What the Miami Heat Can Take from Dwyane Wade's Return from Foot Injury

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterNovember 23, 2012

What the Miami Heat Can Take from Dwyane Wade's Return from Foot Injury

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    Dwyane Wade spent a lot of Wednesday's post-game press availability with a smile.

    He was smiling about the "slow bounce pass" that Shane Battier sent his way, the one that delayed his turnaround delivery at the end of regulation, and allowed Monta Ellis the time to block the shot.

    He was smiling about the errant, bullet lob that Chris Bosh attempted, one that made Wade wonder whether Bosh was angry at him, but which ended up finding LeBron James on the ricochet, with James finding Ray Allen for a putaway three-pointer in the corner.

    He was smiling about the overtime victory, 113-106 against the visiting Bucks.

    He was smiling about his sprained left foot, which had kept him out two games but, on this night, hadn't given him too much trouble.

    “It felt all right," Wade said. "It could be better. This was a good step in the right direction, but I could feel better. I just wanted to stay in there. It’s hard when you are in and out. I wanted to stay in there a little bit and get my legs under me.”

    He was smiling about everything but his right thumb, which he injured a couple of weeks earlier, and which he jammed again late in this contest.

    So, should Heat fans be smiling after Wade scored 28 points on 11-of-21 shooting?

    Or was this just a headfake, before another injury-related headache?

    (All quotes in this piece were gathered as part of the author's daily coverage of the Heat for The Palm Beach Post.)

Plenty: Wade's Energy Was Encouraging

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    It was clear that Dwyane Wade didn't want to push his luck.

    Wade did dunk twice, on consecutive possessions in the third quarter, after the Bucks had tied the score at 60. But, on at least three other occasions, he had a chance for loud slams, and chose soft layups instead.

    That's fine, since it counts the same, and what counts the most is that Wade was getting near the rim. He made 9-of-11 shots from inside four feet, with that percentage not as significant as the volume. It shows that he was slashing rather than setting, and that's what the Heat most wants and needs from him.

    Two of those attempts came on brilliant collaborations with LeBron James, once on a give-and-go, and once when James whipped too hot a pass, and Wade caught it anyway for the finish.

    All the around-the-basket activity contributed another number the Heat hopes to consistently see: Wade attempted eight free throws, which is just under his career average, but almost double what he was averaging this season so far.

    Wade made six of those (his shot could still use some arc) but getting there is more than half the battle.

    All in all, this was an offensive performance the Heat will gladly accept and one that, if he's healthy and focused, Wade can certainly replicate.

Little: He Needs to Prove He Can Stay Healthy

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    LeBron James and Dwyane Wade entered the league in 2003, as part of the same draft class.

    James has played 96 more regular season games.

    That equates to roughly nine more games per season and with Wade about to turn 31, while James is a few weeks from just 28, that gap figures to widen rather than close.

    So it's always hard to make too much of one Wade performance, knowing it could be followed soon enough by a Wade absence. That point was driven home as he appeared in agony, after bending his right thumb back.

    As Wade himself said, before pushing himself to play last Wednesday in Los Angeles, "Certain things are a part of sports. It's unfortunate, but twisting your ankle, messing up your thumb, whatever the case, that's a part of it. Sometimes you are able to play through it, sometimes you're not, just depending on whether you help or hurt your team. That's all you can deal with. I've dealt with it my whole life. Some players don't get hit by the bug, some players do. It is what it is."

    The bug figures to be buzzing near him again before too long.

Plenty: He Showed How He Makes a Defensive Difference

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    This wasn't as much about what Dwyane Wade did, as what his presence allowed the Heat to do.

    With Mario Chalmers struggling again to stop penetration, Erik Spoelstra chose to complement the Big 3 in the closing lineup with Ray Allen and Shane Battier. Without Wade available and engaged defensively, the Heat coach probably couldn't have made the call to go without one of his two erratic point guards, Chalmers and Norris Cole.

    Why was that?

    Because, as remarkable as LeBron James is, he can't guard two quick guards at once. As he picked up Brandon Jennings and then Monta Ellis, someone needed to pick up the other, since both were too quick for Allen. With Wade around, Allen could chase the slower Mike Dunleavy.

    "That was probably our best matchup at that point," Spoelstra said of James on Jennings and Wade on Ellis.

    Wade guarded Ellis on the Bucks' final possession of regulation, and took away enough of the driving lane that Ellis chose to take a contested jumper, which clanked the front rim.

    On the whole, Ellis (whom Wade considers one of the tougher covers in the league) shot just 4-of-16 overall. Some of that was Ellis' doing. The Bucks guard was off his game. But it also was a sign, as was Wade's back-and-forth with James Harden, that the older guard wasn't ready to cede the stage just yet.

Little: From Here On, He's Fighting History

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    There haven't been many players like Dwyane Wade, certainly at his size, which LeBron James considers to be something closer to 6-foot-2 than his listed height of 6-foot-4.

    He's arguably the greatest shot-blocking small guard in history. And he's one of the top scorers. 

    Over the past couple of seasons, Wade had dipped from 10th to 12th all-time in scoring average, falling behind Kobe Bryant and George Gervin at 25.0. Still, he's ahead of Karl Malone, Carmelo Anthony, Dominique Wilkins, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Larry Bird. He is fourth among active players in scoring average, with only LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Bryant in front.

    What makes Wade most remarkable is where Wade stands on the list, considering his stature: he's only one of only seven players on the top 50 who are, or were, listed at under 6-foot-5. Two of those five are Allen Iverson (sixth) and Gilbert Arenas (47th). One possible reason for that scarcity is that many smaller players' scoring averages slip as they age, due to the beating they've taken.

    Iverson is a good example. Of the recent stars, only he absorbed close to the same number of body shocks. Iverson actually had his highest-scoring season (33.0) in the season after he turned 30, and shot the second-highest percentage of his career (45.8 percent while still averaging 26.4 points) in the season after he turned 32.

    But, by 34, he had lost the step that made him special. Wade is heavier than Iverson was, but he's also had more serious injuries.

    So will that happen to Wade, even earlier?

    That's something to monitor going forward, something that one win against Milwaukee can't answer.

    It helps that he is roughly 50 pounds heavier than Iverson, and has taken better care of himself off the floor.  But, clearly, he must continue to evolve. And he knows it.

    “You always try to add,” Wade said. “Every year, I am always trying to add a piece to my game.”

    And learning to subtract.

    “Understanding moments a little different,” Wade said. “I’ve changed since I’ve been here. I don’t drive every time down. I understand sometimes, my body can’t take that tonight. So, yeah, I’ve changed, but me totally changing from a penetrator to just a shooter. I’m not at that stage in no time soon...just sit in a corner. That will come one day. That will be like Eddie Jones was when I got here.”

    Jones was 32 when Wade arrived: effective if not explosive.

    Maybe that label will fit Wade then. But, even with 30 approaching, it doesn’t fit nearly as well as his shoes.

Verdict: Let the Next Few Weeks Play out

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    The numbers were strikingly similar.

    Last season, after Dwyane Wade missed six games with a sprained ankle, he returned to make 11-of-19 shots for 28 points, with two rebounds and four assists.

    Wednesday night, after Wade missed two games with a sprained foot, he returned to make 11-of-21 shots for 28 points, with three rebounds and four assists.

    He followed that strong return last season by going 4-of-16 with four turnovers against Chicago, before entering February, and ripping off one of the most efficient months of his career.

    So how will he follow what he did Wednesday?

    It helps that the schedule is soft for a spell, with two days off before Cleveland visits, followed by four days off before the Spurs come to town. Miami only plays one road game (Dec. 4 against woeful Washington) between now and Dec. 20. That should allow Wade to get adequate rest, and get in some rhythm.

    Miami has been 17-3 without him over the past two seasons.

    It is 1-0 now since he shook off this latest injury.

    "I haven't even been listening to everything since I've been out, or paying attention," Wade said. "I just wanted to come back and be aggressive and get back into the rhythm that I was in, before I started getting banged up."

    If he can stay that way, things will look up for the Heat.