In pressure of playoffs, Wade can fire up Heat

NBA: Though lacking the hype of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, rookie Dwyane Wade has Miami one win away from the second round of the postseason.

May 04, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

MIAMI - For a few seconds during Game 5 of the playoff series between the Miami Heat and New Orleans Hornets, it felt like everyone in AmericanAirlines Arena was holding their breath.

Less than a minute remained, the shot clock was ticking down, and Miami and New Orleans were fighting for their playoff lives. The score was tied 80-80, and the ball was headed toward Heat rookie Dwyane Wade, who was standing all alone in the corner.

Wade didn't have time to think, much less set his feet, so, in one fluid motion, he snagged a pass from teammate Lamar Odom and flipped a high-arcing three-pointer toward the basket. For a brief instant, everything seemed quiet. Hit or miss, 20,147 people in attendance, and a few million at home watching on television, found themselves waiting to exhale.

"Anytime it comes to crunch time, I love them moments," Wade said. "When the ball was in the air, I was smiling the whole time inside."

With a splash, the ball snapped through the net. And just like that, the crowd remembered to breathe again, erupting with the kind of joy that has been missing for the past few years in South Florida. One of the biggest reasons it has returned, however, is Wade, whose three-pointer came with 54.4 seconds left and was the eventual game-winner in the 87-83 victory over the Hornets that gave Miami a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

New Orleans recovered, winning Game 6 on its home court Sunday to force Game 7 tonight in Miami, but to do it, the Hornets had to overcome 27 points from Wade, who has been one of the most exciting players in the playoffs this year.

"It's going to be a war, just like every other game in this series. It might be a little more intense," Wade said after Game 6. "It's a great series - two great teams going at it. That's what you watch the playoffs for, to see who's going to duke it out in Game 7."

Though he may not have the hype that some of the NBA's teenage phenoms do, Wade, 22, has certainly proved lately that there is more to this rookie class than LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. His shot against New Orleans was his second game-winner of the series. He scored 21 and hit a jumper in the lane with 1.3 seconds left to win Game 1.

"He's already one of the best drivers in the league," Odom said of Wade. "When he gets a consistent jump shot, he's going to be hell for defenders."

That may happen sooner rather than later. Wade, the fifth pick in the 2003 draft, has seemingly surpassed everyone's expectations but his own this season, averaging 16.2 points, the highest average for a rookie in franchise history. His play has been so solid, even NBA commissioner David Stern said before Friday's game that he's been impressed.

"It's amazing when you see what a [player like] Dwyane Wade can do when he gets good, quality minutes and he develops," Stern said. "It's fun to watch."

Wade, whose carefree attitude and infectious smile have made him one of the most popular players on the Heat, certainly didn't come from nowhere. He was one of the best players in college basketball in 2002-03, leading Marquette to its first Final Four since 1977. Against Kentucky in the Midwest Regional final, Wade played probably the best game of the tournament, scoring 29 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and handing out 11 assists. He capped off the 83-69 upset with an emphatic dunk over Kentucky center Marquis Estill that became the most replayed shot of the tournament.

But when Wade decided to leave Marquette after his junior season, some people questioned whether he'd even be a lottery pick. After all, a successful college career can mean little to NBA general managers, who often draft with size and potential in mind and little else. Wade, 6 feet 4, appeared to be too short to play shooting guard, and throughout his career, he'd never been a point guard. How would he get on the floor?

Still, former Miami coach Pat Riley, who resigned at the start of the season but stayed on as the Heat general manager, saw something he liked about Wade and decided to take him ahead of Texas point guard T.J. Ford. It turned out to be the steal of the draft. Wade was a unanimous selection to the NBA All-Rookie team and had a higher field-goal percentage than both Anthony and James.

"In the workout we had over here, [Wade] wasn't good at all," Riley told The Miami Herald earlier this season. "He missed shots, he looked a little bit nervous and tentative, and he started to miss more shots. But when you watch him on tape, you see a guy who reads the game, has patience, never gets flustered. He doesn't change his expression."

By the time he showed up in Miami, Wade was already displaying the confidence of a veteran.

"I remember the first time I met him, we were playing a pickup game and I kept coming open," said Heat forward Brian Grant, a 10-year veteran. "He had two people on him, and he kept shooting. I was like, `Dwyane, you've got to pass it.' He said, `No man, that's my shot.' "

That confidence has helped carry him through some rough spots, too, like when he missed 13 games during the season with a bone bruise in his right wrist and when he scored 11 points in a Game 4 loss to the Hornets. Wade's maturity has been evident as well, especially when the Hornets have tried to be physical with him.

In the first half of Game 5, New Orleans center Jamaal Magloire threw Wade to the floor on a drive to the basket, earning a technical. Later, Baron Davis shoved Wade in the back, stole the ball and drove in for a layup. In both instances, Wade responded by picking up his game instead of retaliation.

"I think that brought out in me the will to just continue and go," Wade said. "It just reiterated to me the kind of player I should continue to be. Always on the attack."

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