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No stranger to injury, Wade now looks as if age is catching up to him

by | CBSSports.com
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After spraining his left ankle in Denver on Friday, Wade has yet to return to practice. (Getty Images)  
After spraining his left ankle in Denver on Friday, Wade has yet to return to practice. (Getty Images)  

MIAMI -- Dwyane Wade turns 30 years old on Tuesday.

He has a sprained right ankle, a strained right calf and a sore left foot.

It's probably a coincidence, right? The correlation between age and injury.

After all, Wade has been more severely hurt as a younger man than he is now.

So, this recent spate of nasty probably is just a residual of the lockout-compressed NBA preseason and the subsequently compacted regular-season schedule, during which games have been shoveled into too many heaping piles, endangering players not quite ready for such exertion, right?

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Yeah, that's it.

But what if it's not?

What if Wade, who is in his ninth season of being a hard-charging, high-flying Miami Heat hoops trapeze artist and working without a net, is entering that phase of his career when discretion really does become the better part of valor?

In recent seasons, Wade has said he'd begun to "pick my spots" in reference to governing his aggressiveness. And it's true -- Wade has been seen less frequently sprawled across the court after some horrific-looking collision.

He has learned a lesson, in other words, from what Heat president Pat Riley -- previously Wade's coach -- once said about how a basketball acrobat named Michael Jordan came to tone down his skywalker act. Riley's message was that Jordan's "adjustments" (an arched-back post game, most notably) were less a concession to age than a sign of intelligence.

Tomato, tomahto.

But the celebration of Wade's birthday might be a reasonable time to consider the inconvenient truth that his most spectacular stunts won't, and shouldn't, be on display as often in the future as they have been in the past.

Wade still is capable of being bolder than most, but he'll likely discover it's often more beneficial to be prudent. It's a tangent of the proverb suggesting that being careful reduces the need to be daring.

There is at least some concern that Wade's left foot problem could be of the plantar fascia variety, which would make it a lingering concern in that it often feels healed when it isn't. And of the ankle injury, which is the most recent one, Wade told reporters, "I've sprained my ankle plenty of times, but I've never sprained it like that."

Uh-oh.

He wasn't made available to the media Monday afternoon after Heat practice on the upstairs court at American Airlines Arena, and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said Wade's only activity involved "conditioning on the side."

There was, however, much parsing of language about when a player's day-to-day status -- Miami plays at home Tuesday night against San Antonio -- becomes "indefinite."

"There is no timetable," Spoelstra said of Wade's return.

In fact, he said those same four words over and over and over again.

"We will re-evaluate every day," Spoelstra said. "I'm not trying to be coy. The goal is to get him 100 percent healthy."

And then Spoelstra went all long-term view on the situation by saying, "The big picture is certainly a consideration."

That's as far as he went with that warning signal, which carried at least the hint that Wade actually might be more week to week than day to day.

The truth is that the Heat should take every precaution necessary with Wade, because the NBA end game is the playoffs. Not even Miami's pecking order in the Eastern Conference standings matters much as long as it qualifies for the postseason tournament.

And, by the way, the Heat are 3-0 without Wade this season.

But whether Wade returns Tuesday night at home against the Spurs isn't important.

What's important is that he applies the knowledge he insists he has gained at this stage of his career. That style still counts, and there are few players as vibrantly entertaining than Wade in full storm, but not at the cost of courting the increased risks of injury that come with age. Especially in this odd-shaped season.

It's difficult to imagine Wade playing into, say, a 16th NBA season as Kobe Bryant now is doing with the Lakers -- who, as it happens, come to Miami for a visit Thursday night. Seven years looks light years away at the moment.

The subject of Wade's birthday came up Monday, and teammate LeBron James called it "a new beginning, a new journey."

We shall see just how new.

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