Dwyane Wade has taken flight again.
It doesn't get easier as you get older, not even for one of the game's all-time greats.
Just listen to Dwyane Wade tell you:
When you’re young, the only thing you’ve got to do is show up and play. Now you spend hours getting prepared for a game, whether it’s lifting weights for your body, getting certain treatments for certain areas, whether it’s getting massages, whether it’s getting acupuncture. Whatever you’re doing, you’re finding so many things to give you an edge in a sense. So I do a combination of everything.
So what's he doing lately?
Well, whatever it is, it's working.
And suddenly, as Wade has produced two of his better games of the season—a brilliant two-way performance against the Lakers followed by a 35-point blitzing of the Raptors—you're no longer hearing the narrative, one authored in part by former commercial co-star Charles Barkley, that Wade is losing some of his talent.
Instead, in the month that he turned 31, he seems to be gaining steam.
This hasn't come as a surprise to his coach, Erik Spoelstra:
He’s getting his legs under him. He gets better as seasons go on. He’s putting in a lot of work. This is not an accident. Two days ago, at practice, we had an 11 o’clock practice, he was in before 9, doing his full leg and preparation workout, mobility and agility, all those exercises, before practice... He’s been putting in more time than I’ve ever seen behind the scenes.
Is it time to again declare Wade, who will play in his ninth All-Star game in three weeks, clearly among the elite?
Kobe Bryant didn't have an easy time getting around Dwyane Wade in L.A.
The play started with Dwyane Wade checking a point guard—in this case, Kyle Lowry—which has been a fairly regular occurrence of late as Wade shares crunch-time minutes with Ray Allen.
That, though, didn't last long.
After a screen and a switch, there was Wade on DeMar DeRozan, Toronto's leading scorer.
"I know that he wanted to go right, so when it was an isolation, I wanted to jump on him and force him left," Wade said. "And when I forced him left, C.B. did a great job of stepping up and making him take a tough shot."
Chris Bosh did that often during the Heat's Jan. 23 win against Toronto, and that was a welcome sign. Just as welcome, however, has been Wade's attention to defensive detail over the past few games.
When Pat Riley drafted Wade in 2003, he said he did so largely because he loved the way Wade got in a defensive stance. Over the years, Wade has established himself as one of the NBA's most prolific shot-blockers from the guard position.
But his on-ball defense has often been less intense, and he has a habit of letting frustration on offense—in the form of a non-call—bleed onto the other end if he gets back at all.
Lately, though, he has been locked in.
That speaks not only to him taking his assignment seriously, but also to the way his body feels several months after knee surgery.
Rather than pacing himself, he's getting in opponents' faces.
Dwyane Wade followed up a strong effort against the Lakers with one against Toronto.
Here's the statistic of most significance for Dwyane Wade over the past two months: one.
That's how many games he has missed.
And that game was missed not due to injury, but due to suspension following his kick to the groin of Ramon Sessions.
Wade has played in nearly 90 percent of the Heat's games this season, putting him on pace to play 74 out of 82. That's more in line with what he played in 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11, after he missed 17 of the lockout-shortened season's 66-game schedule.
That regular availability has allowed him to find some rhythm and start stringing some solid performances together.
Sure, there have been some blips, such as when he was benched for the fourth quarter in Utah on Jan. 14.
Still, it would not be a surprise now to see him put together more two-game totals like he did against the Lakers and Raptors, where he accrued 62 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists.
Chris Bosh said that once Wade "gets his feet under him, it takes about 10 games, 12 games" for him to be back to his best.
That process has tended to re-start after Wade misses some time.
And he's not missing any lately.
Dwyane Wade's free-throw attempts have atrophied over the years.
Dwyane Wade called it "foreign."
And he did appear out of sorts, as if he'd forgotten how to communicate with the ball and the rim.
Wade missed six foul shots against the Raptors, with those misses making the game against an overmatched opponent tighter than it needed to be.
To many, that was the story.
Here's a more encouraging way for Heat fans to frame it:
Those six missed free throws were just under what he attempts per game this season.
And his 15 were more than he had attempted in any regular season game since Jan. 10, 2012.
He drew three of the fouls on pump-fakes, when he used his trademark move to get defenders in the air on his jumper. Others, however, came as he slithered through the lane and toward the rim, finding angles, drawing contact and using his experience to overcome any loss in athleticism.
Even so, Wade's average of 6.9 free-throw attempts is still below his career average of 8.5 and nowhere near the heights of 2005-06 and 2006-07 before his subsequent run of injuries.
Still, it's a tad up from last season, and that's a promising sign.
Now, if he could only make more of them: His 74 percent accuracy is a career-low.
Much of the scoring lately has come from inside the offense.
There's no simpler statistic in basketball than points per game.
It tends to be the statistic that the unsophisticated fan cites first when pointing to a player's offensive effectiveness.
On that measure, Dwyane Wade doesn't measure up to his old self, not at 22.1 points per game entering Thursday's play—his lowest since his rookie season.
Look a little deeper, though, and you'll see a different trend.
Wade had never been an Allen Iverson-style chucker, never clocking in at under 46.5 percent for a season.
Still, his accuracy this season (.512) is unprecedented for him. Erik Spoelstra recently stated that Wade could average 28 points if he shot as much as he once did, and even with fewer free-throw attempts, that's likely true.
But he's not playing with a raw Michael Beasley and a broken-down Jermaine O'Neal anymore.
He's playing with LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen.
And he's playing the second-fewest minutes per game of his career, just a tick under his minutes from last season.
That means he's averaging just 15.1 shots, also his fewest since his rookie year.
He needs to pick his shots, and he has been picking them better.
He and James have been engaged in a competition to see who can shoot 50 percent in the most games, and while James is almost impossible to match, Wade hasn't been shabby either, hitting that mark in 20 of 35 starts.
We’re both so conscious of wanting to shoot 50 percent, that sometimes you wish you had that Kobe (Bryant) thought, where you just don’t care. We talk about it all the time. It sucks at times, but it’s who we are. I’ve been challenged like this since I came in the league. (Heat assistant Bob) McAdoo challenged me early on to try to shoot 50 percent. So he kind of messed me up early on.
The big grin's been back of late.
You won't see any statistics on this slide.
This is purely observational and anecdotal.
Take it for what it's worth: the assessment of someone who has covered Dwyane Wade for much of his NBA career:
He's feeling better lately.
Sure, there was that flareup in Salt Lake City, where he wasn't so pleased with Erik Spoelstra sitting him (along with Chris Bosh) for the entire fourth quarter.
Other than that, Wade seems looser of late, both with the media and with his teammates.
He seems like a guy who is beginning to understand what he can still do and how to best do it on a regular basis, even when he must sacrifice shots because of the talent of his team.
He's not spending as much time holding his knee or arguing with officials. He's not breaking as many plays off before they get started; instead, he's waiting for them to develop.
He has declared himself "ahead of schedule," with the original hope to be whole by the All-Star break.
"I think I've been playing decent," Wade said. "In certain games, you know, I can't control how many attempts I get. But I try to make sure, I can tell by my body how I'm moving, how I'm feeling. So I think for a while now, I've been playing pretty good. And I just want to get stronger for the second half of the season."