MIAMI - Ever since the retirement of Michael Jordan, the temptation to anoint someone his successor has been irresistible. Many have flirted with the title, but few have drawn as many comparisons as Heat guard Dwyane Wade lately.
Wednesday, a day after he stunned the Dallas Mavericks with a fourth-quarter flurry reminiscent of some of the NBA's great postseason performers, Wade had a message for all those who wish to connect him with His Airness.
"Like I always say, no one should be compared to M.J., man, and there will only ever be one M.J., that's it," Wade, 24, said. "I'm not him. Only thing I can do is try to be the best player that I am and hopefully it's good enough."
Good? Try great. Try 15 of his 42 points in the final quarter. With five fouls. With a throbbing knee. With his team facing the possibility of 3-0 title series hole. He even swatted away Dirk Nowitzki's desperation lob to Josh Howard at the buzzer, preventing the potential tying basket.
If Wade follows that with anything of the sort in tonight's Game 4, the M.J. comparisons will only become more inescapable. In fact, they already are - even from his coaches and teammates.
"I always tell people there is nothing new under the sun," said Bob McAdoo, a Heat assistant and member of the Hall of Fame. "I saw Walt Frazier do it, I saw Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) do it, I saw Jordan do it, Oscar Robertson did it. Now, it's Dwyane's turn. Dwyane is the new wave of guy who can get it done on a big stage at crucial times. He's the new Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, whatever.
"I've been fortunate enough to watch basketball from the '60s up to now, and it's Dwyane's time."
But much like Wade and the Heat had to overcome the 13-point deficit late in Game 3, Wade will have much to overcome tonight - namely his left knee injury. He walked with a noticeable limp Wednesday after awaking with significant pain in the area Shaquille O'Neal inadvertently fell on during Tuesday's game.
"Early in the third (quarter), when it first happened, it led me to push off of it," said Wade, who did not practice Wednesday. "But as I got it loose, my adrenaline kept going. I didn't have my explosiveness but I was able to make plays off of it.
"But going to bed at night and waking up, it's very stiff and very sore. So, only thing I can continue to do is do what I'm ordered to do and that's a lot of icing and (stimulation) all day. ... So, you know, I'm hoping."
If this sounds familiar, it should.
Last season in the Eastern Conference final against Detroit, the 6-foot-4, 212-pound Wade was unable to pull off a feat similar to the one he managed Tuesday largely because of a rib muscle strain that severely restricted his movement. And this season, he played through a hip injury in the first round, then was affected by a serious sinus infection in the days leading up to the start of the Finals.
"I can't even explain it," Wade said. "Wrong place, wrong time. I don't know. I don't dwell on it anymore. I don't sit down and try to question why."
To compound the problem, Wade is playing the longest season of his life (tonight will be Miami's 103rd game), and he was visibly fatigued Tuesday, particularly because of the amount of energy he had to expend late in the game. Ideally, he gets some help tonight from the Heat's role players, several of whom made key contributions to help seal Game 3.
"If he gets tired, then we'll go to the Big Fella (O'Neal)," forward Udonis Haslem said. "We have other guys. But obviously, he's our main option offensively."
Just like Jordan.
"I don't think it's fair to compare anybody to Jordan," Dallas' Jerry Stackhouse said. "There's been a lot of guys who have had great games or great quarters and it doesn't mean that they're going to be the next or anywhere close to Michael Jordan. But as far as the possibility and the talent being there, I think he's definitely right there."