The Heat not only produced three wins during this past week’s four-game road trip, but also served up several pleasing storylines, none more so than the continued impressive growth from Bam Adebayo and more career-twilight brilliance from Dwyane Wade.
Exploring both of those issue, with No. 8 Miami now awaiting Tuesday’s critical game against No. 9 Orlando after Saturday’s 113-108 win in Washington:
▪ After Wade delighted an adoring Wizards crowd by scoring 11 of his 20 in the fourth quarter – to go along with nine rebounds and five assists, on the second game of a back-to-back set - there was a common theme in the Wizards locker-room: Why is this guy retiring after the season?
“No, no, no,” Washington’s Jeff Green said when asked if it’s surprising to see 37-year-old Wade still playing so well. “I’ve been telling him since he announced that he would retire that he doesn’t need to retire. He’s playing amazing man, at his own pace. I’ve tried my convincing [to persuade him to keep playing]. I’ve been trying for the last six months, it didn’t work.”
Wizards guard Tomas Satoransky said “he does not need to retire, the way he plays.”
And Washington coach Scott Brooks cracked that “the NBA needs to just fine the Miami Heat for allowing him to retire. They should not allow him to retire. He’s too good to retire. I hope he changes his mind.” (Wade has said he won’t change his mind.)
Brooks said fans in the DC area came “out to see one of the greatest players to ever play the game for the last time. For all of the kids out there who came to this game with their parents to see greatness for the last time, it’s going to be in their memory bank for life.”
Did Wade believe he would still be a closer at 37 this season?
“I didn’t know what this year would be,” he said. “I was a little nervous because I was thinking about retiring last year and I didn’t want to come to this year and not be in it mentally. I’m not going to deliver every night but it damn sure feels good when you can deliver, especially on the road, and we need it.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra said he didn’t know Wade would still be the Heat’s more-often-than-not late-game closer this season but “I just knew that this team really needed him. From a leadership standpoint, from an experience standpoint. He just gives us a cache, a calm and confidence.
“Other guys have had moments to really step up. It’s not like it’s just been the Dwyane Wade show. He’s done a fabulous job of allowing other guys to grow, our young players to gain confidence… to take big shots. But then when you really need something, your back against the wall, there’s nothing like having a Hall of Famer.”
Watching Wade’s final season has been “fun,” Spoelstra said. “I’m trying to enjoy every minute of this. That roundball, this game and this team is really keeping him young. Back to backs, he never needs to come out in the fourth quarter any more.”
Though Wade has said helping young players develop was at the top of his list of priorities this season, he make clears he wants his final season to include the postseason.
“I love the playoffs,” he said. “It’s important for this franchise. This franchise doesn’t play for ping-pong balls [in the draft lottery]. It’s important for the young guys to get more experience in the playoffs.”
▪ Regarding Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk said “he’s not even the same person” as the player he saw when he arrived in Miami at the beginning of last season.
There has been across the board improvement in every area, including his face-the-basket game, and his diverse skill set was on full display in Saturday’s 16-point, 11-rebound, eight-assist, four-block performance – thresholds reached by only three other players over the past two seasons (Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMarcus Cousins and Ben Simmons).
Adebayo, whose jump shot has improved, says his jump hook is his go-to shot, but we’re now regularly seeing more than that merely that, put backs and dunks. He shot 6 for 11 on Saturday, making him 52 for 80 from the field over his past 10 games.
Also, his playmaking and passing have reached another level.
“Let’s be open minded to where his game can continue to grow,” Spoelstra said. “It’s something he’s working on every single day. I love watching the pre-practice workouts and he’s working on different passes, right-handed left-handed.
Ten days ago, he was working with the other bigs and there wasn’t another guard, so he had to be the one making all the passes [that Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow and Goran Dragic] make. It’s helping our offense. We get to coherent actions and triggers with the ball in his hands.”
Adebayo, who credits the Heat staff for further developing his passing skills, said that skill not only helps teammates but also “opens up driving lanes for you. You pass fake somebody, and they go that way, you get a free layup. [It’s about] making plays and inspiring people.”
Said Dragic: “He’s such a lethal weapon for us, defending multiple positions, all over the court rebounding, setting good screens. That’s something unique.”