As was the case with Mark Twain, reports of the demise of Dwyane Wade have been exaggerated. Since 2012 he has been pronounced if not dead then done as an NBA star.
But now, as Wade bounds into his fifth NBA Finals, he has been reborn. He is even more valuable to the Miami Heat as the team pursues its third straight championship.
Wade — not LeBron James or Chris Bosh or a scene-stealing role player — could be the key to victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
At 32, on knees that busted the odometer long ago, Wade is not better than ever. But he is playing better in the postseason than he did the past two years. That’s because he’s playing smarter. Like Michael Jordan did during his second three-peat, Wade has adjusted his game to accommodate his body. He has timed things perfectly to hit his peak in June.
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Wade has not been his old spectacular self in the playoffs. The gravity-defying maneuvers are rare. The blow-by first step is a scrapbook memory. The slithery spins that required slow-motion replays because the human eye could not comprehend them are gone.
Wade has replaced sleight of feet and hand with cool efficiency. His dunks have a curt authority to them rather than circus showmanship.
What Wade is doing is, in fact, more difficult. He has commandeered the high paint, the outer reaches of the lane. He has made that intermediate space his domain rather than the area around the rim.
We see Wade hitting runners and fadeaways and pullups. He has become a master of the floater: He levitates! He scores! Forget the tomahawk. Wade now carries a bouquet.
He coils, curls and instead of automatically lowering head and driving, he assesses, then passes as often as he shoots.
By taking this savvy approach, Wade is helping his team by adding a dimension. He’s giving defenders fits. You could see it against the Indiana Pacers. He was bait-and-switch for their help defense. He was a major reason Roy Hibbert was often caught in no-man’s land. He lured Paul George and Lance Stephenson into awkward positions. He will do it again against the Spurs.
Wade is choosing more difficult shots — about a third of his total from the midrange area, according to basketballreference.com. He’s also making them more often than he did during the regular season.
The Heat has been improving throughout its 15-game playoff run. The reason is Wade. He makes James and Bosh better, and he has been more quietly consistent than either. Wade scored 12 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2 in Indianapolis that doomed the Pacers. In last year’s Eastern Conference finals, Wade averaged 15.4 points on 43.6 percent shooting. This time, he averaged 19.8 points on 54.5 percent shooting. He’s hitting 38 percent of his three-pointers — a shot he pinpointed for improvement.
Bothered by knee problems in the 2013 postseason, Wade spent the summer on a body refurbishment project. He underwent OssaTron shock wave therapy on his knees, then devoted himself to a workout regimen designed by trainer Tim Grover.
The whispers that he was washed up got louder throughout the regular season as Wade missed 28 games as part of a plan to preserve his knees for the second season.
“I just thought that as an older guy it’s time to pass the torch to the younger guys,” Kevin Durant said, positing that James Harden should replace Wade in the list of top 10 players.
Wade wrote a note to himself: “Make him respect your place in history. again.”
Today Wade is four wins from becoming the 36th player to win at least four NBA titles.
He is always vaguely optimistic about his health when asked. “Better,” was the only description he would give after practice Tuesday when asked about his physical status.
But he did say that watching 30-somethings Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili thrive was encouraging “for younger guys like me.”
He’s determined to mix it up against the Spurs, keep them guessing on the revival of Dwyane Wade.
He has ridden the roller coaster of highs and lows with the Heat, and during a career that was once considered all but dead. He has no delusions about what he faces in his fifth Finals.
“Once it starts it’s not fun. All the ups and downs,” he said. “It’s a dark time. Until you win it.”