Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s pregame catchphrase was “deep thought and creativity,” and it didn’t take long to decode the message.
After missing four games due to knee soreness, guard Dwyane Wade returned to the court Sunday against the Spurs, but not as a starter. Wade came off the bench in a game for the first time since the 2007-08 season and played 24 minutes in the Heat’s 113-101 victory. He finished with eight points as a reserve.
Spoelstra said after the game that coming off the bench was Wade’s idea. It’s unlikely Wade will remain the Heat’s sixth man, but Spoelstra didn’t rule it out either. Including playoff games, Wade started in 495 games since the last time he came off the bench.
“Look, I understand that everybody is going to use this as a lightning rod subject to talk about for the next three days, but those of you who are around us, nothing is set in stone the rest of the year,” Spoelstra said. “We’re going to evaluate everything day to day.
“We need Dwyane healthy.”
After experiencing pain his knee during the Heat’s last road trip, Wade rested eight days between playing time. He returned to practice Saturday and explained the reserve role as a way to work his way back into game shape without disrupting the team’s chemistry.
“Most of my work has been in the training room,” Wade said. “I haven’t had a lot of court work, as much as I would want it … and this team has been on a rhythm, so I didn’t want to come in and mess that up. I wanted to come in and find my rhythm and get my wind, my second wind, third wind, etc.
“It was just about getting a win tonight. It wasn’t about trying to prove anything. I’m just all about winning. We played a very good team here, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Before the game, Spoelstra gave no indication that Wade would come off the bench, but did acknowledge he had to be creative with the roster this season.
“I absolutely embrace this challenge with this team,” Spoelstra said. “It is so far different than last year. It’s captivating for the staff, and for the players, and it takes deep thought, but part of the plan, what we talked about in depth when we put it together, was that you can’t plan ahead.”
Heat center Greg Oden continues to make incremental progress in his return to action. He played in his third straight game Sunday — another milestone — and played a season-high 13 minutes. Oden finished with three points, going 1 of 2 from the field and 1 of 2 from the free-throw line. He also had two rebounds. Oden’s lone field goal was an impressive dunk in the paint.
Before the game, Spoelstra gave no guarantee that Oden would play. The Heat’s coach then let Oden finish out the game in trash time after logging some quality minutes in the first half. Spoelstra emphasized before the game that there was still “no plan” for Oden’s playing time.
“That’s the important part right now,” Spoelstra said. “We wanted to put together a plan where he built up his legs, his hips, his core, conditioning, and then see if we can get him back on the court.
“If we can get him back on the court, then we’ll have to take another big deep exhale and show extreme patience. I thought the temptation for everybody is to try and speed this along, but that’s not the point.”
New addition Toney Douglas was inactive once again Sunday, and Spoelstra said the former Florida State guard is still learning the Heat’s system in practice.
“The last two days were important for him,” Spoelstra said. “He’s getting a better idea of what we’re doing. He’s not quite there yet where I feel comfortable to have him dress for the game, but the next two days will be important for him.”