CHICAGO — Nearly an hour before the bulk of his teammates arrived at the United Center and 10 hours before tipoff of yet another regular-season game in his 15th go-round in the league, Dwyane Wade stood at center court and bounced a ball right on the face of the Chicago Bulls’ bright red logo, capturing the scene on his Snapchat account.
Was this his Terrell Owens celebrating a touchdown on the star at the Dallas Cowboys’ 50-yard line moment? Was this Wade announcing his return to his hometown arena, signaling that a pounding was in store for the team he played for last season?
“I’m not petty,” Wade told ESPN after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat Chicago 113-91 on Monday to run their winning streak to 12 games. “I was just at the gym early.”
And come game time, he continued to be as reliable as he has been of late, scoring 24 points off the bench to go with six rebounds and two assists and amassing a plus-minus of plus-20 in 26 minutes of action to help the Cavs beat the Bulls.
There are plenty of ways to explain Cleveland catching fire after looking like, well, a dumpster fire through its 5-7 start. The defense is dramatically improved. Outside shots are falling. LeBron James is putting up the type of numbers that make you wonder if his prime will ever end. The team is in better shape after looking gassed early on following a shortened training camp. The new personnel has been given a chance to jell with one another.
And somewhere on that list right near the very top is the personal play of Wade, who has become a leader of the Cavs’ second unit that looks as formidable as any bench in the league.
“Just to say we have a future Hall of Famer say he wants to come off the bench,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “That was the first step. That’s kind of his unit. He runs and controls that unit.”
Coming into the Bulls game, Wade had scored double-digits in a season-high six straight games, putting up 15.8 points, 2.8 boards, 3.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks on 52.8 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from 3-point territory in that span.
The run did not go unnoticed, with LeBron James declaring over the weekend that Wade was “probably the No. 1 candidate” for the Sixth Man of the Year Award, much the way Bill Walton won it with the Boston Celtics in 1985-86 as an aging star coming to a new team to push it over the top.
Wade, who ruffled some feathers in Cleveland when he first came in for requesting to start even though it was not what Lue advised, handled the Sixth Man talk with a humility that was lacking upon his arrival.
Kyle Korver should be the guy getting the Sixth Man attention, Wade said, considering Korver’s plus-minus numbers were the best on the team. The 2006 NBA Finals MVP even said he was “a little uncomfortable” with the praise he was getting for his bench role.
Korver, when asked by ESPN about Wade inserting his name into the Sixth Man conversation, gave all the credit right back to Wade.
What is the difference, Korver was asked, between the Cavs’ bench that ranked 28th (28.3 points per game) in the league in scoring last season and their second unit that’s 5fifth (40.5 points per game) this year? “Him,” Korver said.
“I mean, he can say whatever he wants, but there’s no doubt he’s done a great job of leading that second unit,” Korver told ESPN. “And I think there’s been growth in a lot of areas with that second unit. We just got tons of motion going on. Tons of movement. But you can’t just have five guys doing that. You got to have someone in that group who is making that pass or commanding that double team or getting the ball into the paint and then with the movement and pieces that we have, kind of making it fit together well. So, I really think the way I look at it, we have two of the greatest basketball minds in the history of the game and one is leading the first unit and one is leading the second unit.”
Not surprisingly, the guy leading the first unit is all for how Wade has carved out his niche.
“I mean, he’s run a franchise before,” James said. “He’s ran units before. There’s not one situation that he hasn’t been in, so it’s a luxury for our team to be able to have him to come off our bench and be able to lead that group. The way he’s playing right now, he’s just in a great groove. And you guys know me, I’m extremely happy to have him.”
And Wade is happy to be a part of a championship contender once again after being out of that conversation the past three seasons while playing for the Bulls and the post-LeBron Miami Heat — even if it means that he’s a featured role player instead of a featured starter.
“I’ve played with a lot of talent,” Wade said. “It’s just, it’s the quality of here. Because I think anybody on that court can explode and have a 20-point game that’s out there at all times. Right now, I’m the beneficiary of it, but we have multiple guys who can do that and have done it this year. Right now, today was my day.”