MIAMI — Remember Dwyane Wade? He’s the guy who once made People magazine’s list of the world’s 50 most beautiful people, once starred in cell phone commercials with Charles Barkley and once was one of the best players in the NBA.
Well, he’s still one of the best. It’s just he’s dropped far enough behind Miami Heat teammate LeBron James that he sometimes gets forgotten.
Then again, everybody in the NBA these days has fallen behind James.
James on Sunday had yet another phenomenal game in leading the Heat to a 107-97 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at AmericanAirlines Arena. While scoring a game-high 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting, he became just the third NBA player ever to have five straight games of scoring 30 points while shooting 60 percent or better.
But if Wade hadn’t done what he did Sunday, Miami might not have won.
“He’s been making so much history, so I’m glad I could be in a little bit with him,” Wade quipped after the game.
Wade scored 30 points while shooting the same 12-of-18 as James. But he actually scored his points at a more pivotal time than James.
With 10:08 left in the game and the Heat nursing an 80-78 lead, Wade checked in for James in order to provide him a break of a few minutes. Wade immediately took over, scoring nine straight points to give the Heat an 89-82 lead.
“Coach lately has kind of played with that lineup a little bit,” Wade said. “He’s putting me out there a little more when LeBron is on the bench. So I take it upon myself to really lead that unit. Sometimes, it’s to be very aggressive offensively. … I came in with the mentality I was going to shoot.”
James eventually returned with 7:15 left and the Heat having that seven-point lead. Wade soon shifted his mentality to defense.
With the Heat up 89-84, he picked off a pass from Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and, while falling out of bounds, blindly flicked the ball to teammate Chris Bosh. Bosh got the ball to Norris Cole, who headed upcourt. Cole then passed behind him to James, who threw down an arena-shaking dunk for a 91-84 lead with 5:58 remaining.
“Norris just threw it to the moon, and LeBron was able to go get it,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
Since James has been playing out of this world lately, it wasn’t a problem. It was yet another spectacular play during an unbelievable five-game stretch.
When James made his first five field-goal attempts of the afternoon, he was in a stretch since last Sunday in which he had made 42 of 52 shots. After finishing 7 of 13, a pedestrian closing run by James’ standards, he’s made 49 of his past 65 attempts.
“If a guy is up on me, I try to drive,” said James, who joined Adrian Dantley (1979) and Moses Malone (1982) as the only two guys ever to have five straight games of 30 or more points along with 60-percent shooting. “If a guy backs up, I try to shoot. … Offensively, I’m just comfortable.”
James, who also became the first player in Miami history to have five straight 30-point games, was nonchalant is describing one of the greatest stretches seen in recent NBA seasons. Even Bryant, who could be ho-hum about other players since he’s been named to 15 straight All-Star Games, was in awe.
“(James is) playing exceptional basketball. … It’s sensational,” said Bryant, who wasn’t too shabby himself Sunday with 28 points and nine assists. “It’s important he’s added to his game. He has the ability to square up and shoot. He seems to have a lot of confidence in his jumper, which opens up the rest of his game.”
Through James’ amazing stretch, Wade has been a bit forgotten. But Wade, who recently said James is playing so well he’s now the best player in the “galaxy,” is content playing second fiddle to a teammate who no longer adequately can be described by earthling terms.
“It’s fine,” said Wade, 31. “I’m not looking for headlines, but I’ve been playing all right. So he can have all the headlines, man, that’s cool. We’re a team here. He deserves it. I’ll just continue to try to get better behind the scenes.”
Think about it. The shooting guard is a nine-time All-Star, which ties him with James among active players for the most consecutive All-Star berths behind Bryant. Yet Wade merely is the best supporting actor on the Heat.
“You guys overlook him,” James said to reporters. “We don’t. We understand how great he is.”
Bryant echoed those thoughts. He also mentioned that Wade, who had a slow start to the season while coming back from offseason knee surgery, is looking lately like the “younger D-Wade.”
With Wade turning back the clock, perhaps People, which put Wade on its list in 2005, might want to revisit that. As for Wade starring in commercials again with Barkley, who ripped the guard’s play earlier this season, that’s more unlikely.