ATLANTA -- Dwyane Wade returned to the starting lineup Saturday night in Atlanta for the Heat’s penultimate road game of the regular season after missing nine consecutive games with a hamstring injury.
It didn’t take long for Wade to make an impact. He dunked on the Heat’s first possession of the game and finished with six points in six minutes in the first quarter. For the game, Wade played 23 minutes and finished with 24 points, going 10 of 14 from the field. He scored the Heat’s first nine points of the second quarter and began the game 7 of 7 from the field.
Wade’s on-court workout before the game included several dunks and drills that included hard cuts to the basket. Trainers evaluated him after the pregame practice and cleared him for action. It was Wade’s first game since March 26 when he strained his hamstring in the final two minutes of the Heat’s loss to Indiana.
“He’s going to be extremely winded, but we just hope he can come through the game and make strides and move forward and not have a setback,” LeBron James said before the game.
The Heat plays the Washington Wizards on Monday at Verizon Center, but it’s unclear whether or not Wade will play in the team’s final road game. The Heat finishes its season with a home game on Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Wade has missed 28 games this season while dealing with various injuries, including sore knees. During his pregame news conference in Atlanta, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Wade would play reduced minutes.
“He has been very diligent, very systematic and very patient with it,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve all been very judicious with how much we push, but the last week he has put in extensive work.”
Wade went through three workouts Friday before the team’s game against the Indiana Pacers. A late scratch against Indiana, Wade watched from the bench as the Heat blitzed the Pacers in the final regular-season game between the two teams.
The return of Wade to the starting lineup gave Spoelstra his first look at the team’s projected playoff rotation. Presuming there are no more injuries between now and the start of the playoffs, the Heat will have its lineup in place for one week before the first round of the playoffs.
James, Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem started together for the Heat for the first time since Nov. 7. Haslem began the season in the starting lineup before injuring his back. Shane Battier filled in for Haslem initially but remained a starter until March 16.
Battier has gone from starter to playing in the second unit to now being replaced in the regular rotation by Rashard Lewis. The Heat’s second unit against the Hawks also included Norris Cole, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen. Toney Douglas also played in the second quarter as a defensive stopper against Hawks point guard Jeff Teague.
James on Haslem’s importance to the Heat:
“He’s the heartbeat of our team. He’s the all-time leader in rebounding for the franchise, and he’s the muscle. And you need that in a game that gets very physical. You know you can always count on him, especially defensively, and he’s going to dive on the floor like he showcased three or four times [Friday], and he has been there. He has won three championships and all three championships he has had a role in them. We’re glad he’s in there.”
• Greg Oden (stomach illness) did not travel with the team to Atlanta. He also has been ruled out for the Heat’s game in Washington on Monday.