MIAMI (AP) – The Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade will be coming home. Just not to his home.
After all, an NBA finals berth is at stake.
The Chicago native is going home and treating it like a road trip, which is precisely what it is from the Miami Heat perspective anyway. Some of Wade’s toughest nights in the NBA have come in Chicago, and so may his toughest challenge yet this season, when the Heat face the Bulls starting Sunday night in the Eastern Conference finals.
“Obviously, this is a lot bigger stage than the regular season,” Wade said. “My attention to detail, to the game, is totally different. So I’m going home, yes, but we’re going on the road to start. This is not like the regular season at all. So my focus is a little different.”
The only side trip Wade has planned is a quick jaunt to his house to pick up some shoes. Other than that, he’ll likely do exactly what he did when Miami was in Boston for the East semifinals – stay holed up in the privacy of the hotel, not even venturing out for dinners.
Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be the case. Not this time.
“It’s probably always special when he goes back there,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But he also understands, this is a big opportunity for us as a collective group, going to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time together. It’s a big opportunity for us.”
Homecomings have not always been happy ones for Wade.
Since the Heat won the NBA title five years ago, Wade has played 11 games in Chicago.
He’s been beaten in nine of those, and beaten up as well.
Wade was knocked out of a Dec. 27, 2006 game by the midway point of the first quarter, during a stretch where the Bulls-Heat rivalry was fierce as ever. Pat Riley, who then coached the Heat, said Wade was targeted by then-Chicago guard Kirk Hinrich. “Hinrich grabbed his hand, which he does all of the time,” Riley said that night.
It hasn’t gotten much easier since.
Wade’s career shooting percentage at Chicago is 43.3 percent. Among Eastern Conference venues, the only place where he shoots worse – oddly enough – is Milwaukee, the city where he played college ball at Marquette. Wade is shooting 42.5 percent when the Heat visit the Bucks, nearly 10 percent off his college clip there in home games.
Nonetheless, the Bulls expect Wade and LeBron James to be at their best in this series.
“They’ve got two great players in D-Wade and LeBron,” Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. “It should be a great series. We look forward to it. And it is going to be a tough series. We look forward to the challenge.”
By now, Wade’s Chicago story is well-known.
His childhood was stormy, replete with major financial problems, an oft-broken home and having to be raised for long stretches of time by his sister. He married his high school sweetheart from there, had two sons who have spent the majority of their lives there, then had to spend the better part of three years fighting in Chicago courts for a divorce and custody of the kids – eventually getting what he wanted on both counts.
Despite it all, Chicago – the city he scorned during last summer’s free-agent bonanza – remains dear to Wade. His “Wade’s World” foundation has remained active there, he spends time there each offseason and he remains, without question, the loudest Chicago Bears fan in the Heat locker room.
The ties will be pushed aside for the next few days.
“I won’t even have a lot of family there,” Wade said. “Just like on the road, you have a select few. I won’t keep it busy. I’ll keep it strictly about business, strictly about what we need to do, and I’ll have a lot of time in the summer to be in my house.”
He isn’t the only Chicago native heading home. Juwan Howard – in the conference-final round for the first time, at 38 years old – is from the city as well.
Like Wade, he says there’s no time for nostalgia.
“We’re cut from the same cloth,” Howard said. “We’re both very competitive individuals.”
There’s no shortage of ill-will moments between the franchises since Wade arrived in Miami, though most of the principal players in those incidents won’t be part of this series.
In 2005, Wade was thrown to the hardwood by former Bulls forward Andres Nocioni. A year later, Udonis Haslem was fighting with three Bulls for a rebound, got knocked over and threw his mouthpiece in disgust – getting ejected when it bounced toward referee Joey Crawford. The Bulls beat Miami by 42 points on the night the Heat got their 2006 championship rings, then swept them from that season’s playoffs as Wade limped around with injuries. And in 2008, Spoelstra angered some Bulls by calling time-out with 30.9 seconds left in an already-decided game so he could get Wade and two other Heat players off the floor.
None of those memories will be needed for inspiration now, Wade said.
The Bulls stand between him and the NBA finals. Nothing more, in his estimation, needs to be said.
“We’re two teams with great will,” Wade said. “We look forward to getting started.”
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