Dwyane Wade has come full circle, and not just because he’s back with the Miami Heat.
After nearly two seasons away and playing more of a supporting role behind stars such as Jimmy Butler in Chicago and LeBron James in Cleveland, Wade is being counted on once more to deliver the big shots late for the Miami Heat.
“Not really something I’ve thought about,” Wade said. “In Chicago, Jimmy [Butler] was the guy there. And then Cleveland, I’m not even close to being the guy there. But as an athlete, you always got to be prepared for what’s to come and I’ve always tried to star best in whatever role is asked from me.
“There’s certain moments that’s asked for me to be a leading man and certain moments where it’s not. I’m not always going to be great in them. But hopefully more times than not, my teammates feel confident that we’re going to get something good out of it.”
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Miami played its league-leading 44th clutch game Tuesday, which as defined by the NBA is when the margin is five points or fewer with five minutes or less remaining.
When Wade returned Feb. 8 after being traded from the Cavaliers, one of the hopes was he could help the Heat in the clutch.
There have been highs like his performance against the 76ers on March 8 when he scored 15 of the Heat’s last 17 points in victory.
And lows like Tuesday night when his point-blank floater with 4.1 seconds left in overtime missed the mark in the Heat’s 117-113 loss to the Wizards.
Wade, however, delivered a clutch assist and converted a three-point play during the final 1:23 of regulation that forced overtime. Wade also hit three free throws after drawing a foul with 22 seconds left in overtime to give the Heat its chance late.
At age 36 and at a point in his career where he has said he’s taking things year to year as far as his basketball future, Wade has his coach’s full confidence.
“I’ll say this always, I’ll go to my grave — and I will go to my grave — with Dwyane Wade shooting with the game on the line,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
“I have always believed in that man. It’s like that country song, ‘I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.’ And I truly believe that about Dwyane. He might not be able to play the role that he did for us in 2008 and ’09, playing 40 minutes and then I would ask him to play the best player and defend on the other end, as well. But for 20 to 25 minutes, I think he can be every bit of who he used to be, just in compact minutes.”
Wade played 28 minutes and 16 seconds against Washington, the most he has in his 10 games with the Heat this season.
Wade has taken 16 or more shots in four of those games and has shot 40 of 85 (47.1 percent) in five games that he has taken double-digit shots.
Wade has played in six clutch games since his return and scored 31 points in 25 clutch minutes while shooting 50 percent (10 of 20) and is a plus-9. Wade, a career 76.7 percent free-throw shooter, has gone a perfect 11 of 11 at the line in those clutch minutes.
Wade said that at the end of games he doesn’t worry about pacing himself and just focuses on the moment.
“When it’s at the end, everything goes out the window at the end of games,” Wade said. “I lock in like it’s like a mechanism where you just lock in. But throughout the game, today on a back-to-back I felt better than I felt yesterday. Obviously, as you get older you don’t know what your body is going to do. But your mind is there. I don’t know. I’m going through it for the first time at 36, but I’m fine.”
While Spoelstra is fine with letting Wade take the big shots late, he believes Wade’s experience will allow him to be more of a facilitator when needed and less of a scorer, especially when the Heat is back at full strength once one of the team’s best shooters, Wayne Ellington, returns from a left quadriceps injury.
“He had a great temperament about him,” Spoelstra said. “I think one of the most brilliant qualities that Dwyane has is he can observe and take note of what’s needed for a team and find a way to fill in the gaps and be successful. And that may be to score like it is tonight. But last night, he just was a facilitator and playmaker. We might not need him to score these kinds of big games.
“When I say he can be as good as he once was, that could also be as a facilitator and somebody that will draw a lot of attention and help somebody else. I know the one thing he does is he instills a lot of confidence in the younger players so they feel like they can play bigger and accomplish more and that’s invaluable. He’ll make the right reads. He’s not trying to come in here and lead the league in scoring. He’s doing whatever is necessary to get us in the playoffs.”