By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Ongoing knee injuries have been a source of frustration for Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade in recent years but a meticulous program of limiting his workload and playing time has made him an influential force this season.
Nicknamed "Flash" or "D-Wade", Wade has competed for a decade in the National Basketball Association and, like any other league veteran, has had to contend with being repeatedly 'banged up' over time, with his left knee a particular concern.
However, by sitting out games when he does not feel in good shape and by curbing his minutes when he does get to play or take part in team practice, the 32-year-old has averaged 18.7 points this season, along with 4.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds.
Although that is a drop-off for Wade who has a stellar career average of 24.4 points per game, it is an impressive return for a player who had shock wave treatment during the offseason to relieve his persistent knee trouble.
"We wanted to be very smart about it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told Reuters before his team's thrilling 116-112 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on Wednesday.
"The most important thing is Dwyane getting stronger and healthier and more fit as the season goes on, so we put together a plan and that plan is based on how he feels day-to-day.
"That's the NBA world we live in. When he is feeling better, he is able to train better and train more and we adjust accordingly, based on that, his practices at shoot-arounds and his work-load during games."
Wade, who has had multiple knee surgeries, recorded 14 points on five-of-eight shooting and weighed in with eight assists in 35 minutes as the Heat fended off a spirited fightback by the Clippers in the final quarter on Wednesday.
Veteran shooting guard Ray Allen hit the clinching three-pointer for Miami from the corner in the final minute, but it was Wade's shrewd assist that made the shot possible.
"The play was broken down a little bit, but D-Wade made a heck of a play by getting into the paint," said Heat forward LeBron James, who ended the night with 31 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds.
"Ray just kept moving into his favorite spot, one of those corners, D-Wade found him with a great pass, and Ray nailed it."
Heat forward Shane Battier, a veteran who has played two more seasons in the league than Wade, knows full well how important it is for aging players to look after their bodies and conserve energy.
"Being banged up is part of the job," Battier, 35, told Reuters. "As you get up in years, you feel it a little bit more so you have to understand how much pounding you can put yourself through in practice, taking extra shots in a game.
"That's where you can maintain it. But if you're healthy and you go out and play, then you expect to put forth the best effort no matter how old you are."
Battier, a two-time NBA champion who is known for his aggressive defense, can quickly tell how much Wade is suffering with his knees when his team mate takes to the court.
"Some of the moves he can make, you can tell when he feels springy," said Battier. "He makes certain moves and you say, 'Ah, he's feeling good today.' Other days, it's not so good. But Dwyane is always going to put forth great effort."
Wade, a three-time NBA champion and an All-Star on 10 occasions, has enjoyed the emphasis on high pick-and-rolls which Heat coach Spoelstra has called for whenever the guard is on the court.
"It helps me a lot," said Wade, who has sat out 13 games so far this season. "I'm like a quarterback, I need to see everything in front of me.
"I'm able to be aggressive obviously for myself, but I'm also able to see where my shooters are, where my big guys are rolling. I've made adjustments."
Those adjustments are clearly working for Wade who, despite his more limited playing time, is making 55 percent of his shots from the field this season, the highest percentage of his career.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)