Wade: 'It's been a long road back'

3/10/2009 - NBA Dwyane Wade Miami Heat + more

MIAMI -- Dwyane Wade for MVP? Admit it. You're starting to consider it, after another stunning performance Monday night when Miami's rejuvenated star pick-pocketed John Salmons in the final seconds of double overtime, then hoisted a running 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded for the win over Chicago. Wade finished with 48 points, 12 assists and 4 steals and so thoroughly controlled the game, his friend LeBron James sent him postgame props in a text message.

Wade continues to nearly single-handedly coax the Heat into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, a remarkable turnaround from last season when his team won just 15 games and it would have been a cruel prank to suggest Wade belonged among the league's elite.

When Wade is feeling right, he is one of the most devastating pick-and-roll players in the game, bursting to the basket, as Kobe Bryant described it, "like a bat out of hell that nobody can catch.''

But Bryant wasn't talking about Wade in January 2008. Nobody was. The Miami Heat, less than two years removed from their first NBA championship, had faltered so quickly and so thoroughly that even their mounting losses were no longer noteworthy. As Wade struggled to overcome a dislocated shoulder and arthroscopic knee surgery, which stripped him of his trademark explosiveness, the Heat dropped 15 in a row, then 26 out of 27. The NBA merely yawned.

Miami -- and D-Wade -- had become irrelevant.

"I can't believe how quickly we don't matter,'' he told then-assistant coach Eric Spoelstra.

On Christmas Day last season against Cleveland, Wade maneuvered through the key and tried to elevate over LeBron James, his trusted friend and ardent rival. But Wade couldn't manufacture the lift he needed, and James swatted Wade's shot away like a nettlesome house fly.

"You all right?" James asked Wade as they ran down the court.

"I don't have it,'' Wade said. "I'm hurt.''

"You gotta sit out, man,'' James told him.

"I can't,'' Wade said.

After the game, James texted him with three words of advice: Shut it down.

"He wasn't D-Wade,'' James said. "You could tell by his game.''

James paused to consider what has transpired in the 15 months since that holiday encounter.

"Let me tell you something,'' he said. "I wouldn't want to test him now.''

Ask the Toronto Raptors whether Wade is feeling better. He dropped 42 points and eight assists on them Friday, then 24 hours later submitted 25 points, 12 assists and four steals in a loss to James' Cavs. The week before, he had rallied the Heat from a 16-point deficit against the Knicks by torching them for 46 points -- 24 in the fourth quarter. Factor in his 31 points and 16 assists against Detroit on Feb. 24 and his 50 points against Orlando two days before that, and no wonder the league's top scorer has aroused the interest of the same fan base that ignored him a season ago.

Wade isn't delusional. He knows the league MVP award has been handicapped as a two-man race between LeBron and Kobe, but after promising he wouldn't campaign for his own remarkable resurgence, he finally said last week he felt he merited consideration.

"It's been a long road back,'' Wade said. "I'm just grateful people are recognizing what I've done.''

Count James among the growing number of NBA observers who believe Wade belongs in the MVP conversation.

"To me,'' James said, "the way you judge an MVP is if you take a guy off their team, who struggles the most? Like last year. If you took Kobe off the Lakers or Chris Paul off the Hornets, who's struggling the most? It's the Hornets, right? But everyone has their own set of rules. Other people look at it as an individual thing. They go for numbers. Now, if you were looking at strictly the team last year, then that means either Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett should have won it.

"So I don't know what the [MVP] voters want. But whatever they're looking for, I'm pretty sure D-Wade has it.''

"I'd make the same case for Dwyane that people used to make for me when I was on a team that didn't have a lot of talent and we still managed to get to the playoffs,'' Bryant said. "People don't realize how difficult it is to do literally everything to get your team in.''