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The Power of One
January 19, 2009
Sure, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have their teams atop the standings, but what Dwyane Wade has done is no less impressive: single-handedly lift the Heat into playoff contention
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January 19, 2009

The Power Of One

Sure, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have their teams atop the standings, but what Dwyane Wade has done is no less impressive: single-handedly lift the Heat into playoff contention

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FLASH AND the Temps, the rock band fronted by Dwyane Wade, doesn't go on tour, preferring to perform exclusively in his rec room. The Temps consist of whichever of Wade's relatives and friends happens to grab the Guitar Hero World Tour video game instruments first. They always leave one for Wade, a.k.a. Flash, the Miami Heat's spectacular shooting guard who earned the nickname more for the way he dashes past defenders on the court than for the way his fingers fly on the frets. Even though he admits he's no virtual-reality virtuoso, Wade is the band's lead guitarist—and bass player, and drummer, and lead singer. "I move around depending on the song," he says. "I like to do it all."

For that, the Heat is exceedingly grateful, because with a group of youngsters surrounding him—call this team Flash and the Tots—Wade has no choice but to be an all-purpose superstar. "I would say he's doing a little bit of everything this year, but that would be wrong," says Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "He's doing a lot of everything." That includes leading the league in scoring (29.0 points per game at week's end), mentoring nearly half of his teammates, helping rookie coach Erik Spoelstra find his footing and playing the kind of shot-blocking defense rarely seen from a 6'4" guard.

It has so far been the finest all-around season of Wade's six-year career—he's averaging career highs in points, steals (2.3) and blocks (1.6)—no small accomplishment considering that he already owns a Finals MVP award from the Heat's championship year in 2006. He has made such an all-encompassing impact that at 19--17 through Sunday, the Heat has already won more games than it did in all of last season, when it finished 15--67 and Wade, not coincidentally, was a shell of his usual self due to injuries. While his fellow hoops luminaries and Olympics buddies Kobe Bryant and LeBron James lead their teams on a title chase, Wade's performance in lifting Miami to respectability with far less established talent around him has been just as impressive, if somewhat less noticed. "You always want to be better than you were the year before, and this is the first time in a while that I've felt that way," he says. "I think this is the best I've been, in terms of all the ways I can contribute to help the team win."

A case in point was last Friday night, when James propelled the Cleveland Cavaliers past the Boston Celtics 98--83, scoring 38 points in a matchup of the Eastern Conference's best teams. That performance drew considerably more headlines than Wade's brilliant and exhausting effort hours later in Sacramento, where he had 41 points and seven assists and played all but five minutes of the Heat's 119--115 overtime victory over the Kings. "I'd like to be up there in the standings with LeBron, Kobe and those guys, playing for home court advantage, thinking about the Finals," he says. "You think about the veteran team we had here two years ago, and you'd like to play with a team like that your whole career. But it's not scripted that way, so I embrace the team that we have, I embrace the energy that these young guys bring every day, even though it's a different kind of challenge than what I'm used to."

Most of the vets who helped Wade bring Miami its first NBA title are gone, replaced by a group of youngsters who often leave Wade shaking his head, sometimes in appreciation of their talents and sometimes in amusement at their exuberance. Where Wade once had Shaquille O'Neal as a frontcourt scoring threat, he now has 6'10" forward Michael Beasley, who so far has shown only flashes of the talent that made him the No. 2 pick last June. Instead of wise old head Gary Payton at point guard, Wade's backcourt partner is another rookie, Mario Chalmers, a second-round draft choice who has been a nice surprise but still has much to learn, especially defensively. The shooter coming off the bench is no longer battle-tested Antoine Walker, but second-year gunner Daequan Cook, who saw little daylight last season. In place of coach Pat Riley's lined visage and five championship rings there is the smooth-faced Spoelstra, who is 38 and looks more like 28.

In all there are five members in the Heat's rotation who have two years experience or less. Power forward Udonis Haslem is the only other player left from the title team, which means that in his sixth season, at the ripe old age of 26, Wade finds himself feeling like the papa bear to a bunch of frisky cubs. A recent shootaround ended with the team dumping a bucket of ice over Beasley to celebrate his 20th birthday, leaving part of the court covered in cubes and the kids howling with laughter. "Recess time, man," Wade said, smiling. "Recess time on the playground."

THE YOUNG ones have learned quickly that when it's time to get serious, their superstar and captain won't put up with frivolity. While Wade says that "it's really Coach Spo and the rest of the staff who set the tone," Spoelstra acknowledges that it's easier to exert control with Wade in his corner. Spoelstra, who has served in a variety of capacities for the Heat since 1995, already had a strong relationship with Wade when Riley named him head coach last April. As an assistant in charge of skill development, he and Wade had worked in individual sessions to improve his game in several areas, including his jump shot. "Being young is not a disadvantage when you know what you're doing," Wade says. "Coach Spo knows what he's doing." When Wade returned from the Olympics in Beijing in August, he summoned his teammates to Miami, took them to dinner and expressed to them, among other things, that Spoelstra had his full support.

Spoelstra, the NBA's second youngest coach ( New Jersey's Lawrence Frank is two months younger) does engender respect from his players, but they clearly look up to Wade as well, and he is growing increasingly comfortable with his stature. "I'm trying to teach these young guys about the commitment it takes to be successful, but I'm learning a lot about leadership at the same time," he says. "It's not always about being positive and keeping their confidence up. Sometimes it's about letting them know when they've messed up and that it's not acceptable, that they're capable of better than that." That demanding attitude extends to the older players as well. In the Sacramento game Wade was clearly irritated when center Jamaal Magloire fumbled one of his passes, turning a potential layup into a traveling violation. On his way back down the court Wade motioned to the coaches to get Haslem into the game for Magloire, and Haslem was quickly sent to the scorer's table.

The young players are more than a little awed by Wade—"Scary good. Just scary good," Chalmers says. Despite his offensive production, some of Wade's most impressive feats have come on the defensive end, like the pair of blocks he made against 7'1" New Jersey Nets center Brook Lopez, the second one a clutch rejection late in overtime of the Heat's 106--103 victory on Dec. 20. That may have been the most crucial block Wade has made this season, but for style points the winner occurred in Denver last week. Wade was stationed at the foul line when Nen�, the Nuggets' 6'11" center, caught a pass in the low post and turned for a short jump hook. With a couple of quick strides and a leap, Wade slapped the ball away. "I'm not going to lie, it's fun to go up and get a guy who's got five, six inches on you," says Wade. "I like making an unbelievable block better than a nice dunk. For this team, part of it is showing guys that you can use your athleticism at both ends, and I feel like it's my responsibility to go for something over the top sometimes, to give guys a lift, set a certain tone."

BUT SOMETIMES Miami simply needs points, and getting them has always come easily to Wade. He has scored 20 or more in a half 14 times this season, including 24 after halftime against Sacramento. Typically, he made his presence felt in almost every imaginable way in that game, with drives, jump shots, steals and blocks. After the Kings had closed to 102--99, Wade stole an inbounds pass to hold them temporarily at bay, but Sacramento eventually sent the game into overtime; then Wade added 6'11" center Brad Miller to his list of tall victims by swatting his shot. For good measure he flashed to the hoop when defender John Salmons turned his head for a split second and drew a hard foul with 5.3 seconds left and the score tied at 115. He then made the two free throws for the winning points.

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