Dwyane Wade speaks after practice as Heat prepares for Cavs
Pat Riley has a luxurious physical workspace, with an expansive view of Biscayne Bay. But his virtual office is on the far end of the practice court, and it typically consists of a couple of folding chairs against a padded wall.
It’s not so much about where you are, you see, as where he wants you to believe you can be, and so this is the office where Dwyane Wade made a pit stop on Friday.
For several minutes, while coach Erik Spoelstra was meeting with the media, the Heat president and the franchise’s signature player engaged in calm conversation, which Wade later said was related to rhythm and confidence, during what has been a bit of a turbulent stretch. It took on the same tenor and tone as the text messages that Riley has sent regularly to Wade this season.
“He tells me I’m still great,” Wade said, smiling.
Even Hall of Famers need that reassurance, and hopefully it helps, because what the Heat really needs soon is his resurgence, back toward the level he reached earlier this season.
That should be the primary takeaway from Thursday’s wrenching 109-106 loss to Charlotte, the shots he missed throughout the game (nine of his first 10), rather than the three-pointer he missed at the buzzer.
No, Wade hasn’t made a three-pointer in the calendar year of 2016 but, as he noted, he made one “on that same shot, that same play, that same spot” a few years back against the Nets.
“It happens man,” Wade said. “I’ll shoot it again and again.”
Some call that stubbornness. Others call it resilience. Either way, it’s how — in his 13th season — he’s within 13 points of becoming the 41st player in NBA history to score 20,000 points.
“I’ll get there one of these days,” he joked.
Probably Saturday. But whenever he reaches that major milestone, he has already reached something of greater significance to the Heat: another of the countless crossroads of his career.
“I haven’t been into the best rhythm since the All-Star break that I want to be in,” said Wade, who shot 45.8 percent before the break, and 39.4 percent since. “I’ve had some good games scoring, but I haven’t been into a great rhythm.”
He cited some initial rust, and the need to adapt to all of the team’s iterations. He noted how this is the fourth incarnation of the Heat this season. First, Wade and Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic were the primary ball-handlers. Then Dragic got hurt, and it was Wade and Bosh.
“Chris goes out, now it’s a different kind of team,” Wade said. “Joe [Johnson] comes in, and Chris is out, and Goran is in, and now it’s a different kind of team. These are all the different kind of adjustments you’ve got to make.”
He doesn’t intend these as excuses, but explanations. “Just got to figure it out,” Wade said. “Me and Coach [Spoelstra] talked about some things and areas on the floor that I can get to, that can put me in a better rhythm. The biggest thing is early.”
As in him attacking earlier in possessions.
However he finds his rhythm this late in the season, it’s a requirement that he does.
No matter how many other options have emerged on this revamped roster, the Heat won’t be winning anything of significance this postseason (whether games or rounds) if its most battle-tested playoff performer is off.
It certainly wouldn’t be capable of seriously challenging Saturday’s opponent, LeBron James and the Cavaliers, without an efficient, dynamic Wade, not when Bosh will likely be watching, and not even as the Cavaliers continue to constantly challenge themselves, with a never-ending series of self-inflicted controversies.
It has seemed like the Heat’s stealth strategy has been to wait in the weeds, steel itself amid adversity and position itself to steal the conference crown if the Cavaliers — through ball-hogging, eye-rolling and sub-tweeting — start coming apart.
Certainly, that could still occur, with James seeming at a career crossroads of sorts himself, if more as a leader than a player. Through photos and comments on social media, the four-time MVP has come off as forlorn and frustrated, making no secret that he misses sharing the court and the locker room with a peer of Wade’s status and strength.
Miami probably won’t get Wade from early in James’ time here either, not at age 34. But the one from before the All-Star break will suffice. Wade has already proven plenty this season, starting with his increased availability; he will play his 63rd game Saturday, one more than last season. He insisted his thigh, recently bruised, isn’t bothering him.
“Just got to play the game, man, and continue to do what you’ve always done,” Wade said. “And eventually it will turn.”
That, for the Heat, would be great.
Saturday: Cavaliers at Heat
When, where: 7:30 p.m., AmericanAirlines Arena
TV, radio: Fox Sports Sun; WAXY (790), WAQI (710, Spanish).
Series: Heat leads 58-42.
Scouting report: Since LeBron James left in the summer of 2014, the teams have rarely been at full-strength, and have not played a particularly close game. The Heat has won all three at home by double digits, and the Cavaliers have won all three at home by double digits. James rested rather than play in the last meeting in Miami, but he’ll be available for this one, on the second night of a back-to-back.