LOS ANGELES – Dwyane Wade came into the regular season with a number in his head.
The veteran guard didn’t deem it necessary for it to be etched in stone. Especially with 34-year-old knees, turning 35 on Jan. 17.
There was, however, a precedent set last season, during his last go-around with the Miami Heat.
It was in that 2015-16 campaign that Wade played in 74 games – his most since the 2010-11 season – averaging 30.5 minutes per game.
“We haven’t talked about it like that,’’ Wade said, when the minutes per game questions were first brought up. “Coach [Fred Hoiberg] hasn’t said, ‘OK, you’re going to play 30 minutes exactly.’ But I think I’m gonna be around 30, 32 minutes.’’
Close, as Wade entered Saturday’s game with Los Angeles averaging 29.8 minutes per game.
They needed some overtime from Wade in the 102-95 loss to the Clippers, however, as Wade put in 35 minutes of work, while leading the Bulls (8-5) in scoring with 28 points, including a 5-for-9 showing from beyond the three-point line.
Just more evidence of how important he is for the Bulls, as he’s now started in all 13 games so far. A trend that the Bulls know is a key moving forward, especially with how Wade’s presence, both on and off the court, has been instrumental in the early success. The more they can make sure he’s suited up and able to go, the better the engine runs.
“D-Wade’s been huge, man, huge,’’ veteran forward Taj Gibson said of his new teammate. “Just the way he has come in and leads, and I think the player that has benefitted the most is Jimmy [Butler].
“I’m surprised at how mature [Butler] is. He’s a lot more mature than he was, as far as being how he’s been with the guys, how he’s communicating. Last year, he had his times when he was questioning things, and he didn’t know how to let it out. But this year, having D-Wade I think helps him a lot.’’
So how does Hoiberg and the training staff make sure Wade stays fresh for the long haul?
“The biggest thing is just having communication with him, see how he feels,’’ Hoiberg said.
As of Saturday, there were no plans to give Wade a game off.
Wade has played in both back-to-backs this season, and planned to play Sunday against the Lakers in his third back-to-back in just over three weeks.
It’s subject to change depending on how he feels when he wakes up Sunday morning, but keeping that option open is just the way of life for Wade in Season 14.
“It’s my job to try to take care of my body away from the game of basketball,’’ Wade said. “And then when I’m on the court, I pray and knock on wood that I don’t get injured so I can stay out there.’’
Where Wade has been given his breathers is on practice days.
Let’s just say he knows when to take a “mental day,’’ and talks with Hoiberg constantly.
What else works in his favor is his style of play with the Bulls has evolved. Wade can still challenge the trees in the paint and attack with some physicality, but he’s developing into more of an outside shooting option in Hoiberg’s offense, evident by the 17-for-45 (.377 percent) three-point shooting.
In his last season with Miami, Wade took just 44 threes all year.
“You want to be out there with your guys every day,’’ Wade said. “I want to take advantage of every moment and opportunity and help give my team a chance to win.’’