Michael Jordan isn’t walking through that door Thursday when the Bulls play the Philadelphia 76ers in the Wells Fargo Center. Scottie Pippen isn’t walking through that door; Jerry Sloan isn’t walking through that door.
But, what do you know, Dwyane Wade is pretty close to doing so. Perhaps Saturday.
“Dwyane went through part of the contact in practice today and looked good,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after practice Wednesday at Temple U. “Dwyane was able to participate in a lot of the contact drills. The big thing right now for him is getting his conditioning and wind and timing back; it was great to see him out there in part of our scrimmage. The big thing is how he responds (Thursday) to the contact. We’ll take it from there. We’ll know more (Thursday) and after the next practice (in New York Friday) and take it from there.”
Wade was injured March 15 late in the loss against Memphis. It was determined he had a fracture in his right elbow and would be out the remainder of the regular season.
But Wade clearly looks ready to play.
He began traveling with the team this week and participated in part of the scrimmage Wednesday. He then spent about 20 minutes shooting jumpers with Butler after media members were admitted to practice. He didn’t show any outward signs of injury while shooting.
“It’s good to see him out there, obviously,” said Butler. “I just want him to come back when he knows he can go 100 percent, not hold back. He says he feels good, which he is supposed to say because he wants to come back and play. I don’t want him to hurry back and injure it and make it worse, but I want him out there on the floor.
“So it’s kind of, ‘I want you back.’ But, ‘I don’t want you to jeopardize anything.’ He was out there today scoring the basketball, passing the basketball, guarding; (heck) it’s easier when he’s out there. He makes my job a lot easier along with everyone else; it’s just good to have his presence out there. That’s (even) bigger than what he does on the floor, just having him out there with us.”
It may be coming—as perhaps surprising as it is now—at the right time with Rajon Rondo listed as questionable for Thursday’s game. Rondo sustained a right wrist sprain in Tuesday’s brutal loss to the Knicks. X-rays after the game were negative. Rondo was to have an MRI later Wednesday. His right hand was swollen and he did not practice with the team.
“Right now it just doesn’t feel right,” Rondo admitted leaving practice with a wrap on his right hand. “That’s an important part of my game, obviously. Make sure it is right, get the results and get treatment and go from there. I’m hopeful. Hope I get a good night’s rest, get some treatment, results come back positive and go from there. Get the masseuse to work on my hand and ice it as much as possible.”
If Rondo cannot play, it’s back to revolving point guards.
Michael Carter-Williams has been backing up Rondo lately, and he was the one finally applying defensive pressure Tuesday when the Bulls made a bit of a late comeback. But the 76ers have elusive small guards, so it seems likely Jerian Grant would return to a starting role without Rondo. Grant played against the Knicks. Also, Anthony Morrow had his best game as a Bull and could see more playing time as he was among the group making the comeback. Plus, he really can shoot. The youth experiments seem over for these last few games with the playoffs in reach.
Miami Wednesday moved into a three-way tie with the Bulls and Pacers for the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, all 38-40. The Bulls hold the tiebreaker over each with four games remaining. The Bulls play the 76ers, the Nets twice and the Magic. The Bulls have a better record this season against teams with winning records than against teams with losing records.
“You have to take pride in your individual matchup; that’s where it starts,” said Hoiberg about the letdown against New York. “You have to find a way to stay in front of the ball. Philly scored 70 points in the paint the last time we played them. A lot of that was just getting beat with straight line drives. If you’re beat with straight line drives, it’s hard to help. We got dominated physically (in New York) after four pretty good games (wins) of being dominant on the glass. We have to get that back, find a way to keep them out of the paint. We got loose and gave (the 76ers) confidence last time we played them.”
Wade won’t play against the 76ers, but Hoiberg held out the possibility he could play in Brooklyn Saturday. Wade declined comment. Players, according to league rules, are not required to meet with media when on the injured list. It is up to them.
The Bulls currently are 6-4 since Wade went out and 11-10 overall this season when he hasn’t played. He is averaging 18.6 points, second to Butler, though shooting 31 percent on threes.
The Bulls have suffered some of their worst losses when Wade was out, by 25 points to Dallas in December, by 31 to the Warriors in February and 28 to Minnesota a few days later. The Bulls also have played some of their best of the season since his injury, setting a franchise record for consecutive games making double figures threes and averaging almost 107 points per game, almost six above their season average.
So a debate also has grown about Wade’s impact and effect.
Butler obviously has no doubt.
“A game like last night doesn’t show how much he is missed,” said Butler of the loss in New York in which the Bulls trailed by 20 or more most of the game. “I think every game win or lose shows how much he’s missed because he’s a part of this team. We need him, we want him out there with us. It doesn’t take a loss on the road to say we miss Dwyane Wade. We can win on the road; we still want him out there with us. It will help everyone else (if he comes back).
“I think he’s ready to go, but that’s on him and how he feels. I told him whenever he comes back, get into a rhythm. The only way you are going to get into a rhythm you have to go out there and play the way you were playing before you got hurt, shooting the ball, the same shots you were taking. They will go in, they won’t go in. You can’t let that change anything. We want him back out there rhythm or not; we want Dwyane Wade in a Bulls jersey.”
Rondo also said there’s been no change in philosophy without Wade.
“It’s not been preached (to shoot threes without Wade),” Rondo affirmed. “Maybe the flow and rhythm of the game. No one is saying, ‘OK, D-Wade is out, shoot more threes.’ I feel like I always try to create flow, give guys the best opportunities to make their shots from their spots. Maybe it’s threes when I’m playing with Denzel, Niko, Zipser; those are my three-point shooters. Even Jimmy is shooting the ball pretty well from three-point. Guys are finding a rhythm, getting open shots. I think we got 12 corner threes yesterday; we only made two, but we are getting the shots we want that are high percentage.”
That will suffer without Rondo.
But what has been clear is the three so called Alphas, as Rondo named them, do not fit well playing together with their styles of play. It’s one reason Rondo was playing off the bench for a time, and why Wade has been running the second unit to start the second and fourth quarters earlier in the season.
It’s also thus difficult to quantify a team change with or without Wade since the record and results have been essentially the same.
With Wade having been out so long, it might make sense to have him come off the bench when he returns. Though if Rondo were not playing, that might change. Wade also likely would have a playing time restriction when he returns. Wade still has practices to go through to see how his elbow holds up, and he wasn’t scheduled to return until after the regular season, anyway.
“A big thing will be how he responds (at Thursday practice) to the increased workload. Get another good conditioning workout and we’ll go from there, have another practice in New York Friday and see how he is doing. Still too early to tell (about Brooklyn). But if he responds in a positive manner from (Tuesday’s) contact practice we’ll see.”
“It would be great to get him back,” Hoiberg added. “You look at last night’s game, for example. It would have been nice to have the guy to go out there and playmake, put the ball in the basket when we were really struggling in that area. So when he’s ready to go we’ll get him back out there. I’m sure we’ll have to have a little bit of a restriction on his minutes. But hopefully get him back in a rhythm the last few games.”