MIAMI -- After 11 seasons in the league, Dwyane Wade has reached the point at which many opponents believe they’ve got his game figured out on a given night.
The star Miami Heat guard loves the sound of that process at work.
"Sometimes, it’s funny, because you hear guys trying to call out your moves, or you hear the [opposing] bench saying, 'Don’t let him do this. Don’t let him do that,'" Wade said Saturday night. "And you just counter it. That’s what I was able to do."
At age 32, Wade has essentially reached the wise-man stage of his career. Knee issues that have hounded him each of the past two seasons have forced Wade to get here a bit sooner than he planned, but he’s at the point now at which the combination of athletic limitations and physical preservation has rendered it more prudent for Wade to attack the game with his mind as much as his body.
Wade took another modest step in that transformation during the Heat’s 112-98 victory Saturday against the young and struggling Orlando Magic. Playing in his second game with a highly scrutinized mask to protect his broken nose, LeBron James has 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in only three quarters as the Heat cruised to their seventh straight win.
But it’s in these kind of matchups in which Wade’s veteran savvy and "old-man game" come clearly into focus as he sizes up more athletic and less experienced defenders before breaking them down. Methodically dissecting the Magic with a balanced midrange attack, Wade made 10 of his 14 shots to lead the Heat with 24 points and added four assists, three rebounds, a steal and a block in 30 minutes.
When he wasn’t backing smaller defenders into the post, Wade was slipping past bigger players to get to the rim. He mixed pull-up jumpers with running hooks -- basically feasting on the kind of moves gracefully aging fathers historically rely on to squeeze out those final one-on-one games against sons.
There’s no shame in Wade’s maturing game.
"I think as you get older, your game has to change," said Wade, who has scored at least 20 points in each of his past four games. "You have to think the game more than anything. When you’re young, you just react and you just do [it]. Now, you have to think. And certain games, when I’m frustrated with myself, it’s because I’m not thinking the game the way that I should. But for [the] majority of them, I do a good job of thinking and reading the game more differently than I have [in the past]."
That cerebral process has resulted in Wade's shooting percentages increasing to career-high marks each of the past two seasons as he’s gradually settled into a comfort zone within the Heat’s structure alongside fellow perennial All-Stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Although the Heat have advanced to the Finals each season since the three came together in 2010, meshing their games hasn’t been easy.
James has led the way primarily as a dominant facilitator, who instinctively knows when to pull back, set aside his own game at times and makes sure Wade still has opportunities to take over games. Bosh has had to embrace an entire makeover to his game on both ends of the court while being a third option.
Wade has had to dance between them both, which has also been complicated by knee injuries that have seen him evolve from one of the most relentless and reckless attacking guards that largely played above the rim to a more measured, methodical player who feasts on a balanced floor game.
"The worst-kept secret is the fact that he has worked on his game and developed his game for the last three years to not only reinvent himself, but -- more importantly -- to add a skill set that is important for this group," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Saturday. "He couldn’t just be the same player that he was before the way this team had been put together. It has been a long, steady process of developing his post-up game and his midrange game."
Since the All-Star break, Wade is shooting 61.6 percent from the field while averaging 21.4 points, 5.8 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 32.6 minutes. Before the break, Wade had missed 15 of the Heat’s 51 games mainly to rest and recover from lingering soreness in his right knee.
Heat coaches and teammates have seen a different Wade over the past two weeks, with his upswing in production and consistency two clear signs of his improving health entering the season’s stretch run.
"He’s in a great rhythm right now," James said. "It starts with his health. He’s not 100 percent, obviously, but he’s got his legs under him and a bounce to his step. He’s playing his game, and he’s not second-guessing it. And it’s great to see. His ability to go outside-inside, then inside-outside is definitely a benefit to him and to this team."
Bosh agrees with James’ assessment of Wade, who is shooting a career-high 55.1 percent overall.
"He’s even more deadly than he was before because he’s more efficient," Bosh said. "We’re getting him in more pick-and-roll situations, which he can do in his sleep, but getting him down on the block a lot against mismatches has been very effective for us. This is what he does now, and we see it every day."
Wade has also benefited from an accommodating schedule in recent weeks. After sitting out the past two games on the road before the break, Wade requested, and played, limited minutes during the Feb. 16 All-Star Game in New Orleans. The Heat since had five games spaced out over 12 days.
But the Heat’s schedule picks up from here, with five games in eight days. That stretch also includes a three-game trip to play the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls. It begins with a back-to-back that starts Monday at home against the Charlotte Bobcats before facing the Rockets on Tuesday and ends with a home game against the Washington Wizards on March 10 a day after playing the Bulls.
Wade has not routinely played games on consecutive nights amid his early-season recovery from a summer shockwave treatment on his right knee for an injury that lingered from the Heat’s run to a second straight championship last season. Both Wade and Spoelstra have said the approach over the remaining months of the season will be just as cautious as it was during the first few months.
The object is to keep Wade feeling healthy and playing at a high level going into the playoffs.
So far, so good.
"When I feel good, I play well; sometimes, it’s just as simple as that," Wade said recently. "I’m in one of those grooves right now, just taking my shots. Some of them are wide open, and some of them are not. I’m just taking the ones I’m comfortable with. Just reading, giving guys different moves."