Sunday , May , 15 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Wade continues to shine in playoffs

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor.

(Sports Network) – Miami’s Dwyane Wade had a stellar regular season, and has continued his phenomenal play in the playoffs.

Wade showed that he is capable of taking a team on his back and winning in the postseason, as he led Miami to victories in Games 3 and 4 over Washington in the conference semifinals without superstar center Shaquille O’Neal. The All- Star guard averaged 36.5 points, eight rebounds and five assists in the two contests for the Heat, who swept the Wizards and earned their second post- season sweep in franchise history.

Miami, which eliminated New Jersey in four straight in the first round and has won eight in a row in the playoffs, was able to rest O’Neal, who has been hampered by a thigh injury, during the two games against the Wizards at the MCI Center because of the unbelievable ability of Wade.

Originally selected out of Marquette by Miami in the first round (fifth overall) of the 2003 NBA Draft, Wade, who averaged 24.1 points, 5.2 boards and 6.8 helpers, leads the Heat in scoring (28.6 ppg) and assists (8.4 apg) in this year’s playoffs. He has also pulled down 6.6 boards per game in the postseason, and is playing just under 42 minutes per contest.

The addition of Shaq has absolutely made Wade, who posted 16.2 points and 4.5 assists during his rookie campaign in 2003-04, a better and more productive player. The Marquette product has been able to take advantage of the space that O’Neal creates when he is on the court, as well as the double and triple teams that the All-Star center receives when he is positioned in the low post.

Without O’Neal on the court in the two games against Washington, Wade took control at points of the contests and was able to carry his team onto victory. He logged 44 minutes in Game 3 and 42 in Game 4, made key shots throughout the games and never allowed his club to lose its composure. The second-year pro performed like a seasoned veteran.

Wade, who played very well for the Heat in last season’s playoffs, drained big shots during the 13-game run during the 2004 postseason for Miami, which was eliminated in six games in the conference semifinals by Indiana. He obviously gained valuable experience from last year’s games, as he wants the ball in his hands when the game is on the line and seems to excel in crunch time when his team needs a basket or a big stop on defense.

With the Heat down by four heading into the third quarter in Game 4 against the Wizards, the 6-4 guard showed his playoff savvy and uncanny ability to carry the team on his back. He scored 22 of his franchise single-game playoff- record 42 points in the frame, as Miami outscored Washington 40-25 and went on to win the game, 99-95, and clinch the series.

“It was an incredible third quarter by an incredible player,” said Miami head coach Stan Van Gundy about Wade’s performance in Game 4 against the Wizards. “I almost hated to take him out because he was on such a roll but I had to give him some rest.

“I think in the fourth quarter when he came back he had carried such a big load that he was really tired. Obviously he was fabulous the whole series, particularly the two games here – to step up and have games like that with Shaq not being able to play.”

The 23-year-old Wade knew how crucial it was for the Heat to finish off Washington in four and get Shaq some extra time off to heal his injured thigh.

“It was very important,” said Wade after Game 4 against the Wizards about winning without O’Neal. “It was something that we all came in really wanting to do and to give him some rest where he can get back and be the ‘Diesel’ that we all know that he can be. This was a team victory. Even though Shaq didn’t play, he was just as big a part of these two wins as anyone who played and he knows that.”

Wade is a superstar and is playing like one of the top players in the NBA. He is a leader and has the special ability to make his teammates better players when he is on the court.

“The main thing is that when things are going bad, I have to calm my teammates down and make plays that need to be made,” said Wade. “That is the most important part of my leadership.”

With Wade leading the way and Shaq by his side, the Heat, who will play in the Eastern Conference finals for the second time in franchise history, could be headed for their first appearance in the NBA Finals.