Dwyane Wade and the Chicago Bulls still have another game to play Wednesday night in Atlanta, but the most decorated player in Miami Heat history has already started talking about his homecoming Thursday night.
“I'm looking forward to it,” Wade told ESPN after the Bulls' 112-80 win over the Orlando Magic Monday night in Chicago. “Obviously some of those guys I've played with before, have relationships with, so I'm looking forward to getting out there and competing with them. I'm looking forward to playing in the environment that I played in for 13 years.
“Even coming off a back-to-back, if my team don’t have energy for that night, [it's] going to be a problem,” Wade continued. “I expect us to come in and give whatever we have. Go out there, and I want everyone to enjoy the environment, enjoy the moment. It’s going to be a great environment to play in. I want our team, early in the season, to experience that kind of environment and try to seize it.”
Wade, who has remained in close contact with longtime Heat teammate and friend Udonis Haslem since passing on a two-year, $40 million Heat offer to sign a two-year, $47 million deal to return home to Chicago, said he is hopeful he will be cheered at AmericanAirlines Arena. But he isn't sure exactly how the reception will be.
The Heat are planning to play a video montage of Wade’s career highlights from his 13 years and three championships with the team during the first time out of the game — much like it did for LeBron James after he returned to Miami with the Cleveland Cavaliers two seasons ago. But the team isn’t planning anything else beyond that.
“I think I'll definitely be appreciative of the moment,” Wade said. “I think it's going to be cool just to see familiar faces. I think it's going to be cool to see love and support and [people] just being thankful for what you did. Unless you're just cold-blooded, everybody's going to feel something with that.
“At the same time, it's not like my retirement ceremony where I can get a chance to get real emotional. I'm trying to come in there and beat their butt. And they're going to try and beat our butt, so we’ve got to get to the competitive part of the game as well.”
Wade said he still keeps an eye on how the Heat is doing. He’s said he wants his former teammates to succeed, just not when he is playing against them.
Heat point guard Goran Dragic said he has exchanged text messages with Wade since the season began, wishing his former backcourt mate well. Coach Erik Spoelstra has as well.
While it will be a very emotional night for Wade and many South Florida fans, Heat players say they are treating Thursday’s game like any other.
“It won’t be emotional for us,” forward Justise Winslow said Monday.
“We play against former players all the time,” the Heat’s 2015 first-round pick continued. “It’s just another game. It will be cool or whatever. But it’s more for the fans. We get out there, we compete. Dion [Waiters] competed against his old team tonight. You go out there and you compete. We’re not going to get into that. It’s not D-Wade vs. the Heat. It’s the Miami Heat vs. the Bulls. That’s it.”
Haslem said at least for him there will be no need to watch Wade’s video montage or get too emotional.
“I saw the highlights personally,” Haslem said. “It’s not like they’re going to throw anything up there that’s going to surprise me.”
Haslem also said he’s not planning to take the mic to speak to the home crowd before the game “or do anything like that.”
“I might give him a hug, give him a pat on the back [before the game],” Haslem said.
After that, the Heat’s long-time enforcer said, “it’s go time.”
“The most important thing is us getting back on track and playing well at home,” said Spoelstra, whose team is off to a 2-4 start and 1-2 start at home. “But that will be a special moment. Dwyane means a lot to all of us including myself. We know how to compartmentalize.”
The Heat, coming off back-to-back road losses in Toronto and Oklahoma City, has a lot to focus on anyway. Miami shot a season-low 36.9 percent against the Thunder on Monday, and its offense has struggled to convert looks near the basket.
The Heat is shooting 48.7 percent from within 10 feet of the basket (29th in the league) despite attempting the second-most shots in the league (44.2 per game) from that range.
“It will be great to get back home, play D-Wade and the Bulls. I'm excited for it,” said center Hassan Whiteside, who was 2-for-8 shooting with only five points in Monday’s loss at Oklahoma City. “Guys are going to watch film. These guys are really talented. I'm not expecting these [low shooting] percentages. We shot bad [Monday night]. It was just a tough game.”