<
>

Dwyane Wade as we knew him

When asked about his return -- his return to "Mr. Fourth Quarter," his return to the role of architect (the same one who built the foundation for the "house" the Miami Heat are living in now), the return that not only recently got him shared custody of NBA Player of The Week (with Kobe Bryant) but got everyone talking about him the way we used to before he became seen as Scottie Pippen to LeBron James' Michael Jordan -- Dwyane Wade said to me: "I don't know if I ever left."

Let's start here. No disrespect, but Dwyane Wade, for a minute, did leave us. Since last season he has existed in a state of mediocre greatness where he was no longer being discussed as one of the best basketball players alive. He wasn't close to being 100 percent healthy (recovering from off-season knee surgery) and he was fading deeper into the inescapable eclipse that is LeBron's shadow.

His brilliance came in flashes so sporadic that there was wonder and concern if it -- if he -- would ever come back.

But, if you were paying very, very close attention, a month into the season something happened. Something subtle began to resurrect itself, and D-Wade began to change back to himself. Right around the time January turned into February, Wade's midrange jumper started to fall and his defensive intensity re-emerged. He fell into a rhythm, the same rhythm that he's always claimed his game was predicated on.

Flash's flashes ran closer together; then more frequent; then almost non-stop.

• A 34-point breakout game against the Nets followed a few games later by back-to-back 26 point games against New Orleans and Atlanta, then a 24 point game a few games after that then a 29-point/9-rebound/5-assist game against the Bobcats four games later.

• A 35-point/7-assist eruption versus the Raptors.

• The 39 points he dropped on the Kings.

• Add to those the six steals in the statement game against the Pacers to avenge the last loss they encountered since "the Streak;" he has made a league-high 123 field goals on 73 percent shooting inside five feet during "the Streak" and has averaged 25 points on 57 percent shooting to go along with the almost 6 assists and 5 boards per game over 10 of the last 12 games of "the Streak."

And along with the return of "D-Wade Superstar" came the return of "Mr. Fourth Quarter." An alter-ego allonym given to him years ago in the Pre- "Heat Index" days when he was recognized league-wide (along with Bryant and Paul Pierce) as one of the pound-for-pound title holders of the game's best in the last 12 minutes.

• The birthday game against the Lakers on Jan. 17 in L.A. when he scored the Heat's final nine points in a nine-point victory.

• The seven points in the fourth quarter and six points in OT in that 35-point game versus the Raptors.

• The huge basket against the Knicks that gave the Heat the lead for good after they overcame a 16-point deficit and then finally beat the Knicks for the first time all season.

• Scoring 11 points in the last five minutes (15 in the quarter) in the Heat's four-point win against the Cavs where afterward he ever so diplomatically replaced the objective personal pronoun "me" with the subjective personal pronoun "we:" "I felt like in the first three quarters, I couldn't move," he said in an interview after the win. "But in the fourth, you just find it. … We just turned that other switch on."

On "The Sports Reporters," which basically dedicated a segment of the show to Wade on Sunday, Israel Gutierrez said what everyone was thinking but not saying aloud: "Since the beginning of the streak Dwyane Wade has played -- as good -- as LeBron James."

And while "WOW," the new name he's given himself which is an acronym for "Way Of Wade," may try to shy away from the Jerry West-ish "Mr. Fourth Quarter" he also reinforced that the skills the nickname describes never disappeared.

"Besides health, I just took it upon myself to be more aggressive," he said. "I think the lineup changes [helped] as well. Coach [Erik Spoelstra] put me in at the start of the fourth quarters and I've been able to be in there with the team, have control and have the ball in my hands a lot more to make plays for myself and for my teammates.

"My opportunities have just gotten greater in the fourth quarter. I'm just trying to do whatever it takes to win the game. I'm not going to call myself 'Mr. Fourth Quarter,' I'm just going to say in the fourth quarters, and no matter what is going on in the game, I'm just trying to make a play and make something happen to help my team win."

Now, all of a sudden, the spotlight has readjusted and found itself back on him. Stories in USA Today and on SI.com and in Advertising Age about his upcoming Unilever/Dove commercial campaign. All in the last week. All of a sudden.

This Heat winning streak is special but, it's also something that we know will one game come to an end. What came out of it and may end up being remembered most is how The Baller formerly known as Flash has resurfaced.

For forever. Or at least for the 3½ years he has left on this contract.

(And we wonder why the Heat seem so unbeatable now? They won a championship with a half-of-Wade. This is what they look like -- and probably will continue to look like -- with Dwyane full clip and back close to his old self. This is what he, LeBron and Bosh signed up for and promised they'd show us.)

"There was a general feeling that Dwyane was beginning to lose it," Wade's agent Hank Thomas said without being specific to whom those "general feelings" belonged -- to although I'm sure I was a target based on public comments I'd made about Wade over the past year.

"And that motivated him. He heard all of the things that were being said and (he) basically said, 'I'm not done yet.'"

So not done yet.