Wade's Mt. Rushmore moment
Wade and the Heat have emerged as a No. 1 title contender.
WASHINGTON -- The wise men always told us the next Michael would not be manufactured, that he would just burst upon the scene without aid from the media's overzealous hype machine.
"Just let it happen," they said calmly as everyone from Harold Miner to Kobe Bryant was anointed as Next.
I don't know yet if Dwyane Wade is the one, and I love LeBron James. But it's getting harder by the possession to write off Wade's historic production as the result of being Shaq's mate -- especially when Shaq is on the sidelines in a tent-sized, three-piece suit.
And dig this -- Miami's unassuming kid with the Barry Sanders moves (yes, they're that sick) was not manufactured. Eerie.
Saturday, in an astonishing display that made his All-Star-caliber opponents Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes look pedestrian -- and maybe I'm being kind considering the way he split their fruitless double-team before sinking a bank shot in the second quarter -- Wade put 42 on the Wizards in leading Miami to a 99-95 win and back to South Beach on a broom.
Four-Oh for the series, just like against New Jersey. Or in the case of Wade, who scored 22 in the game-turning third quarter, Four-Oh My!
Again without Shaq on Saturday, D-Wade punctuated a great team effort by the Heat with some spectacular solos.
I cringe when I see someone mentioned in the same sentence as Air, so it is with great reservation that I throw Wade's name into that conversation.
But he has already put himself in rarified company. In just his second season, he has joined Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael as the only players to average at least 25 points, eight dimes and six boards while shooting 50 percent from the floor in a playoff series. Before Wade came along it hadn't been done since 1991, because even today's best perimeter guns barely top Ty Cobb when it comes to accuracy. But Wade connects at a clip that makes old-heads proud.
Want another Mount Rushmore? When Wade gave the Wizards 31, 15 and five in Game 2, he became only the fifth player ever to post 30 points, 15 assists and five rebounds in the postseason and the first since 1989. Oscar, Clyde Frazier, Jerry West and Magic did it, too. Michael never did.
And the nicest thing about this story is that Wade's too humble to spoil his partnership with Shaq. Hear that, Kobe and Penny? Imagine if Dwyane had teamed up with a younger Diesel.
But hey, there's a reason it's happened as it has. Just as Shaq was the best thing to happen to Kobe, Wade might be the best thing to happen to Shaq. A young Magic joined an aging Kareem and the rest was history. Perhaps in the young Wade and aging Shaq, we're seeing history in the making.
Just after midnight a pearl green Range Rover pulled out of the Wizards' parking garage. An MCI Center security guard watching the exit waved his hand for the Rover to proceed. Instead the brake lights went on and the vehicle came to a stop. As it sat there idling, the black-tinted driver's side window started to slide down. Behind it was the smiling face of Gilbert Arenas.
"We got a lot to smile about," said Arenas as fans scrambled for their camera phones and quickly uncapped their Sharpies.
Yes, the Wizards were swept. But who cares? They just capped the franchise's most successful season in nearly 25 years and in the process revitalized the Washington area's love affair with pro basketball.
"This is an exciting time," said head coach Eddie Jordan after the Game 4 loss. "What a wonderful learning experience it was. We've got great coaches, dedicated players and one tremendous fan base. And we've got our leader, Gilbert. Going forward things are only going to get better."
Wizards fans have never been this vocal or enthusiastic. Then again, they haven't had a team with this kind of promise in quite some time.
"This is a team that we'll have to reckon with for years to come," said Damon Jones. "They have a very good thing going on here."
When the crush of fans receded, Arenas winked and pulled out into traffic. His father, Gilbert Sr., was waiting by the curb for him in a rental car with his flashers on. They drove off into the night with the city abuzz.
Now is the best and worst of times for Wizards guard Larry Hughes' NBA life.
Hughes' best season of his career ended Saturday night as the Heat eliminated Washington from the playoffs. After being criticized for not living up to his hype since being selected with the eighth overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, the 6-5 combo guard shut his critics up this season by averaging a career-high 22 points, leading the NBA in steals per game and making the All-NBA defensive first team.
"I'm doing what I thought I would do," Hughes, 26, said. "It's not as fast as I thought it should have [been].
"But I do things my way. I have a tattoo on my back, 'God's world is my way.' That's how I live. Nobody can tell me I should have been this or I should have been that," he said.
So this is great time for Hughes to become a free agent, right? Well, not exactly.
The new collective bargaining agreement, when there is one, may call for much shorter maximum contracts, meaning Hughes may not get the same payoff others in his position have received.
"It doesn't bother me," Hughes said. "I signed my [last] deal not worrying about the next deal being up. I signed that deal knowing that I can show people that I'm a much better player than what was thought. I feel like as far as the deal and the money, those things will come. I'm not really concerned.
"I don't think there will be a lockout. I think both sides will get together and fix things. When it's time for me to sign my deal, it will be a done deal," he said.
While Hughes should be a hot name in this upcoming free-agent market, this is a particularly strong year for shooting guards. The list includes Seattle's Ray Allen, Milwaukee's Michael Redd, Phoenix's Joe Johnson, the Los Angeles Clippers' Bobby Simmons and several others. That long list and a strong interest from both Hughes and the Wizards to stick together will likely keep him near the White House for several years to come.
"If I'm back next season, there are definitely a lot of things we can build on,'' Hughes said. "There are definitely a lot of things we can get better at as far as just doing what we do on the court at a higher level."
The difference in this East semifinal series so far has been all the different people Indiana coach Rick Carlisle is running in and out of games. The Pacers' starters have shot poorly the past two games, but they've been given shots in the arm by reserves Jeff Foster (who's playing like he and Dennis Rodman were separated at birth), Anthony Johnson and the Jones boys, Fred and James.
If Detroit is going to extend its season, Brown has to extend his rotation beyond seven and give Carlos Arroyo, Elden Campbell, Ronald Dupree, Darvin Ham, and Darko (well, maybe not Darko) a chance to contribute. Detroit has arguably the best starting five in basketball, but its lack of depth is being exposed, its bench having been outscored by the Pacers' 47-21 in Games 2 and 3 combined.
Western Conference Semifinals
Phoenix 2, Dallas 1
Game 4: Sun., 9:30 ET, at Dallas, ESPN
San Antonio 2, Seattle 1
Game 4: Sun., 7 ET, at Seattle, TNT
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Miami 4, Washington 0
Miami wins series, awaits IND-DET winner
Indiana 2, Detroit 1
Game 4: Sun., 3:30 ET, at Indiana, ABC
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
With 6:04 left in Game 4, Washington point guard Gilbert Arenas fouled out and in frustration tossed his jersey into the stands. The Wizards followed with a 12-1 run to take the lead with 1:15 left but didn't score again in their 99-95, series-ending loss to the Heat.
Dwyane Wade, Miami: If this kid keeps working at it, he's going to be pretty good. In the interim, Miami will gladly take Wade's 42 points -- 22 in the third quarter -- to eliminate Washington in Game 4 and give Shaquille O'Neal another week to rest his thigh before facing Detroit or Indy in the conference finals.
Play of the Day
Jim Jackson joined Steve Nash on the list of ex-Mavs in central roles when Joe Johnson fell face-first to the floor just before halftime in Game 2. Suns coach Mike D'Antoni struggled to find playing time for Jackson in the first two games of the Memphis series in Round 1, but that shouldn't be a problem any more after Jackson logged 42 minutes in Game 3 as Johnson's fill-in.
"He wasn't even breathing heavy," D'Antoni said of the 34-year-old. "He's in remarkable shape. His summer workouts must be incredible."
Jackson amassed 17 points and eight rebounds in the Game 3 victory, including a clutch 3-pointer from the corner early in the Suns' game-turning run in the fourth quarter.
Not that the Suns needed to be convinced that acquiring Jackson from New Orleans in late January was a wise move. Phoenix is Jackson's 10th team since Don Nelson traded him to New Jersey within a month of taking control of the Mavericks' front office in February 1997, but in recent years Jackson's reputation has rebounded. Successful stints with Sacramento and Houston have earned the swingman widespread appreciation throughout the league as a dependable veteran off the bench.
Fact is, Phoenix needs Jackson even when Johnson is healthy. He's the only other thirtysomething besides Nash in the Suns' eight-man rotation.
"We knew it was kind of a no-brainer," D'Antoni said of the Suns' reaction to the opportunity to acquire Jackson.
The deepest team in the NBA is in a fairly deep mess. Dallas coach Avery Johnson didn't hesitate Saturday to call Sunday's Game 4 "must win" for his Mavericks after they were routed in Game 3 by a Phoenix team that got only five points from its bench -- out of 119 total -- and used all five of its starters at least 41 minutes.
With the Suns as vulnerable Friday night as they've been for months, having just lost in the playoffs for the first time and having also lost Joe Johnson to a facial fracture, Dallas surrendered 15 straight points in crunch time to absorb a 119-102 defeat that gave Phoenix a 2-1 lead.
The good news?
Dallas has played its best in the playoffs in desperate situations. The Mavericks rallied from an 0-2 deficit in the first round to outlast Houston, becoming just the fifth team in NBA history to win a seven-game series after losing the first two games at home. The Mavericks then submitted their best road performance of the playoffs Wednesday night to win Game 2 at Phoenix ... after losing the opener by 25.
The bad news?
Phoenix doesn't look tired even though its razor-thin rotation is thinner than ever with Johnson out. "They all looked like they could have played some more," Mavs coach Avery Johnson said of the Suns after Game 3.
Seattle avoided falling behind 3-0 with a one-point win over the Spurs in Game 3, but not all signs point up.
The Sonics are the 25th team in NBA history to lose each of the first two games of a best-of-seven series by 15 or more points. Of the previous 24 teams to do that, only one came back to win the series: the Rockets beat the Suns in seven games in the 1995 Western Conference semifinals after losing 130-108 and 118-94 to start the series.