In a Miami Heat season that has had all the volatility of the Nasdaq market during earnings season -- arrows up, down and everywhere -- Dwyane Wade has consistently kept his talk straight. He has scored 1,378 points on the floor, to boost his career total to 20,190, but hasn't felt the need to score empty points with the public, by trying to sell fans something that may not be so.
So, when asked after Monday's practice if he knew the collective character of this team, a team with no current rotation players with whom he's ever played in a postseason, he was light on the sugar.
“Well, I mean, I know the regular season collective character,” Wade said. “I don't know the playoff. There's different levels. From a regular-season standpoint, we have shown the ability to compete, compete most nights, not be perfect but we're gonna compete. And we bounce back pretty good, you know.”
Especially from the loss of Chris Bosh: 18-9 since the All-Star break, and now in the third seed with two games remaining.
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“We've done a great job of sticking together through it all,” Wade said. “When moments have looked real dark for us, we've all stuck together. So this team has been a good unit all year. We've grown together. But that's the regular season. So I don't know what to expect yet when it comes to the playoffs, because that's a different season.”
That season, that playoff season, hasn't started yet, not officially. But it will be tough to tell the difference Tuesday night in Detroit, or Wednesday night in Boston. And this will start to tell Wade, and the rest of us, how mentally and emotionally tough this team is, this team with so many contributors who are so new to this, whether it's the two rookies (provided Justise Winslow plays) or the manchild in the middle (Hassan Whiteside) or even the point guard (Goran Dragic) who hasn't played in the postseason since 2010 and has never started once there.
The Heat has gone around the NBA in 80 games, losing to the Nets and Magic and Lakers, while routing the Cavaliers and Hawks, among others, but even Jules Verne wouldn't know what to make of this squad, not yet.
And, actually, a couple of the author/adventurer's quotes come to mind.
“I see that it is by no means useless to travel, if a man wants to see something new.”
The Heat would not have chosen this particular pockmarked path to secure a homecourt first round seed, whether third or fourth -- Wade said Monday that he would prefer to rest during these final games, as in some previous seasons.
He added that “we put ourselves in this position where we have to continue to keep fighting; and we talked about this throughout the year, when we lost certain games we shouldn't have lost, we talked about this, that it's going to come back on us at some point. It comes back to where you got a back-to-back to end the season on the road, and you need to win both games. It gets no tougher than that.”
In Detroit. In Boston.
Two teams still with much at stake, opponents during a back-to-back slate.
“But you don't run away from a challenge,” Wade said. “You try to go out there and meet the challenge.”
You learn in the process.
And so, no, it is not useless to travel in this case, to prep for the playoffs by playing in two hostile environments, arenas in which the Heat is 0-2 this season.
Especially in light of this reality, something also expressed through a Verne quotation:
“The chance which now seems lost may present itself at the last moment.”
The chance at homecourt seemed lost so many times this season, with all those ugly early losses, especially after building large leads; with a disappointing 29-24 record at the All-Star break; with Bosh's blood clot recurrence; with the laydown against the Laker laggards, just before the latter got routed by a Pelicans team that got routed by the 76ers.
Sure, Miami would love to wish that back.
But that possibility has presented itself at this last moment anyway, presented itself because LeBron James helped the Heat in a way he hasn't since he left in July 2014, scoring 34 in a Monday victory against the Hawks, while Jeremy Lin led the Hornets past Boston. So there it is, the third seed and homecourt, in Miami's reach for now, entering these final two nights.
Is the Heat worthy of keeping it?
Who can say until we see?
Until they see, about themselves?
So, what is their collective character?
“I think character-wise, we'll play hard,” Luol Deng said. “I think we have that group. Sometimes you just make the playoffs because of talent, and then you struggle in the playoffs. I can't sit here and say who will win in the playoffs, whether we will beat them or not, but I really believe everything is going to be a fight with us. We have that group.”
The playoffs start for that group Tuesday, sort of.
Whatever Wade believes they are, or whatever Deng believes they are, or whatever Erik Spoelstra believes they are, after 80 games, isn't what matters.
What matters is something else Verne said:
“Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.”
In the NBA, that's especially true when everything counts for real.