An unlikely debate surfaced when the Miami Heat won eight of the nine games they were without guard Dwyane Wade this season.
Is this team really better off with Wade out of the lineup?
After Wade scored 28 points in the Heat’s 99-89 victory Friday against the New York Knicks, he offered his opinion on the subject.
“This is a very good team with or without me,” Wade said. “But better without me? I doubt that.”
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After missing six straight games because of a sprained right ankle, Wade makes his second straight start when the Heat play the Chicago Bulls Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena. It is a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals, won 4-1 by the Heat.
“Our guys like the competitive battles,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “… But there’s really no more meaning to it than one game.”
For the Heat, it will be one of the few times they have played at full strength in this shortened season. With Wade missing so many games, he said it’s tough for him to even consider this a chance to impact the conference standings.
He is simply looking at this as opportunity to play consecutive games without injury. When he took the court Friday for the first time in two weeks, he played as if he had never left the starting lineup.
Spoelstra said he knew Wade was back when he slipped past Knicks guard Landry Fields on a fastbreak for one-handed dunk. It was one of five slams for Wade on the night. He had 18 points before halftime, well on his way to a big game.
“If he puts on a uniform, I expect greatness out of him,” Heat forward LeBron James said. “To be out six games and look like basically you didn’t miss a beat …”
The toughest part of the deal was keeping Wade off the court long enough to recover. He sustained a nasty ankle sprain Jan. 13 against the Denver Nuggets. It kept Wade out of statement games against the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers.
“When people hear ankle sprains, they think it’s a day or two,” Wade said. “Mine was pretty (severe). I tried to do what the doctors and trainers asked me to do by waiting a full two weeks to work it.”
Wade said he woke Saturday with minor pain, but said it will have no lingering effect. The ankle will receive a test against the Bulls when Wade will likely see time defending Richard Hamilton. The two have a long playoff history from when Hamilton played with the Detroit Pistons.
The Bulls acquired Hamilton off waivers during the offseason. He missed Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks because of a thigh bruise, but is expected to play.
“I’ve been going against Rip for nine years in the Eastern Conference,” Wade said. “I enjoy challenges. Him and those kind of guys, chasing them around is always a challenge. Some days, I don’t like it. Some days, I love it. It’s not about me and him. It’s going to be team defense. I just have to do my job.”
Offensively, Wade said the key is continuing to play aggressive despite the injuries. When he was blocked by Knicks center Amar’e Stoudemire early in the first quarter, it just made him attack more. It was his way of preventing another performance like the team had Wednesday against the Pistons.
The Heat won that game, but looked out of sync at times. Wade said he felt something missing. That was evident with the Heat needing a late push to hold off a bottom-tier team.
”The biggest thing I wanted to do was bring some energy,” Wade said. “This team has been playing well. I saw in the Detroit game that we won because of our talent, because our plays at the end. But it wasn’t a lot of energy in the game.”