The deliberate and successful balance of Dwyane Wade’s offseason and preseason schedules climaxed Saturday with 5:25 left in the second quarter.
Wade caught a pass from Michael Beasley, weaved around a perfectly set screen by Chris Bosh and then maneuvered past Spurs power forward Tim Duncan for an easy layup. It was one of Wade’s signature Eurosteps, and it left Duncan flatfooted and looking slow with about a week left in the preseason.
If his emphatic dunk in Washington wasn’t enough, Wade’s 25 points and seven assists against the Spurs offered definitive proof that the Heat’s starting shooting guard is feeling and playing like his old self once again. Now the trick is keeping him healthy for the 82-game season.
Wade has missed the first, third and fifth games of the preseason, and while it’s not possible for him to sit every other game during the regular season, it’s probably going to be a point of emphasis for Wade, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and the team’s trainers to find time in the busy schedule for Wade to receive planned rest. Interestingly enough, a potentially important component of the Dwyane Wade Preservation Plan looked promising Saturday, too.
James Jones is auditioning this preseason for the right to spell Wade in games, and Jones delivered a persuasive performance against the Spurs, scoring 18 points and making 6 of 8 from three-point range. Jones started in place of LeBron James on Saturday, but could just as easily start for Wade occasionally in a role similar to what Mike Miller played last season. Miller started 17 games, mostly for Wade, in the 2012-13 regular season.
Jones isn’t viewing this buildup to the Heat’s season as an audition, though. For him, he’s just performing the same role he has since 2011.
“I know that’s what the team expects me to do,” Jones said. “That’s my job. My job is to come in and make shots whenever I’m playing, and so whether or not that leads to more minutes or more time, I don’t really concern myself with that.
“When the opportunity presents itself, I need to do what I’m supposed to do, which is make the shots, and my teammates got me a lot of easy and open looks tonight.”
Jones’ role isn’t for everyone. It’s difficult to prepare mentally for such wildly varying scenarios. He might go long stretches without playing and then be thrust into the starting lineup. He might be a regular in the rotation, and then go to not playing at all.
“I function well with it, evidently,” Jones said. “You want to play more, you always want to play more. My competitive edge and spirit leads me to want to play every minute, if I could, but it’s all about doing what’s best for this team and I feel like I thrive in a role that’s extremely difficult for most guys to handle.”
Said Spoelstra: “J.J. has proven time and time again that when his number is called he keeps himself ready and he’s an absolute pro, because the conditioning that he does behind the scenes is an elite level. His shooting routine is parallel to what Ray [Allen] does. But then the confidence level that he has is so unique. To be able to sit for extended periods of time and then as soon as your number is called to find your rhythm and shoot it without hesitation and with that type of confidence, that’s arguably his greatest skill.”
Jones’ nickname on the team, “Champ,” is a reflection of his work ethic, explained Norris Cole on Saturday.
“He works on his shot,” Cole said. “He shoots before practice, he shoots after practice, he’s constantly working on getting his feet down, getting his body in position to make the shots. …When he goes out there and has nights like tonight, he does that every day. It’s just a matter of doing it in a game.”
If the exhibition schedule is any indication, Jones will have his opportunities during the regular season.