Cavaliers As they look forward to being opponents for the first time this season, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade find themselves in an odd juxtaposition.
Forever linked as contemporaries from the 2003 draft class, the two superstars have switched places in the NBA hierarchy.
Early in their careers, Wade was on the better and more veteran team that fought its way to the top. He proved to be the difference-maker in the 2006 Finals, leading the Heat to its first-ever title.
Meanwhile, James was working on building up the Cavs from the bottom, taking them from the worst team in the league to a contender. Now, it is Wade who is rehabbing his franchise, while James is trying to reach the ultimate goal of a championship.
"He wants [a ring]. Until he gets one, I am going to continue to have that over him," Wade said Saturday as the Heat prepared for a home-and-home with the Cavaliers, starting today at The Q. "I am sure he can't wait to get one so he can even that score. He has an opportunity to do it with the team he has, but it's going to be tough."
This already has been quite a season for Wade, though. He may have been a member of the Redeem Team last summer in China, but it was also a personal redemption mission for him as well. The Olympics turned into an unexpected re-coming-out party. It's unusual that a player with five years' experience, an NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award and a Team USA captainship has to prove himself on such a stage. But that is where the Miami Heat star found himself.
As Wade worked out at a private gym in Chicago last spring attempting to get ready for the Olympics, rumors leaked out that he was struggling. Recovering from shoulder and knee surgeries, he had even doubted himself at times, wondering whether a freak accident in Houston two years ago and all those hard fouls and rough landings had taken a severe toll.
When it was over, though, and the gold medal was around Wade's neck, there were no more questions, just answers: He was indeed back.
Although James was huge in his leadership role and on defense, Kobe Bryant performed heroics in the gold medal game and Jason Kidd proved to be the unselfish trend-setter, Wade emerged as the biggest winner in Beijing. He carried Team USA at times, coming off the bench and showing not only that he hadn't lost a step, but that he may be better than ever.
"He's worked very hard to get back and he's playing really well," James said of Wade. "He was great for us over in China and he's carried it over to the season. I'm real happy for him that he's healthy again."
Now, Wade is trying to do the same with the Heat, who are emerging from a horrific 2007-08 season in which they had the worst record in the NBA. They traded Shaquille O'Neal and shut Wade down. Pat Riley gave up his coaching duties for good.
With a new group of teammates to lead, especially promising rookies Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers, Wade and the Heat are back. They already have won more games this season than last, and currently have the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference.
Wade is leading the NBA in scoring at 28 points a game, is shooting 49 percent from the field as has extended his range. As a result, he has the Heat thinking about the playoffs again.
"The Cavs are trying to be as good as they can, to be in the conversation with the best teams in the league," Wade said. "We are trying to get some separation from the middle of the pack."
Szczerbiak out: The Cavs will be without Wally Szczerbiak for both games against the Heat. Szczerbiak banged his right knee several times over the last few games and it has been bothering him, prompting the Cavs to order an MRI scan on Friday.
It revealed a bruise and Szczerbiak is going to be shut down for about a week to let it rest.
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