Miami Heat vs. LA Clippers: Dwyane Wade Must Be Cautious in Preseason Debut

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2012

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 19:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat celebrates after they won 104-98 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Four of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 19, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Dwyane Wade is expected to make his first appearance of the preseason on Thursday as the Miami Heat battle the Los Angeles Clippers. While it's a sign of progress in his return from a knee injury, he must take it easy out of the gate.

Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald reports Wade is hoping to play barring a late setback. The regular season is less than three weeks away, which means getting into game shape is now the biggest key for the star guard, who admitted as much.

"If it continues to respond the way it is and my trainers give me a go-ahead to play, I would love to get out there and at least play some minutes and get my conditioning," Wade said. "That’s the biggest thing: to get my legs back and get my conditioning back. Hopefully I can start that journey soon."

The defending champions are likely gearing up for another long season with 82 regular-season games followed by what should be another deep playoff run. Making sure Wade is healthy for crunch time is paramount for the Heat.

Knowing that, they would be best served working him back into the mix slowly, and it's Wade's job to exit the game if he feels even the slightest tweak in the knee. There's absolutely no reason to push it for a meaningless exhibition game.

The game is taking place in China, giving Wade extra incentive to play as he attempts to keep building his personal brand on a global stage. His shoe endorsement deal with Li-Ning is just one example of the progress he's made in that area.

Yet, it shouldn't be more important than his long-term health and team success. The Heat figure to have more competition for the title this season with the rebuilt Los Angeles Lakers, recharged Boston Celtics and defending West champion Oklahoma City Thunder among the contenders.

The Heat don't have enough depth to beat those teams without Wade. While the union with LeBron James and Chris Bosh hasn't been a perfect one, they have figured out a way to make it work.

In a perfect world, Wade will gradually increase his minutes over the next few weeks and be ready to play a full complement of minutes in the opener against the Celtics at month's end. The fact he's ready to go suggests that's certainly possible.

Wade just has to make sure he doesn't go too hard in his first game of the season, leading to an untimely setback. As a veteran, he should know how to pace himself.