Hottest of the Heat
Electrifying Wade sets league on fire
There were days, not long ago, when the only reason to watch the Celtics was to see one of the big stars playing for the visiting team. The Celtics couldn't sell their own product, so they tried to pull you in with the likes of Shaq or Kobe or Allen Iverson.
Now you go to watch the home team. And it's OK if the Green are playing some anonymous Bucks or Grizzlies.
Tonight you get both. You get to see the defending champs and you get to see the league's leading scorer: Dwyane Wade.
Wade is a singular sensation. He is leading the NBA with a 29.9-point average, he has taken his team from a 15-win season to the middle of the playoff pack in NBA East, and he has injected himself into the 2008-09 MVP debate - no small achievement in a league dedicated to the feats of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
King James and Crybaby Kobe are always going to get their props, but D-Wade has made himself impossible to ignore. Every time you flip on ESPN, there is Wade flying through the air, legs cycling, throwing in an overtime buzzer-beater. He dropped 50 points on the heads of the Utah Jazz in a triple-overtime win. And there was that spectacular running three that beat Chicago at the buzzer in double OT.
"It's no secret that we feel he's playing at the best level of anybody in the league right now," said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra (pass Go and collect $200 if you knew that this young man is coach of the Heat).
"We feel that what he's been doing for us, impacting games in close fourth quarters and overtimes - he's helped win games for us in those situations at both ends of the floor. Blocks, steals, loose balls, and obviously scoring. We feel like he's been doing that more than anybody else in the league."
Wade is humble about the MVP argument. Only 27, he has been around for five seasons and he has already won an NBA title and Olympic gold.
"I've been talked on a lot with LeBron and Kobe lately, and it's great to hear," he said after a midday practice at Emerson College yesterday. "The whole MVP thing, for me to be in the conversation after what I went through last year [coming back from shoulder and knee surgeries], is gratifying.
"MVP talk comes with success. We've got a good team and I want the team to be in the race, so I've got a bigger burden on my hands than the other two to stay in that race. Those guys are on 50-plus-win teams. We're still trying to fight for position in the playoffs, so I've got to do a little bit more to go to stay in that race."
The Heat have been in Boston since Sunday night. By NBA standards, this makes them eligible to vote in Massachusetts. Pro basketball teams are often in a city for less than 24 hours. Wade & Co. came to the Hub after a loss in Philadelphia, and Spoelstra gave them the day off Monday. Wade did not walk the Freedom Trail.
"It was a rest day, a day to get away from basketball," he said.
He took treatment for his shoulder, knee, and hip. And he watched a lot of "SportsCenter."
"I'm an ESPN guy," he said. "A movie guy. Jacuzzi. Our strength coach keeps us busy."
If he's hanging around in his hotel room, with "SportsCenter" looping in the background, does his head snap to attention when they cut to the latest D-Wade highlights?
"Of course you watch it," he said. "But right now it's all about March Madness."
Like Doc Rivers, Wade is a Marquette man. Six years ago this week, Wade was on the Marquette team that beat Holy Cross, 72-68, in the first round of the NCAA tourney.
"We rolled after that," he remembered. "But besides losing to Kansas [in the national semifinals], that was our toughest game. We got to worry about Utah State right now.
"Doc always talks to me about the Warriors, but I remind him that I'm a Golden Eagle. He was a Warrior.
(Marquette caved to pressure and switched nicknames in 1994.)
This is Miami's first trip to Boston this year. One week ago, the Heat beat the undermanned Celtics, 107-99, in Miami.
"It's going to be rockin' here," said Wade. "We know how we play in front of our home crowd, and this is going to be a very tough atmosphere for us.
"We know we won't see them in the first round, but maybe later in the second round. Something like that. Hopefully, we stay out of their way for the first round. Hopefully, we stay in that 4-5 range, maybe meet them later.
"Last year they had a lot of players on their team that hadn't won a championship and it seemed like it took them forever to get it. It's even tougher to repeat. Something we experienced. When you're the champions, you're every team's big game and they get up for you no matter what. It's very tough, especially not having all your guns."
Wade won his championship with Shaquille O'Neal. Now he's on the comeback trail with Jermaine O'Neal. Smaller guy. Big difference.
"He is getting more comfortable in the offense," said Wade. "It's the vision of when he came here, to have that 1-2 punch with the pick-and-roll. Or you throw it into the post and let him work. It's very tough to defend.
"Kind of pick your poison. Blitz me and I have the opportunity to throw it to him or let me come off for the open jumper. It's something we envisioned when the trade happened."
Plans for last night?
"I've heard good things about St. Patrick's Day in Boston," Wade said. "But my plan is to stay out of the way."
Different plan tonight at the Garden.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.