Dwyane Wade, Not LeBron James, Emerging as Miami Heat Leader
MIAMI -- It's hard to imagine two-time Most Valuable Player LeBron James -- once the center of the basketball universe -- being anyone's sidekick or set-up man.
It just might be happening here.
This is still Dwyane Wade's town. This is still his team.
Wade, who coaxed both James and Chris Bosh to Miami as free agents this summer, has wasted no time asserting himself as the dominant player on what is expected to be the league's most dominant team.
After missing all but three minutes of the exhibition schedule with a hamstring injury, Wade (shown above in pregame introductions of Friday's contest) has used the first week of the regular season to step confidently into his role as The leader -- not A leader -- of the Miami Heat.
Three games into the season, it's starting to look clear.
After a rocky start in his first game back against Boston, Wade looked like he never left, getting a game-high 30 points, seven rebounds and three steals in Wednesday night's trouncing of Philadelphia.
He followed with a game-high 26 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots Friday in an overpowering show against the Magic.
"I still have a lot of getting better to do,'' Wade said after the 96-70 victory over Orlando. "I have to be who I am. I have to be aggressive out there, not too passive. It's the reason he (James) wanted to come to Miami.''
Wade doesn't have the individual accolades that James does, but he already has the championship (from 2006) that James covets so much, the reason he can confidently assert himself among the trio of stars, despite all the hoopla surrounding James.
There is no reason for him to defer. He was here before the rest arrived. And no matter how many championships this team wins, he will always have one more than LeBron.
"He (Wade) is doing a great job of carrying the load right now,'' Bosh said. "I think eventually LeBron and I will join him.''
James may start looking more like a point guard as the season evolves, more of a triple-double man than the dominant scoring threat he always had to be in Cleveland. That role in Miami will be Wade's.
James had a game-high seven assists and just 15 points Friday. He had a game-high seven assists and 16 points in the victory over Philadelphia. That might be how he best helps the Heat become champions, providing Wade with opportunities to lead.
The days of James leading the league in scoring, like he did when he averaged 30 points during the 2007-08 season, are over. And he knew that when he arrived in Miami to play alongside Wade.
"It's a great luxury we have. There will be times when as an individual, you don't have it going offensively, but that's where you transfer your game,'' James said. "Dwyane had it going tonight. This is what we envisioned.''
Wade keyed the decisive third-period Friday. After James hit a 3-pointer to start the period, Wade followed with back-to-back three-pointers, opening a 15-point lead that never shrunk. He accentuated the rally when he blocked a Dwight Howard shot.
"He had some key baskets,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "What I was encouraged about was obviously the other end of the court. He was as active as he's been in a long time, really covering a lot of ground, getting to the three-point shooters.''
It was Spoelstra, Wade and James, all concurring afterward that the defensive effort is what carried the Heat. Although it's the spectacular scoring plays that made the reputations of Wade and James, it's the defense that they expect to carry them early in the season.
They smothered the Magic Friday night in the second half, using their defensive intensity to set off easy baskets for themselves. What they did Friday was impressive.
"The guys can't go back on this now. They've shown me what they are capable of defensively. I will hold them to this standard now in terms of the effort,'' Spoelstra said. "We should feel good about this win, but we can't get carried away with this.''
In each of the last two seasons, James made the NBA's All-Defense first team. Wade was a second team selection both years. Together now, they have only just begun.
"We came out of the locker room saying that we really wanted to make a statement,'' Wade said. "We accomplished that.''