Jay Sabol spoke Tuesday morning by phone to someone he has known for 13 years, and yet, the Heat trainer still needed a translator. The guy on the other end of the line didn’t sound anything like himself.
“It sounded like he had a box of marbles in his mouth,” Erik Spoelstra relayed later, explaining why Dwyane Wade had skipped shootaround.
And so this will be the story of this night, from a box of marbles to a bag of tricks. This has been one of the storylines of Wade’s career, from feeling discomfort of some kind, to dismantling an opponent of some kind — finding extra focus when limited in some way.
This time, it wasn’t a knee, or a shoulder, or an eye, or a migraine, or any of the assorted injuries and ailments he has overcome to post puffy numbers over the years. Well, actually, before Wade scored 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting in a 104-98 win against the Nets, he wasn’t exactly sure what was ailing him.
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“I can’t really explain this,” he said, with the utterance requiring some effort.
Two nights ago, in Atlanta, he spoke of having bit his tongue three times a week before, in a game against Indiana. Now, though, his entire mouth was swollen more, but “on the road, you really can’t find out too much,” so he said he would wait until returning to Miami to get a diagnosis.
He hoped only that it was warm in the arena — it would be Islanders hockey freezing instead — and he didn’t want to share much more.
“I don’t want to gross you guys out with everything that’s going on,” Wade quipped. “I don’t even know.”
What he knew was he needed to shoot better than he had against Atlanta, when he was the one Heat rotation player who struggled offensively as the rest of the team excelled in victory. So while he had spent Tuesday night in New York watching his wife star in Being Mary Jane, he had also spent it watching himself, watching his 13 misses against the Hawks, trying to diagnose his deficiencies. Then, after he skipped Tuesday’s shootaround to rest, he came to the arena, to get some more shots up, hoping his mouth swelling went down.
“I wasn’t concerned about playing basketball,” Wade said. “I just couldn’t talk.”
He made an early statement to himself by making a 31-footer just before the shot-clock buzzer, that “OK, this may be my night.”
He made four of his six other shots in the first quarter, then didn’t take one in the second, before making 3 of 4 in the third, and 5 of 6 in the fourth, for 13 of 17 in all.
He said it didn’t make him nostalgic to score so many, and so efficiently.
“I can’t let myself think back to that,” Wade said. “I’ve got to understand that I’m turning 34. I understand that the game is different for me. I understand that I’m playing 30 minutes a game. I understand that this team don’t need that every night. But I’m sure I’ve got a high-usage rate, and I am getting opportunities. But I want to shoot better. I want to be a little more consistent.”
He wasn’t consistent on this two-game trip, but he was on this night.
“He had an array,” Spoelstra said. “He had the full pie chart going. Pull-ups. Post-ups. Pick-and-roll attacks all the way to the rim. … When he thought he didn’t shoot the way he’s capable of in the Atlanta game, even though we won, you know he’s thinking about it, of how he can make up for that. That’s one of the many things that makes him special, is he doesn’t want to let his teammates down.”
His teammates were good in this one, too, especially Hassan Whiteside (20 points, 13 rebounds), Luol Deng (lots of little things), Goran Dragic (16 points, 5 assists), Justise Winslow (11 points, 8 rebounds) and Gerald Green (13 points).
They were better on the sidelines.
They encouraged this old man — by NBA standards — to try a new celebration, flicking his wrist as if Santa Claus, spraying gifts on children. Or a magician during an encore.
“I was focused on the game, and I just heard them saying that I was going in my bag,” Wade said. “And they were doing the whole ‘going in your bag.’ So I liked it. I liked it. I was like, let me hit another shot, and then I’ll get in with them. So I hit a couple more, and I was able to get into the fun with the team. New celebration. So whenever someone gets going, they’re gonna be in the bag.”
You know what else was going in his bag, the one he’d be taking back to Miami?
The bottle of Orajel behind him in his locker.