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Heat Seeker Thanks to rookie Dwyane Wade, Miami is back in the playoff hunt

At Heat practices early this season rookie Dwyane Wade looked as
if he were enduring a hazing ritual. Assistant coaches Bob McAdoo
and Keith Askins would stand at various spots in the lane while
Wade drove to the hoop and assault him with the large blocking
cushions normally used at NFL training camps. They were teaching
him--the hard way--to take the punishment and keep driving
instead of pulling up at the first sign of trouble. "McAdoo has
that Hall of Fame strength, and they would really hit me," says
Wade. "But now on my drives I take the contact and keep going to
the basket."

He's absorbed his lessons well. After struggling to finish at the
beginning of the season, Wade was averaging 17.0 points, 4.4
rebounds and 4.3 assists at week's end while shooting 47.4%,
second among guards to Timberwolves veteran Sam Cassell's 49.8%.
"His continuation when going to the hoop is the best I've ever
seen," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said after watching Wade score 31
points in a 97-85 Miami win last month, a performance that helped
him become the first rookie since Steve Francis in 1999-2000 to
be named his conference's Player of the Week.

In spite of the surprise preseason resignation of coach Pat
Riley, an injury-induced 0-7 start, and an undersized lineup with
6'9" Brian Grant at center, the Heat was 25-35 through Sunday and
in eighth place in the East. Much of the credit goes to the 6'4",
210-pound Wade, who was the No. 5 pick in the draft despite
questions about his shooting and what position he'd play. Says
Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, "The thing he has over most young
players is that he's able to make adjustments."

No rookie, including LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, has
improved more rapidly than Wade, 22, who wondered if he was
athletic enough to beat NBA defenders off the dribble when he
turned pro after two seasons at Marquette. Though he'd never
played point guard, Wade has learned to recognize defenses and
initiate the Heat's new motion offense. Elder teammates are now
counting on him to help lead them to the playoffs for the first
time in three years. "We didn't start out the season running
plays for Dwyane Wade," says Grant. "He's earned that role with
his slashing and cutting."

Wade must improve his three-point shooting (17 of 51 at week's
end) as well as his strength: He has had a variety of injuries,
including a sprained right foot on Sunday that will sideline him
for seven to 10 days. A natural two guard, he'll also have to
adjust as defenses stack up against him. "At the beginning of the
year I was hoping to contribute and feed off my teammates," Wade
says. "Now it's reversed, and the guys are feeding off me."

COLOR PHOTO: JOE MURPHY/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (WADE) The 6'4" Wade has shown a veteran's knack for taking the hit andmaking the shot.