NEW YORK – If you were expecting to see a memorable performance from Dwyane Wade on Christmas Day, you came to the wrong place. What you got instead was something that Wade, coach Erik Spoelstra, and lord knows Pat Riley prefer.
It was a pick-your-spots effort from Wade on the offensive end and another stellar defensive game for Miami. Was it a tedious, boring way for the NBA to kick off its slate of five nationally televised games on Friday? Yawn. But if Wade and the Heat look back after the season and wonder when they found their rhythm, their identity, the 10-day stretch culminating with Friday’s 93-87 victory over the Knicks will stand out.
It wasn’t exactly Riley’s Heat vs. Jeff Van Gundy’s Knicks in this, the Knicks’ first Christmas Day since appearance since 2001 after 38 straight from 1950-87. But it was the type of grind-fest that the Heat are going to have to become adept at winning if they’re going anywhere in what could be Wade’s last season in Miami.
“The alternative just was not working for us,” Spoelstra said.
After enjoying eight of their first 10 games at home with a 7-3 record, the Heat fell into some bad habits with a road trip that began Nov. 18 against last season’s playoff opponent, the Hawks. They went 4-8 over the next 12 games, allowing the opponent to score at least 100 points in nine of them. They’ve allowed 100 points only once in the last five games, and it happened to come in their only loss – 102-95 against Portland.
“Going into training camp, that’s what Coach wanted us to be,” Wade said. “Have the ability to score the ball, but don’t rely on it, because scoring the ball is inconsistent.”
This, Wade knows. He entered Friday’s game shooting a career-low 43 percent, prompting Riley to publicly question his conditioning. This season, he’s averaging 1.26 points per field goal attempt, a significant decline from the 1.37 points per field goal attempt he averaged last season while winning the scoring title.
An NBA front office executive who has watched Wade closely this season said he seems to be trying to raise his production lately by deferring to his teammates for long stretches instead of shouldering the majority of the scoring load from start to finish. That approach was on full display Friday, with only eight of Wade’s 21 field goal attempts coming in the first half.
“I was picking my spots early in the game,” Wade said. “At the end, I just had that ‘take us home’ mentality.”
After the Knicks cut the deficit to single digits midway through the fourth, Wade pushed it back to 10 points three times – with two 21-foot jumpers and then a ferocious dunk that made it 81-71 with 3:29 left.
“What changed?” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s name’s Dwyane Wade.”
Wade was 11-for-21 from the field for 30 points, a far cry from some of his inefficient performances that coincided with Miami’s attempt to win 100-point slugfests. In the past five games, Wade is 54-for-116 from the field (.466).
The burst that he showed on that dunk with 3:29 remaining was something that had been missing. After his legs felt unusually heavy early in the season, Wade said personal trainer Tim Grover joined him in Miami for a crash course in core strength to get him jump-started again. At the same time, he’s tried to slow down his offense and speed up his patience.
“I pride myself on playing an overall game,” Wade said, “not just scoring.”
That formula is working for him now, and for his team, too.