Originally created 05/15/04

Move over LeBron and Melo, Dwyane's starring in the playoffs



INDIANAPOLIS -- Lamar Odom was at a loss when asked to describe teammate Dwyane Wade's impact this postseason.

"There was one rookie, it was like 1980," Odom said. "The championship game, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went out, and Magic Johnson put up (42) points, (15) rebounds and so on and so on. But Dwyane Wade is Dwyane Wade."

After toiling in the shadows of his more celebrated classmates - LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony - all season, Wade has snatched the spotlight with a sparkling playoffs.

Wade is one of just four rookies - joining Michael Jordan, Stephon Marbury and Billy Ray Bates - to lead his team in scoring and assists in the postseason since the shot clock inception in 1954-55.

He is averaging 17.6 points and 5.5 assists in the playoffs and 21.5 points in the four second-round games against Indiana.

His poise and tenacity are two big reasons the Heat and Pacers are even heading into Saturday's Game 5.

And much like Magic, Wade is depended upon to lead the way. While Odom's emergence as an explosive scorer has been a key for Miami, Wade is the unquestioned leader of this group.

"He's out there playing amazing for us," Heat center Brian Grant said. "His heart, his effort. We're going to need that from him. He's one of the main reasons we're even in the position we're in now."

That was never more evident than in Game 3 in Miami.

The Pacers tied the game at 72 midway through the fourth quarter, threatening to take a nearly insurmountable 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

But Wade scored 14 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, including a posterizing dunk over Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal to help keep the Heat alive.

"Dwyane's just an extremely confident guy who has really risen to the occasion here in the playoffs," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He's not afraid of anything, obviously."

And for a player who few believed could play point guard when he was drafted out of Marquette with the fifth overall pick, Wade has shown a knack for breaking down one of the NBA's top defenses off the dribble and creating open shots for teammates.

"We don't allow very much dribble penetration, especially down the middle," O'Neal said. "And we've been allowing that this series. We have to definitely change that."

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle credited Heat president Pat Riley for having the vision to see the 6-foot-4, 212-pound Wade as a point guard.

"There wasn't anybody else that was drafting that saw that," Carlisle said. "Now they got themselves a guy similar to a LeBron James or a Magic Johnson because he has size, great athletic ability and he's a winner. The guy's playing at an All-Star level right now."

That he's even playing at all puts him a step ahead of James and Anthony, who trounced him in the Rookie of the Year voting.

Anthony struggled during his Denver Nuggets' first-round loss to Minnesota while James' Cleveland Cavaliers didn't even make the playoffs.

"This time of the year, late in the year, when no one's playing, I like playing. I like being on this stage," Wade said. "I don't think I'm learning anything about myself, but I think a lot of other people are learning about me."

The only blemish has been his 4.3 turnovers per game, something Wade expects to go down as he gets more comfortable playing the point.

"He can do a lot of great things on the basketball court," Carlisle said. "A lot of our efforts over the last day-and-a-half have been to do what we can to try to limit those."

More important than any dunk or shot, Wade has imposed his fearless attitude and relentless competitiveness on his teammates.

"He's ferocious," Grant said. "As Bob McAdoo would put it, an alpha male. One of those guys that's just going to attack, attack, attack. We need that from Dwyane. People feed off that."