Wade turns up Heat at point guard

ON THE NBA

April 04, 2004|By MILTON KENT

You'd hardly know it to watch him, but there was a time early this season when Miami Heat point guard Dwyane Wade had trouble moving his teammates around.

Considering that's what point guards do, Wade had a bit of a problem and, in turn, so did the Heat, which stumbled to an 0-7 start.

"At the beginning of the year, it was tough. I really didn't want to tell guys to do something," Wade said. "Now, you have to earn the respect of your teammates and I think I've done that, so I have no problem doing it now. Once you get the respect of your teammates, and they know the kind of player you are and person you are, and that you're not saying anything that would be wrong for them, they'll listen and I have done that."

In fact, Wade has done it so well - with some help from his teammates - that Miami not only shook off its slow beginning, but with a decent finishing kick, the Heat could find itself with home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Not bad for a team that seemed destined for the scrap heap once Pat Riley gave up coaching duties just before the start of the season and left them with longtime assistant Stan Van Gundy.

One of Van Gundy's first decisions was to take Wade, the fifth overall pick in last June's draft, and switch him to point guard from shooting guard, where he had played in two years at Marquette.

The move, admittedly, had a high risk, particularly at basketball's highest level, but has had a big reward for Miami, with Wade placing fourth among rookies in assists.

"It [moving from shooting guard to the point] is unusual," said Van Gundy. "In an ideal world, you wouldn't want somebody to have to do that. But he embraced it right from Day One in the summer.

"A lot of guys will fight you on a move like that. I think he's still more comfortable at the two, but he can look at our team and see that he's got to play a lot of minutes at the one. He just embraced it with a very open mind. That was the start of it, and he really worked hard to get better at that position and to start to think like a point guard. That only helps him when he plays at two."

Indeed, Wade's evolution has been so complete that if you hadn't heard of a couple of other rookies named LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, you might be thinking Wade for Rookie of the Year.

Instead, while James' Cleveland Cavaliers and Anthony's Denver Nuggets are on the playoff precipice, Wade, the first rookie this season to be named NBA Player of the Week, might get the biggest prize, a trip to the postseason.

"At this point in the season, I don't care any more [about being named Rookie of the Year]," said Wade. "That was all in the beginning of the season. Since the All-Star break, I don't care anymore. Right now, I'm just playing to get my team better and myself better and hopefully make this push to the playoffs."

Quiz

Since the NBA began honoring a Coach of the Year in 1962-63, only five coaches have won the league title and top coaching honors in the same year. Name them.

Nets in good spot

From the outside, the New Jersey Nets hardly look capable of extending their run as Eastern Conference champions to a third straight year, what with point guard Jason Kidd and power forward Kenyon Martin hobbling with knee ailments.

The Nets are on pace to win 48 games, just one fewer than last year, but the injuries to Kidd and Martin, who are expected back for the playoffs, presumably have weakened them, at least from the outside view.

But according to Washington coach Eddie Jordan, who had an inside view the past two years as lead assistant, the Nets are right where they need to be.

"It's almost as if they're pacing themselves for the end of the marathon," Jordan said last week. "Jason is sore, but we know he is going to be high-level once the playoffs start. Kenyon is sore, but we know he is going to be high-level. Rodney [Rogers] gets a chance to get his game back, Lucious [Harris] gets his game back.

"It's all about pacing themselves. They've gotten through a lot of adversity this year. They've come out big-time in a good way. Now, it's time and you're going to see the real Nets once the playoffs start. We saw that last year."

If anything, Jordan sees New Jersey as even more dangerous because the Nets are so wounded.

"Last year, they weren't the team to beat," Jordan said. "Detroit had the best record and going into that [conference final] series, the Nets used the slogan, the underdogs. They were the underdogs and they came out pretty good. They'll use some kind of theme going into the playoffs."

Quiz answer

Red Auerbach (1964-65), Red Holzman (1969-70), Bill Sharman (1971-72), Phil Jackson (1995-96) and Gregg Popovich (2002-03) all won Coach of the Year and the NBA title in the same season.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

WHO'S UP

WHO'S DOWN

UP: Kevin O'Neill

Toronto coach wins power struggle and gets to keep his job ... at least through the end of the season.

DOWN: Glen Grunwald

All the former Toronto general manager gets for saving basketball in Canada is a pink slip.

UP: Los Angeles Lakers

Here comes that heading-into-the-postseason roll that everyone was afraid of. The road to the NBA title goes through the Staples Center.

DOWN: Sacramento Kings

In 1-4 skid, even if they manage to hold off the Lakers for the Pacific title, does anyone see them beating L.A. in a seven-game series? Thought not.

UP: Jerry Stackhouse

So, Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady get to rest their sore knees the rest of the season and Stackhouse can't?

DOWN: Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn

Their ankle and knee injuries couldn't come at a worse time for a listing New Orleans team trying to get home court in the first round.

HE SAID IT

"It actually hurts. It's more than betrayed." Sacramento Kings forward Chris Webber about being booed at ARCO Arena.

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