A balky shoulder and a bum knee may serve as limits to what Dwyane Wade can do on a basketball court from night to night these days.
But the elite skills are still there, as well as some of the old speed that used to set him apart from his contemporaries. And when the 6-foot-4 shooting guard is in the Miami Heat lineup, he’s still capable of turning back the clock and living up to his “Flash” nickname.
In his 13th NBA season, Wade can still get points his way, dribbling around defenders, contorting himself to release a layup around the rim. Over time he has developed a post game and better footwork in order to use pump fakes to either draw a foul or get off a jump shot. Never a reliable three-point shooter (28.6 percent career), he has continued to be a force from 21 feet and in, averaging 50 percent for his career on two-point attempts while taking an average of 16 per game.
His left knee and left shoulder, which have been operated on in the past, along with hamstring, wrist and hip ailments, have combined to take their toll on the aggressive scorer from Marquette University-turned-Heat Franchise Player. The most regular season games he’s ever played is 79, logged over the course of the 2008-09 season, when he also tied a career-high in minutes per game (38.6) and set career-highs in shot attempts (22.0) and points per game (30.2). But in the last four seasons, he hasn’t played in more than 69 games.
This season, Wade (19.0 points per game) has been largely healthy, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has been more careful than ever about managing the minutes and overall wear-and-tear on his star player’s aching body. He has played in 63 of the team’s 69 games so far, and made 62 starts. His 30.6 minutes per game are easily the lowest of his career, and he tends to have his minutes more limited on the second night of back-to-back games.
Yet, when he’s on the court, he has delivered more often than not. He began the season with five-straight 20-point games, four of which came against playoff teams from the year before. He has routinely played up to the competition all season, scoring 15-plus points in games against current playoff contenders from both conferences, as well as putting up two of his best overall performances against the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
In a 111-103 loss January 11, Wade led the Heat with 20 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in just under 33 minutes. In a 118-112 loss Feb. 24, Wade had 32 points and seven assists in less than 33 minutes, both of which were team highs.
The defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t been able to elude big games from Wade, either. The Heat are 2-1 in head-to-head matchups this year, including Saturday night’s decisive 122-101 win at home. Wade scored 24 points and his team led by as many as 28 points in the third quarter. His scoring output lifted him to over 20,000 points for his career, the 41st player in league history to do so.
At 40-29, the Heat currently occupy the fourth playoff seed in the East, but are just a half-game behind the Atlanta Hawks for the 3-seed. They have weathered plenty of non-Wade injuries to vital contributors like point guard Goran Dragic and power forward Chris Bosh. Key role players like forward Luol Deng (hamstring, eye), guard Tyler Johnson (shoulder) and guard-forward Gerald Green (knee) have all been in and out of the lineup. Through it all, Wade has remained the steady hand guiding a team that may be starting to gel as the regular season schedule hits its final stretch.
At age 34, Wade may be past his athletic prime with prior injuries taking their toll. But he’s still Miami’s franchise player, and still the heart of what could be a dangerous playoff team.