Saturday, March 7, 2009
The Revenge of Dwyane "Omar" Wade
The way Dwyane Wade has been playing this season, he reminds me of Omar in seasons 1 and 5 of "The Wire." Offended by Baltimore's most prominent and ruthless drug dealers, his crew depleted, HBO's likable stickup artist goes on the hunt for revenge all by his lonesome. He more than held his own, did his share of killing, but was ultimately gunned down.
After two injury marred seasons, in which he missed a combined 62 games, you could almost say people had forgotten Dwyane Wade's name, or at least the way it made them feel only three years ago. And so, a chip on both shoulders, Flash set out this season to refresh memories. He has succeeded. His body leaner than ever, with hops and quickness fully intact and a new weapon - a perfected 20-foot jump shot, his version of Omar's trusty shotgun - at his disposal, Mr. Wade is having one of the best year's of any player this decade.
The one man on a one-man team, Wade has dragged the Heat into contention. They are 33-29, fifth place in the East and only a game and a half out of home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Bet on Wade getting them that spot. Coming into Saturday's game against Cleveland, he was averaging 29.5 points (first in the league), 5.1 rebounds, 7.5 assists (third), 2.2 steals (third) and 1.4 blocks (21st). The points, assists, steals, and blocks are all career-highs. He has scored 40 or more points in a league-best nine games. He is on pace to record the most swats ever for a player 6-4 or shorter.
On February 22nd, he scored a career-best 50 against the Magic in Orlando (albeit in a 23 point defeat). In the nine games heading into Saturday, he was averaging 36.4 points and 10.6 assists on 57.8 shooting from the field! When's the last time anyone put up numbers like that over two weeks?
Always a fearless competitor, Wade has been downright bloodthirsty this year. He's been on a mission. The Heat have a rookie head coach. They start a rookie point guard. Their second leading scorer is a rookie, and he only averages 14 points per game. Their second best player for the first half of the season was Shawn Marion, who's either past his prime at the age of 30 or was simply of greatly diminished value to them in their half-court style of play. Near the trade deadline he was dealt to Toronto in exchange for Jermaine O'Neal, also 30, who is about half the player he once was.
And yet, the Heat remain above water, all because Wade has ascended to a level of play matched by few guards in the last 30 years.
As a pure scorer, Wade, 27, now most closely resembles a first-three-peat-era Michael Jordan. But while MJ was a true two, Wade is a throwback to the 60s, when there was no such thing as "point guard" (well, other than Bob Cousy, I guess) or "shooting guard" - backcourt players were simply called "guards." Thus, we'd have to go back further than 30 years to find the last time a pure "guard" was playing as well: Jerry West, when he was wreaking havoc with the Lakers.
But here's the thing: As we inch closer to the playoffs, we get nearer the time of year when Wade does his best work. He's been a killer since way back, especially in the postseason. He put himself on the map during his sophomore year in college, when he dropped a 29-11-11 on top-ranked, top-seeded Kentucky to advance Marquette to the Final Four (it was only the third triple-double in NCAA tournament history).
His rookie year in the NBA he led a young Miami team that had gone only 42-40 during the regular season to the second round of the playoffs, where they gave a 61-win Indiana team all they could handle and he authored his famous facial on Jermaine O'Neal, one of the best postseason posterizations of the decade (you may also remember the game-winner he hit against the Hornets in the first round - sorry, Baron).
The next year he (along with Shaq) got the Heat within a game of the Finals, and the following spring he would take down all comers - his performance in the championship series against Dallas one of the greatest of all-time (35, 8, and 4 in a 4-2 win for Miami). 'Bron, Howard, Paul, even Kobe - none of them has a Finals MVP trophy. He does.
In other words, if you are an East playoff team, you should have a healthy fear of Mr. Wade this spring. He may be outnumbered, but as he's been showing us all year, he's still got it. In fact, he's more dangerous than ever. Wade's been kicking ass all year, but what better way for him provide exclamation for his mini-comeback than to win a series in the playoffs, then make one of the East's big dogs sweat some in the second round.
It'd be like watching Omar terrorize Marlo Stanfield and crew by himself. Maybe the odds would beat him in the end, but it would nonetheless make for some riveting TV.