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Wade and See

Can a more fiery Dwyane Wade take a listless Miami team full of question marks and turn it into a playoff threat?

THE AUDACITY of Dwyane Wade gives the Heat hope that it can still be a playoff contender. In his first start after an extended rehab from off-season shoulder and knee surgeries, Wade led a comeback from a 15-point deficit last Friday in Boston against the undefeated Celtics. With 25 seconds left and Miami trailing 92--91, Wade refused to take a quick shot or pass to an open Ricky Davis; instead, he boldly dribbled down the clock for an all-or-nothing jumper at the buzzer.

His fallaway 21-footer clanged off the back iron, but the next night in New Jersey, Wade delivered the Heat's second win of the season, scoring 23 points in a 91--87 victory over the Nets. In both games his impact was just as significant when the ball wasn't in his hands: He openly admonished teammates after turnovers or defensive lapses. Rather than view the scoldings as divisive, the Heat accepted them as a positive sign that Wade is unwilling to accept a trip to the lottery next spring. "We can't walk on eggshells around each other when we're playing this way," says coach Pat Riley, whose team was 2--8 at week's end, the worst record in the Eastern Conference. "If somebody's not getting it done, I can't be the only voice to reprimand or to make people accountable."

Indeed, Wade even called out center Shaquille O'Neal last Thursday, demanding that he play more aggressively. "Me and Shaq are best of friends, and I didn't say anything in the media that I didn't say to Shaq [in private]," says Wade. "I just want him to be as great as he is."

O'Neal concedes that rebuking him allows Wade to be equally tough on their lesser teammates; in other words, this is not a new outbreak of the Shaq-versus-Kobe virus. "It's sort of like the Magic and Kareem thing," says O'Neal, referring to how a young Magic Johnson would occasionally—and gently—call for more effort from an older Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. "In the fourth quarter [Wade is] going to have the ball, and that's what we all want. I'd rather see a 25-year-old take all the shots than a [35]-year-old with bad knees."

Beset by lingering thigh and knee woes, O'Neal showed some of his old pride by denying that he was entirely to blame for Miami's slow start. "I don't have the same opportunities that I used to have—I'm only averaging nine or 10 shots a game," says O'Neal, who was actually taking a career-low 11.5 attempts per game while scoring 15.2 points. "I don't understand how people expect me to average 27 points on nine shots."

Miami has other issues that are beyond Wade's and O'Neal's control. Can either Davis or impressive rookie guard Daequan Cook emerge as a reliable secondary option? Will the Heat acquire a shooter—Allan Houston, perhaps?—to fill the role of free-agent departures Jason Kapono and James Posey? Is Riley ready to coach a full season for the first time in five years?

Shaq has been burdened by his ongoing divorce, but count on his improving over the second half, as always. And once Wade has played his way back into shape, he won't be missing many more buzzer-beaters—making the Heat one of those teams that others would be happy to avoid in the postseason.

ONLY AT SI.COM New columns four times a week from Ian Thomsen.

Scout's Take

On the Clippers, who were 5--4 at week's end without All-Star power forward Elton Brand and point guard Shaun Livingston, both out with injuries until after the All-Star break:

"The pieces look like they're fitting together nicely. Corey Maggette is attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line; Tim Thomas is getting consistent minutes at power forward as a three-point threat who can also finish in transition. Neither one is a back-to-the-basket player, so they're opening up room for Chris Kaman [in the low post]. And their becoming more of a transition team and getting shots up earlier in the shot clock makes Sam Cassell (above) happier, because he'd rather shoot jumpers than throw it inside to Brand every time."



FLASH POINT Wade helped Riley (below) by demanding more out of O'Neal (inset).



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