked a lot. Jesus Shuttlesworth was out in full effect.”

With the victory, the Heat move to 20-6 on the season, tying the best 26-game start in franchise history, set last season. It was the 13th straight game that the Heat have scored at least 100 points against the Kings, setting a franchise record for consecutive triple-digit games against an opponent.

The Kings aren't an NBA-caliber defense just yet. This was the second game in a row that they've hemorrhaged at least 120 points to the opposing team, dropping their record to 7-18. Since Rudy Gay's arrival, the Kings have allowed 111.8 points per 100 possessions, which would rank dead last in the league. The offense has barely improved. Gay had seven turnovers in his fifth game in his new uniform and the Kings shot 41.7 percent from the free-throw line.

Despite 27 points of his own, DeMarcus Cousins barely slowed Chris Bosh, allowing the Heat big man to score a season-high 25 points on 11-for-16 shooting. After the game, Cousins sat at his locker, eating a plate of chicken fingers before leaving the room without speaking to reporters.

Needless to say, Malone wasn't pleased with the Kings’ performance and proceeded to rail on his team’s defensive effort.

“We have nobody that is protecting the basket,” Malone said outside the Kings’ locker room after the Heat scored 70 points in the paint. “I question how many guys that we have on this team who will take pride in their defense. I think a lot of guys are worried about their numbers and the offense, but they are not committed to defense. That’s apparent every night you watch us play.

“Every day in practice, every shoot-around, every team meeting and every film session, all we talk about is our defense. Obviously the message isn't getting through. They’re not accepting it or they’re unwilling to accept it, I’m not sure what the problem is; but I have to find five guys (Saturday night) in Orlando that are willing to compete on the defensive end of the floor.”

Moments before Malone’s rant, James videobombed Bosh’s postgame TV interview by wheeling Dwyane Wade around like a wheelbarrow in the background.

Two different vibes for two different teams.

Just another Friday night in Miami for the two-time defending champs.

Heat Reaction: Grading Kings-Heat

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
11:03
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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'Old man' Wade's battle with Father Time

December, 14, 2013
12/14/13
12:21
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- Despite the nagging knee aches, the frequent absences from the lineup on game nights and a 32nd birthday approaching next month, it’s still way too soon to roll out the rocking chair for Dwyane Wade.

But there are times when the Miami Heat veteran guard steps on the porch, takes a long gaze across the NBA landscape and wonders how 11 years have flown by so fast.

It’s during these reflective moments when Wade’s mind and body are at odds, with his spirit caught in the tug-of-war. Then, the flashbacks place matters in perspective.

As the Heat prepared to open a five-game homestand Saturday against Cleveland, Wade recalled those Heat practices from a decade ago when his youthful exuberance and health were balanced by methodical veteran savvy.

“I remember coming in and seeing Eddie Jones when I got here, and he would dunk every once in a while, and guys would be like, ‘Oh,’” Wade said as he suddenly rocked back to mimic the excitement of his early Heat teammates. “And I’m like, ‘Why is it a big deal because he dunked? But now it’s like, ‘Well yeah, it’s a big deal.’ When I dunk now, they’re like, ‘Oh, (crap!).’ It’s just part of it.”

The "it" Wade was referring to is the aging process in the NBA. It is the process of processing one’s mortality. And it’s the stage all stars eventually get to in their decorated careers; the stage when you realize you’re no longer what you once were but still good enough to be effective. And all the while, there are ongoing negotiations with Father Time to delay the inevitable decline for another season or two.

[+] EnlargeDwyane Wade
Gregory Shamus/NBAE/Getty ImagesOn most days, this is where you'll be able to find Dwyane Wade.
Wade’s troublesome knees have sped up this process the past couple of seasons. He’s now in his third consecutive season of having to deal with soreness, inflammation, swelling, bruising or the aftereffects of surgery or extensive shock-wave therapy with one knee or the other.

Wade has already missed six games this season while simultaneously playing and rehabbing the bruised right knee that slowed him throughout the Heat’s run to a second championship last season and required the OssaTron treatment over the summer. With the Heat having benefited from three days off since they returned from a four-game trip, all signs from the extended rest and light practice session the past two days point to Wade being back on the court for Saturday’s home game against the Cavaliers.

But Wade’s availability can no longer be taken for granted. Before each game, Wade goes through a meticulous process -- treatment sessions with trainers, evaluations from the medical staff and conversations with coach Erik Spoelstra's staff before his game status is determined.

Although the Heat will not hold a morning shootaround before playing Cleveland, that general process will be no different Saturday. Wade recently explained in detail how the decision-making process works in determining when he plays and when he takes a night off to rest amid the team’s maintenance program designed to preserve his knees.

“It (starts) when I come in and see my trainer,” Wade said. “We talk about how I’m feeling, then kind of go from there. Sometimes Coach has made a decision (moments) before a game. Sometimes, I've told him at shootaround when I haven’t played. It’s really no perfect way to feel it out. It’s really no schedule; just kind of feeling things out.”

There were at least two occasions this season when Wade anticipated playing but was held out by the staff as a precaution. Then there was the Nov. 16 game in Charlotte, where Wade pushed through a second game in two nights, aggravated his knee and was sidelined for a week.

Initially, both Wade and Spoelstra dismissed the incident in Charlotte as Wade simply testing where his knee stood. But as time went on, Wade has acknowledged it was a full-blown setback and a mistake for him to play both nights of a back-to-back set, something he avoided in the preseason.

“Obviously, when you think about the biggest thing we talk about, it’s back-to-backs,” Wade said. “I continue to tell Coach that I’m a player, so it’s going to have to be your decision more than mine. But I will let him know how I feel after we play -- not really looking at the calendar saying, ‘I don’t want to play this team or this team.’ It’s just more so how I’m feeling, because I know when I’m on the court, I help give my team the best chance to win.”

The results obviously bear that out. Miami is 3-3 in games Wade has missed this season and 13-3 with him in the lineup. It’s likely Wade will need about another month of conditioning and rehab before his knee responds the way he hopes, barring any additional setbacks along the way.

Until then, his default status will continue to be day-to-day.

“Some days are worse than others; you can’t predetermine it,” Wade said. “You just have to stay consistent with your work, and you never know when that moment is going to come, when you continue to do your work, that it’s going to feel amazing, that it’s going to feel great.”

Wade pointed to one such reprieve late last season. After initially sustaining a bone bruise on his right knee in March, the condition gradually grew worse through June.

Wade dragged that knee through three rounds of playoffs and into the first three games of the NBA Finals against San Antonio before he caught a bit of relief. With the Heat trailing 2-1 in the series, Wade had 32 points, 6 rebounds, 6 steals and 4 assists in 40 minutes during a 109-93 victory in San Antonio to even the series at 2-2.

Over the final four games of the series, including the Game 7 clincher in Miami, Wade averaged 23.5 points, 6 rebounds and 4.8 assists to help secure a second consecutive title and third overall in 10 years with Miami.

“Last year, from April my knee was bothering me all the way and then I got a breakthrough in Game 4 of the Finals, and I finally felt good,” Wade said. “It’s been frustrating all this time, but I felt I stayed consistent with my work and I got my breakthrough when we needed it most. I was able to finish the Finals and have a strong game. You just never know. You just have to stay consistent with your work.”

It’s drawing from those lessons that allow Wade to stick with his plan this season, despite the urges to play. He tries to avoid getting too caught up in what he’s called a lose-lose battle with perception. When he sits out, there will be critics who suggest he’s in sharp decline and no longer a player LeBron James can rely on consistently. If he pushes and plays on nights when he’s uncomfortable and struggles, there will be skeptics who question why he didn't sit out and save the mileage until the playoff push.

But it’s always ultimately about the long-term view.

“It’s a fine line,” Wade said. “Obviously, we have the team that gives us the ability to be able to do that, to plug guys in and help us be successful. So that makes it easier. But it’s still difficult, you know, because it hurts … Obviously, we want everyone healthy all the time. Every team does. So your team chemistry isn’t as great as it could be. But at the same time we, in here, understand. We’ve been to the Finals three years in a row. We understand what the bigger picture is all about. That’s what we’re striving for.”

Meanwhile, Wade’s stride has carried him through some sporadic steps over the first quarter of the season.

On the surface, Wade is averaging 18.4 points, 5.4 assists and 4.8 rebounds while shooting a career-high 52.3 percent from the field on about 14 shots per game, which is his lowest attempts average since his rookie season. Upon further inspection, there have been doses of his familiar, attacking and explosive play mixed in with stretches of struggle and absences. Twice, Wade has scored at least 20 points over four consecutive games. But after playing in nine of the first 10 games this season, he has missed five of 12.

Wade has sat out of three of the past five games heading into Saturday’s matchup with Cleveland. It’s been a steady balance of breakthroughs, breakdowns and buildups with those balky knees -- a classic definition of day-to-day.

“We all have to play through some kind of pain,” said Wade, who has also seen James battle through back soreness all season without missing a game. “There’s some that you can play with and some you shouldn’t play with, depending on the nature of the injury. Sometimes you wake up after so much pain, but you continue to do your work, you continue to do your rehab and therapy, and you’re like, 'Man, I’m not as limited today.' But you just never know when that time is going to be.”

There were no limitations last Saturday in Minnesota, where Wade asked to remain in the game well after the Heat took a commanding lead down the stretch because he wanted to work on his conditioning and rhythm. Spoelstra granted Wade’s request and watched him finish with 19 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 32 minutes in Wade’s first game back after sitting out nearly a week.

Another rest stop came the next night in Detroit, with Wade skipping the second game of the back-to-back set. And there also weren't many limitations in Tuesday’s marquee matchup with Indiana. Both Wade and James struggled in the second half on the way to a loss. But an encouraging moment came when, in transition, James found a streaking Wade, who handled the pass and then took off from just outside the lane for a soaring two-handed dunk.

Wade held onto the rim, swinging from one side to the other, for extra emphasis before dismounting. His teammates jumped out of their seats on the bench.

It was one of those Eddie Jones moments.

“Every now and then, you show a little something,” Wade said of the play. “You don’t do it often. As you get older, you have to save it a little more.”

The aging process isn't transpiring quite as gracefully as Wade would like. In fact, he said, "it sucks."

He’s accepting that his knees won’t ever allow him to be 100 percent healthy again. But Wade also isn't ready to let the up-and-coming perimeter stars completely pass him by.

“You want to be able to be like the young guys in the league, but you’re not,” Wade said. “But you still have to understand you’re good enough, and you’re effective enough. It’s just about growing and being smart and understanding your body is different than your body (was) at 23. I laugh now, but I see these young guys, the Paul Georges, and all these guys. And I’m like, 'Man, those were the great days, the good old days when you felt that way.’”

Then the years add up and another reality sets in.

“When you get on that other side, when you get about 28, you start reaching that other side,” Wade said. “Then by 30, it’s another side. These guys will see it one day.”

For now, old man Wade is confident he’ll have enough fight to keep them off his lawn when it matters most.

D-Wade's frequent rest stops all in the plan

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
12:22
AM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The Miami Heat got good news Sunday night and it had nothing to do with snapping the upstart Detroit Pistons' four-game win streak.

It was that Dwyane Wade felt no ill effects from banging knees with the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Martin Saturday night. During the Finals last season, a similar play with Manu Ginobili forced Wade's knee to swell up and it needed to be drained so he could play in Game 7.

“It’s OK,” Wade said. “Thank God.”

There will be intriguing and high-intensity moments along the way for the Heat in the regular season -- Tuesday’s game at the Indiana Pacers perhaps being one of them -- but nothing trumps the management of Wade’s knees. Having Wade reasonably healthy is perhaps the most important part of the first 82 games. It’s a principle the Heat consider every day.
[+] EnlargeDwyane Wade
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsThe Heat were relieved that Dwyane Wade wasn't feeling ill effects from Saturday's knee collision in Minneapolis.

So that Wade sat out his sixth game of the season to rest his knees Sunday was equally worthy of monitoring as the Heat avenging their loss to Detroit last Tuesday by winning 110-95.

“Everybody is on the same page about it, he’s going to get better quicker as the season goes on,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We want to be judicious early on so that he keeps making forward steps.”

After Wade was forced to miss two games last month after he tried playing in a back-to-back, the Heat have decided he just simply won’t do it for awhile, if they clear him at all this season. Wade sat out two losses last week when he knee started bothering him -- he also got sick -- and there wasn’t even a back-to-back involved. There are no back-to-backs in the postseason.

It’s far from an ideal arrangement, James even expressed a little frustration with it, saying: “It’s challenging for all of us, we played so well (Saturday) night and then we have to make a lineup change ... But every time he comes back out there he’s playing well and he’s moving well and you have to respect what he’s doing.”

It’s a deal the Heat have decided to make.

Wade is essentially still recovering from the wear and tear of last season. As he attempts to manage the chronic tendinitis that has limited him over the last few years, he got a shockwave procedure over the summer that is still taking effect. He’s been told the treatment takes about six months to truly start to work and Wade had it about five months ago.

“For me I’m looking for this next month, month and a half, they told me that the pain is supposedly to lessen,” Wade said. “Hopefully it gets to that point and it can be more consistent.”

When Wade has played, he’s looked healthy. He’s averaging 18.5 points, shooting 53 percent and has been an excellent distributor as Spoelstra has put him in lineups often without James. More important, he’s moved, jumped and generally looked much more spry than during the playoffs last season.

The following day, or two days, however, often are tough. That is what Wade and the Heat are thinking about when they shut him down, the hope being that once the play-every-other-day playoff schedules arrive, he’ll be ready.

“That is the plan they have set and I’m trying to stick to it,” Wade said. “They have the big picture in mind, they don’t want any setbacks.”

The Heat are just 3-3 this season when Wade hasn’t played after going 11-2 without him last season. That little bobble is one of the reasons the Pacers have a two-game lead on them six weeks in. It’s a little bit of a concern, which is why the Heat recently have been making calls to teams to see if they can get backcourt help or at least free up a roster spot to add a wing player later in the season, but losing a few games is a trade-off the Heat are willing to make.

Sunday they got a huge outing from the bench even with Michael Beasley sitting out with a hamstring issue. Roger Mason Jr. seems to have had a fire lit under him by the report that Heat were evaluating their guard options. He squeezed in nine points in less than five minutes of floor time Saturday and scored 12 more in the win over the Pistons. All in all, the Heat bench shot 15-of-24 and scored and 41 points.

Spoelstra didn’t want to start Ray Allen in Wade’s place because it would disrupt his successful bench rotation. He didn’t do it all last season or for the first four chances this season. But Allen relishes it, one of the reasons he left Boston was because his starting spot was in danger, and he scored 18 points to help solidify that role until the next time Wade needs a break.

It helped that the Pistons are decimated at the guard position right now as Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum and Chauncey Billups are all out with injuries. Of course it helps when you have James put up a near triple-double with 24 points, seven rebounds and nine assists in just 35 minutes.

“It’s working,” Wade said. “I just want to get it better.”

What a difference a week makes for Miami

December, 7, 2013
12/07/13
2:03
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive
MINNEAPOLIS –- It was all good just a week ago.

Then, the Miami Heat were in the process of extending their winning streak to 10 games. LeBron James was dunking flawlessly, dominating games with his efficiency and touting the Heat’s supporting cast as the deepest he’s had since he arrived from Cleveland three years ago.

This time last week, Chris Bosh seemed to have shaken out of an offensive slump after rescuing the Heat from a 14-point deficit against Charlotte by scoring 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and grabbing nine rebounds in the win. And Dwyane Wade was in the midst of arguably his best flow of the season, having negotiated his knee soreness to score at least 20 points in four consecutive games.

Considering how matters have gone for Miami the past few days, last week seems more like last season.

That’s how quickly things change for the Heat, who are now in a deep search for answers as they head into Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves looking to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season. After getting hammered in the paint and on the boards in consecutive double-figure losses to Detroit and Chicago, the challenges don’t get any smaller for the Heat -– literally or figuratively –- as they try to gain traction in their latest stop of a frigid four-game road trip.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesLeBron has been one of the few mainstays in the Heat's lineup.
Heat players had the day off Friday coming off their worst loss of the season in Thursday’s 107-87 setback against the Bulls. But there was hardly a sense of idleness surrounding the Heat as they look to address some interior issues from the past two games, in which they've been outrebounded by a total of 34 boards and have allowed a combined 104 points in the paint.

Those disturbing numbers had the Heat taking inventory ahead of facing the Timberwolves.

“It’s a recurring thing with our team, and we have to do a better job with that,” James said of the Heat’s recent struggles in the paint. “We would love to shoot 50 percent every game, but it’s going to be times we need to gut out a win. Teams have done a much better rebounding job than us. It can be an effort thing; it can be a lot of things. But we just have to go out and go get them. I’m going to do a much better job with that, get more rebounds. But it’s a group thing for our team.”

As Miami examines every aspect of its rebounding woes -- from working on fundamental techniques to perhaps tweaking personnel groupings and schemes -- the next chance to regroup will come against the shorthanded Timberwolves, who expect to be without league-leading rebounder Kevin Love, who has been away from the team because of a death in the family.

After Saturday’s game, the trip continues with a rematch against the Pistons on Sunday and ends with Tuesday’s showdown against the Indiana Pacers as the teams with the best records in the East meet for the first time since last season’s conference finals.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra suggested a lack of consistent toughness is among the reasons why his team has been pushed around the past two games. And, considering the competition, matters could get worse before they get better if the Heat don’t fix the problem quickly.

“We are going to look at film of the last couple of games and see where the opportunities are,” Spoelstra said. “However, there are a lot of things to do before changing lineups. We have to look at other things like rebounding, putting two hands on the ball and playing defense.”

That seems simple enough, even for a team that’s won consecutive championships despite ranking among the league’s worst in rebounding each of the past two seasons. But complicating matters has been the lack of lineup continuity. Wade is expected to be available Saturday after missing Thursday’s game with flu-like symptoms and sitting out Tuesday with right-knee soreness.

But even if Wade returns against the Timberwolves, he’s likely to be out of the lineup again Sunday in Detroit as a precaution to avoid pushing the veteran guard through games on back-to-back nights. Miami is also expected to have Chris Andersen back after the reserve center was away from the team Thursday to deal with a personal matter.

James said it’s been difficult to establish cohesion amid so much unevenness from game to game.

“But what are you going to do about it?” James rhetorically asked after the loss in Chicago. “When guys are out, (other) guys have to step in. As far as continuity, you would love to have your set rotation. But things happen. It’s been a challenge for us, because it’s been more off than on with us since the season started. But it’s better early than, hopefully, late.”

Only James and backup point guard Norris Cole have played in all 19 games with season. Spoelstra has either had to alter his starting lineup or tweak his playing rotation at least once a week since the Oct. 29 season-opening win against the Bulls.

Rebounding is one concern. Roster reliability has been another.

“We just have to do a better job with our schemes, of helping guys out, help rotating,” James said. “We just want to get healthy. That’s our concern. We want to play with what we've got. And we haven’t been able to do that consistently.”

And that’s led to inconsistent results, which explains the odd ebb and flow of the Heat’s season.

Bosh, whose uneven play has been a microcosm of said season, is confident Miami will soon settle into a productive groove again on both ends of the court. He insists the team won’t get too distraught amid this week’s turmoil, just as it didn't grow overconfident with last week’s success.

“When random situations happen during the season, we have to be ready for it,” Bosh said. “We are looking forward to bouncing back, and it’s a huge challenge for us on the road right now. We have a chance to really make some ground up. We always expect to win, no matter who we put on the floor. We’re going to have to just get back to playing our game and let everything else take care of itself.”

How Kobe's deal could influence Wade

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
6:25
PM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
Archive
Dwyane WadeSteve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsWhat decision will Dwyane Wade make next summer?

It was a challenging question posed to Dwyane Wade.

When he faces free agency next summer, which will it be? The Kobe Bryant-style deal or the Kevin Garnett/Tim Duncan-style deal? For the Miami Heat and perhaps even for the balance of power in the league, his choice could make a big difference.

LeBron James answered for him.

“D-Wade is getting that Kobe deal,” James said from the next locker.

Wade, knowing the gravity of this issue, smiled and shook his head. Then he gave a more diplomatic answer.

“When I get into that position, it’s something I’ll think about,” Wade said. “You have to sit down at the time and see what is best for you and for your team.”

Here is the situation. Next summer Wade has an opt out in his contract. He is owed $20 million next year and $21 million in 2015-16. It is reasonable to think that Wade, who turns 32 in January, will not opt out and just collect that money. But Wade could also re-do his contract and, if the Heat agreed, get a four-year deal worth up to nearly $100 million. Or the sides could do a deal for anything in between. Basically, the Heat could ask Wade to take a pay cut and make it up to him by adding years to his deal.

That is what Wade and the Heat will likely have serious discussions about at some point before he has to make a decision on June 30. What Wade decides could have a significant impact on how the Heat proceed into next season. And Bryant’s new deal sets an interesting precedent.

Bryant is taking a pay cut next season from his $30 million salary but he will still be the league’s highest-paid player through 2016. The contract was somewhat controversial because it restricted the Lakers’ cap flexibility even as they plan to rebuild through free agency.

The reactions got to the point where Bryant ended up sniping back and forth with fans on social media. It’s not typical that a franchise player has to defend himself for re-signing with the team. Bryant pointed out that superstars shouldn’t yield to public pressure to take less money to help the franchise out and save the owners money.

In principle, Wade is on the same page.

“As a player, I loved it. Everyone who gets what they get deserves it, great,” Wade said of Bryant’s new deal. “There’s a reason the Lakers felt that Kobe should get that money. There’s no right or wrong.”

But what about in practice?

Like with Bryant, all signs point to Wade remaining with the Heat for his entire career. But the terms he settles on will make a difference to what the team can do over the next few years. Bryant correctly points out that is not the player’s concern. But it’s the reality.

In 2012, Duncan and Garnett both signed deals to stay with their teams where they took large pay cuts but in return got long-term contracts and no-trade clauses. Duncan reduced his salary with the Spurs by $11 million but got $30 million guaranteed over three years and took the San Antonio Spurs out of the luxury tax. Garnett reduced his $21 million salary by $10 million and spread $36 million over three years with the Boston Celtics (he later waived the no-trade clause) to clear the way for the Celtics’ to go on a spending spree heading into last season.

Earlier this year, Dallas Mavericks’ lifer Dirk Nowitzki said he planned to follow in the mold of Duncan and Garnett when he becomes a free agent next summer. Nowitzki is earning $22.7 million this season and said he’ll take a “significant pay cut” to help the Mavs chase free agents.

In 2005, Shaquille O’Neal was set to make $30 million with the Heat. But he opted out of the contract and lowered his salary by $10 million as part of a new five-year contract. With that savings the Heat added key role players James Posey, Jason Williams and Antoine Walker as part of a complex trade. The team won the title the following season.

That is likely the type of plan the Heat would like to work out with Wade. If Wade were amenable, the Heat could gain flexibility if Wade would be willing to do the same and opt out of the $41 million he’s owed over the next two years and take longer deal worth less per season.

“I remember when Shaq did that,” Wade said. “Not everyone is going to do that.”

The difference is all those players were older than Wade when making such concessions. Wade is slowing down because of knee injuries and he’s the oldest of the Heat’s stars but that doesn’t mean he should concede anything at the bargaining table. Bryant, who is 35, is coming off an Achilles tear and he clearly didn’t.

The issue is that starting next year the Heat face becoming the first team to pay what has been called the “repeater tax” for being a luxury tax payer for a fourth time in five years under the collective bargaining agreement that was signed in 2011. It’s complicated but all you need to know is it’s a vastly different financial dynamic than when the Heat signed Wade, James and Chris Bosh and did their budgeting in 2010, as much as tripling the penalty.

Before the season, Heat president Pat Riley said the team pushed for contracts that were signed before 2011 be grandfathered it to the old tax rates. They lost that battle.

“There comes economic decisions and basketball decisions, that's what this is all about right now,” Riley said. “I make basketball decisions, but I am more aware now than I've ever been because of the new CBA and what that brings to my desk every day.”

The Heat are facing pressure to replace aging role players, re-sign some core players and have James’ and Bosh’s potential free agencies to manage as well. With the new tax rules, it’ll be a challenge.

In 2010, Wade, Bosh and James all accepted pay cuts to make room for more talent on the roster. Because of the tax position of the Heat, the organization may ask them to do it again. But this time there is a difference. The players don’t have to fit under the salary cap; spending for players on your roster is unlimited as long as you pay the tax. And, Wade points out, motivations will be different.

“That was something we wanted to do, it wasn’t that we had to do it,” Wade said. “At the time, guys like LeBron and CB were searching for their first championship. So you’re willing to get whatever you can to put yourself in position to win that.”

Back then, Wade gave up more money than James and Bosh to help pay for the team to re-sign Udonis Haslem and bring in Mike Miller. All-in-all, James and Bosh left about $14 million each on the table in 2010 and Wade left $17 million. Wade was the catalyst for it, personally going to James and Bosh to lobby them to leave some.

It has worked out wonderfully. The Heat, despite having to use the amnesty clause to waive Miller to deal with the new tax rates, have won two titles and remain one of the deepest teams in the league and remain title favorites. The Heat are probably going to need more concessions to keep it that way and once again it may be Wade who will be asked to set the tone.

Wade has not decided how he’ll go about it. But he also said that nothing should be assumed just because of what he did three years ago.

“There are different times and different mindsets that you deal with. That was 2010,” Wade said. “I’m not saying that LeBron James or Chris Bosh, if they get the opportunity again, are going to leave $17 million on the table. No one can say they should do that. You have to do what is best for you.”

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