The Miami Heat lost to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night, but in defeat the Heat may have ultimately gotten back a huge piece in their quest for a third straight NBA title.
Dwyane Wade returned in Atlanta, playing his first game since March 26 and just his fourth game since March 18 after being sidelined with a strained hamstring.
Wade was solid in his return, scoring 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting, but showed some rust at the foul line, where he was only 4-for-9.
Wade has missed 28 games this season, during which the Heat are 18-10, a .643 winning percentage. That compared to the 36-16 mark (.692) when Wade does play.
The Heat’s net rating (points scored and allowed per 100 possessions) is 5.5 points better with him on the floor than without him.
His scoring is down this season when he has been available. The former NBA scoring champion is averaging 19.3 points per game this year, the first time in his career he’s been below 20 a game since his rookie season in 2003-04.
That doesn’t mean Wade’s not still performing at a high level. His player efficiency rating (PER) is still a very good 22.2 (15 is considered average) and his true shooting percentage (a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws) is a career-best .591.
With two regular-season games remaining, the Heat are more concerned about preparing for the playoffs than they are about securing the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Miami is tied with the Indiana Pacers at 54-26, but would lose a tiebreaker based on conference record.
Coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters after the game he liked what he was from Wade, but he kept a minutes restriction in place, limiting Wade to just 23 minutes in Atlanta.
Meanwhile, LeBron James dropped some hints that he might back away from his earlier declaration that he wouldn’t rest over the final days of the season.
“I’ll be smart about it and go into the postseason as healthy as I can be,” James said. “The last three years, I’ve kind of done that and I felt pretty good going into the postseason. Even after this seven-, eight-month grind, there’s nothing like the two months of the postseason. It’s harder than the eight months of the regular season. So I’ve got to be smart about it.”
If the Heat secures the top seed, they would get a first-round matchup with the Hawks, who locked up the No. 8 seed with their win on Saturday. As the No. 2 seed, Miami would most likely face the Charlotte Bobcats, who trail the Washington Wizards by one game for the sixth seed.
In any event, any trip into the postseason will have to be better with a healthy—or at least as healthy as he can be—Dwyane Wade back on the floor.
After a 2-3 week, Miami is 54-26, tied with Indiana for first place in the Eastern Conference. The Heat have already clinched the Southeast Division title for the fourth straight season and can finish no lower than the No. 2 seed in the East.
Here is the week that was, including game reviews, some news and notes, injury updates and rookie watch, and player of the week selection, as well as a look ahead to next week’s action (all statistical information from NBA.com/Stats):