Charlotte Hornets

Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade looks like old self

The Heat this season put together feature videos on every player that are shown on the home arena’s giant scoreboard screen during games. The one on Dwyane Wade happened to air Sunday during a timeout in the second half of the playoff victory over Charlotte that opened Miami’s postseason bid for a third consecutive NBA championship.

It was a look-back on a long career spent entirely here. It was nostalgic to see Dwyane so much younger. The video was emotional. It almost had the feel of a farewell, like the kind of retrospective you’d see at a retirement or something.

Wade couldn’t help but glance up and see his career flash before his eyes.

“It was weird and cool at the same time,” he said, smiling.

It also was appropriately timed, because Sunday was the occasion when Wade declared it’s too soon for the past tense – that he ain’t done yet.

If you believe, as I do, that Miami only has a real chance to three-peat if Wade is healthy and plays to an elite level for the next two months after a season marred by various ailments, then Sunday nourished the notion.

Wade looked like his old self, not the version of himself that looks old.

Miami’s 99-88 victory over Charlotte in Game 1 of this first-round series had a few players’ fingerprints on it, but none more than Wade’s.

Somebody asked LeBron James if Wade had looked “right” to him. James seemed taken aback by the question.

“Can’t get no righter!” he said. “He couldn’t look better. He was in attack mode.”

LeBron led the way with a game-high 27 points Sunday, James Jones was a media darling after his 12 points off the bench in 14 minutes, and Norris Cole had a few big, timely baskets, too. But for me it was Wade’s performance – 23 points with 10-for-16 shooting, with five assists and only one turnover – that should have been the most encouraging aspect to a Heat fan.

Wade had missed 28 games this season, including nine in a row late in the schedule with a strained hamstring. There had been doubts about his health, a cloud that seemed to lift Sunday. His 34 minutes played were his most in a game since March 16.

“Physically, this is where I wanted to be” coming into the postseason, Wade said. “Felt good. Didn’t feel any limitations. Natural day. I didn’t have to think too much. I was just playing. It is just a sign of feeling good.”

Didn’t feel that way as the game started, Wade admitted, making fun of himself.

“I wanted to call a timeout with 11 minutes left in the first quarter,” he half-kidded. “I was so tired probably 10 seconds in.”

The whole game began like that for Miami. Rust, torpor, disinterest – something other than Charlotte was bothering the Heat.

“We were all gassed,” James said. “Felt like we hadn’t played in two weeks.”

Miami made the heavy-underdog Bobcats look like championship contenders for much of the game, not taking the lead for good until 62-59 late in the third quarter. From there, the Heat bullied to a 20-point lead before coasting.

I think this is where I should call the Bobcats “scrappy,” with apparent admiration. Scrappy is a code word in sports, of course, and in this case it means this No. 7-seeded opponent obviously isn’t talented enough or good enough to worry or beat the Heat, but that, well, um … they try really hard!

This is where we could even add false drama by suggesting Charlotte might stretch this first-round NBA playoff series beyond four or five games, but even typing those words makes me giggle.

You know how new restaurants sometimes have a low-stress “soft opening” to test-drive the menu and get the kinks out before the doors open for real?

This opening series is like that for the Heat.

Not much pressure is involved in this series. Like diners pondering whether to choose the lobster or the bone-in ribeye, Heat fans’ biggest question is 4-1 or four-game sweep as we go through the motions of a perfunctory first round.

Charlotte threw its best punches for three quarters Sunday and still the Heat won comfortably. Now, with a foot injury limiting Bobcats center and star Al Jefferson, Charlotte’s best weapon will be diminished.

The Bobcats have no shot as the series awaits Game 2 Wednesday night in Miami.

This is the biggest mismatch of the eight first-round series. Heat players have a combined 727 games started in the playoffs; Bobcats players have 15. The difference in this series isn’t just talent, it is pedigree.

It was announced last week that James’ No. 6 jersey is the biggest seller in the United States. A day later Wade adorned the cover of the new ESPN The Magazine.

One team has four future Hall of Famers. The other doesn’t have four players most fans outside of North Carolina can even name.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talks of his veteran team as one “able to rise to the occasion.”

Wade said just before the playoffs started, “Do we have another level? Yeah, we have another level.”

The ability to rise and meet the occasion might not be needed vs. Charlotte. Likewise, the Heat likely won’t need to summon that other level just yet. But to win a third straight championship? Yes.

That’s why one player’s performance in particular stood out in Game 1.

See, the Heat needs Wade to reach that other level, the one where a third straight title might be won.

Not the Wade who couldn’t be relied upon much of this season – but the Wade we saw Sunday.

The one who looked at his career retrospective up on that video screen while his performance was suggesting there are highlights yet to come.

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