Posted Jun 7 2011 8:10AM
DALLAS -- At this point with the Heat, it's not about whose team it is. It's about whose turn it is.
Last playoff series, it was LeBron James' turn. This series, it's Dwyane Wade's -- so far, anyway. With these two stars, when it comes to who gets dibs in the final few trips downcourt in a tight game, everything is subject to change at any minute. And why not? Each player is blessed with the skills and mentality required to close out a game. Everyone on the outside seems obsessed with who should and should not have the ball in that situation, everybody except the two players who usually do.
"We trust each other," said Wade, and by now, isn't that evident about this tag-team partnership?
Other teams in the past had an understanding between their stars. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, just to name a few. One player would be the designated guy, the other would fill that role only on occasion. James and Wade are breaking all those old rules and making their own. They're setting new standards for compatibility and workability.
As a result, the simple mathematics in the NBA Finals are favoring the Heat. The Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki, their one dangerous guy in the moment of truth. Miami has two for sure, three if you believe in Chris Bosh, who made the game-winning shot Sunday. Even more remarkable, there is no visible tug-of-war between James and Wade, no clash of egos or battle of wills about being the savior.
Actually, this really shouldn't come as a surprise. LeBron proved for seven years that he was one of the most unselfish scorers you'll ever see. And Wade is generous by nature.
Remember a few weeks ago when the public declared James the best closer on the team after the Eastern Conference finals? That was fine with Wade.
"Obviously I struggled in the Chicago series," he said.
And with the same public now shifting its allegiance to Wade, here in The Finals? LeBron doesn't seem to care.
"We've always said that whoever has it going, we go to," James said. "D-Wade had it going (Sunday). I've had it going at points in this postseason, where they've come to me and I've been able to close for our team."
With Wade carrying the ball for the Heat, at least offensively, in all the key moments of this championship series, the narrative -- should the Heat claim the NBA title -- will be all about Wade teaching James how to be a champion. And to an extent, that is true. How can LeBron know what it takes to win, when he hasn't yet, while Wade already wears a ring and won a Finals MVP award?
"Being young, I wasn't ready for the preparation for the NBA Finals (in 2007 with the Cavs)," James said. "So it is great when you are around guys who have been in this moment and who actually got to the mountaintop, to lean on (them) at times."
Wade has taken it upon himself to be assertive, a leader, a pain in the rear if he must, with his teammates in this series. And that goes for James, too. All season long, Wade and James made it a point to call the other one out if necessary. Obviously, this is made possible by their mutual respect and friendship. It wouldn't work without that. It would cause major friction. And it shows the maturity of James, a two-time MVP, to allow Wade to speak to him in any tone and on any terms without lashing back. James has allowed himself to be humbled on the floor, in public for everyone to see. When Wade saw what he thought was passive play by LeBron on Sunday, he spoke up.
Wade: "I've been here before. I don't want none of these guys to walk away and say if we had done this or that ... if you get beat, you get beat because you put it all out there and did everything you said you wanted to do. You don't want to leave nothing to chance."
When LeBron made the decision to join Wade in Miami, he did so knowing he'd have to yield to Wade at times. He knew he'd never be as popular in Miami as Wade. How many former MVPs would willingly do that while still in their prime? It showed James was serious about his intentions all along, that he came to Miami to win titles.
He was asked yesterday about public criticism over his role in Game 3, when LeBron took only three shots in the fourth quarter, appeared passive overall and threw the ball to Bosh for the game-winner. Does he feel he can't win?
"I did win," he said. "We won (the game). That's all it's about."
Overlooked in Game 3 was the energy LeBron spent on defense keeping Jason Terry in check in the fourth quarter. Terry even said he wasn't sure how long LeBron could continue being such a major factor on both ends late in games.
"We're going to see if he can do it for seven games," said Terry. "A lot of guys can't. A lot of guys wear down."
Had LeBron stayed in Cleveland, there would be no doubt. He would not be able to hold up. Something would give. Here with the Heat, LeBron has the luxury of taking only three shots in the fourth quarter and walking off the court with a victory.
He can do that because of Wade. And vice-versa. There was a big fear throughout the NBA when they became teammates, a fear that Wade and LeBron wouldn't allow ego to wedge between them when it came time to close games.
We see why.
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