Heat's hopes hinge on Wade's health for Game 4

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Miami guard injured his knee during his 42-point effort in Tuesday's victory.

MIAMI -- Favoring a stiff left knee, Dwyane Wade hobbled to the yellow maintenance cart and slipped onto its flatbed. He propped himself up against the front seat and settled back for the short ride to the Heat's locker room.

"Can I drive?" Wade asked. "I always wanted to drive one of these things."

Sorry, not today, he was told.

Wade's request will have to wait. Right now, the only driving Miami wants to see from their flashy guard is toward the basket.

One day after salvaging the Heat's season with a 42-point, 13-rebound performance in Game 3 of the NBA finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Wade spent Wednesday getting treatment on his aching left knee, which he injured when teammate Shaquille O'Neal accidentally fell into his leg.

"I was a little nervous about it this morning," Wade said. "But I'm going to try and go. Hopefully, I can be 100 percent."

Hope isn't enough in these parts. Considering the stakes in Game 4, prayer may be required of the Heat faithful.

Although he wasn't at full speed late in Tuesday's game, Wade brought his team back from the edge of almost certain extinction by scoring 15 points -- 12 over the final 6 minutes, 34 seconds -- in the fourth quarter to rally Miami from a 13-point hole and pull the Heat within 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.

According to the league, it was the second largest fourth-quarter comeback in finals history, and, it was the latest testament to Wade's soaring status as one of the game's best clutch players.

"He's just fabulous," O'Neal said. "He's a great one. And he's so young with a lot of room to improve. It's going to be fun to watch him."

Beg your pardon, Diesel. He already is.

In the final 12 minutes, with a nonexistent margin for error and the stakes as high as possible, Wade, slowed by flu-like symptoms during these playoffs, was magnificent from start to finish.

Seizing control of the game, the 24-year-old simply would not allow the Heat to lose.

With the Mavericks leading 77-68 after three periods, Wade opened the final stanza by draining his lone 3-pointer on Miami's first possession -- a basket that instantly ignited the Heat's comeback chances.

However, less than one minute later, he picked up his fifth foul, a personal that for a moment turned the crowd in AmericanAirlines Arena as white as their playoff-fashionable clothing.

Wade, though, ignored the foul trouble and soreness seeping into his knee to bring the Heat "back from the dead to win," as coach Pat Riley put it.

Wade's virtual one-man show -- his 42 points were the most since Allen Iverson scored 48 and O'Neal 44 in Game 1 of the 2001 finals -- was aided by Dallas' inexplicable collapse down the stretch.

The Mavericks went 2-of-7 from the field, committed five turnovers and were outscored 22-7 over the final 6:15.

"I don't think we let up," said Dallas guard Jason Terry, who began watching an early morning replay of the game in his hotel room but clicked it off at halftime. "We just didn't have that killer instinct. It just wasn't there last night."

The Mavericks aren't panicking. They recognize an opportunity has slipped away, and they're determined not to let the next one sneak by.

"We didn't really come ready to play from the start," said Dirk Nowitzki.

From Riley's perspective, Wade's fourth-quarter heroics were almost expected.

"I think he's probably going to surpass this in his career," Riley said. "People will be talking about a lot more games that he will play that will be memorable. I've seen a lot of them from great players that rose to the occasion when they had to. We're not surprised by what he has the ability to do."

Wade, who is averaging 27 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists in 20 playoff games, believes he'll be ready to go for Game 4 following a day of diligent icing, massage therapy and electric treatments.

"I don't think we've reached the injection stage," said Wade, who has needed painkilling shots for various ailments during past postseasons. I hope not anyway. I'm scared of needles."

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