Dwyane Wade was in the starting lineup for the Miami Heat's preseason opener. That is, until he decided he needed a night off.
Saying he was erring on the side of caution, the nine-time All-Star announced about an hour before game time that he would not be playing when the Heat faced the Atlanta Hawks on Monday. Wade was in coach Erik Spoelstra's original lineup.
"He wants me to do what's best for my body," Wade said. "I've been practicing very hard, going very hard. I could play, but I just think it's smarter that in consecutive days of going so hard, just be smart today, rest a little bit, let my legs recover."
The Heat went on to beat the Hawks 92-87, with Chris Bosh scoring 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting to lead the way for the two-time defending NBA champions. LeBron James, the league's four-time MVP, finished with nine points, five assists and five rebounds for Miami.
Wade dealt with an array of problems in the final months of last season, mainly a bone bruise and tendinitis in his right knee. He also had to have his left knee drained before playing in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Monday's decision, he said, was done solely with maintenance in mind. Wade played in the team's scrimmage on Sunday night and worked out again in the morning before the exhibition opener.
"I've worked so hard and I'm still working hard," Wade said. "When you put work in you want to see some results, so coming to training camp and seeing the results of the work I've put in, working with Tim (Grover, his longtime trainer) all summer, that part was good. But outside of that, it's a long season and I want to stay healthy for the majority of the season and the playoffs. I've got a bigger picture in mind."
Wade also said he was thinking about the preseason opener in 2010, the ballyhooed first time that he, James and Bosh were teammates in a Heat uniform. Wade said he felt some hamstring tightness before that game, and three minutes after tip-off, he left after popping that muscle a bit — an injury that slowed him for the remainder of the preseason.
"I do have that in mind, so I'm taking it a little smarter than before," Wade said.
Spoelstra has raved several times since camp opened about Wade's current level of fitness, and James said Monday that Wade has been one of the most impressive players in his mind since the team started its formal workouts this season.
James said the last time he saw Wade this good physically was in the team's 2010 training camp.
"Seeing his explosiveness, his quickness, lateral quickness, everything, he looks healthy, feels healthy and he shows it more than anything on his face when he's healthy," James said. "That's a great sign."
James Jones replaced Wade in the starting lineup and finished with six points in 20 minutes.
Wade said he will practice on Tuesday and may play Thursday when Miami resumes its postseason slate at Detroit. The Heat also were without Greg Oden, Michael Beasley, Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem for the preseason opener, all out with a variety of injuries that are largely considered minor.
"They all say they are ready to go," Spoelstra said. "We want to manage it."