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Wade weaves magic worth price of ticket

As Dwyane Wade headed toward the Miami Heat locker room, coach Pat Riley grabbed him and planted a kiss on the All-Star guard.

It was an affectionate gesture to be sure, but this was Riley's way of showing his appreciation for Wade, who almost single-handedly saved the Heat from an embarrassing loss to one of the weaker teams in the league.

In this business, we are fortunate to get free access to sporting events. But there are some athletes who are worth paying to see, no matter what the price of admission.

Wade is one of those athletes. He's a transcendent talent, one who is capable of doing magical things every time he steps on the basketball court. Watching him up close, you wonder how in the world four teams could have passed over him in the 2003 draft (You think Detroit is regretting its choice of Darko Milicic with the second pick?).

The Cleveland Cavaliers can't be criticized for taking LeBron James No. 1 overall. Denver is clearly happy with Carmelo Anthony, as is Toronto with Chris Bosh. But only James rates a favorable comparison to Wade from that draft class. And there is a growing legion of NBA observers who believe Wade is better than James.

The man Shaquille O'Neal nicknamed "Flash" was illuminating in the Heat's 98-94 victory over the Toronto Raptors Wednesday, putting all of his many splendid skills on display.

The 6-foot-4 Wade is a human contortionist who twists and turns his body in the oddest ways to get off and make some of the most acrobatic shots you will ever see. He has a great first step off the dribble and explosive leaping ability that allows him to play well around the rim. He's also a solid ballhandler and passer, the consummate playmaker who makes the people around him better.

His greatest intangible is his knack for performing in pressure situations. He has won numerous games for the Heat with last-minute heroics.

He was at it again Wednesday. With O'Neal sidelined with a sore knee, Wade scored 16 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter to help the Heat overcome a 13-point deficit. The sellout crowd at Air Canada Centre left disappointed in the outcome but in awe of what they had just seen.

"He's incredible," Riley said. "That's what we have learned about him, that he's a big-game player, a big-time player at the end. He has no fear at the end and he simply wants to be put in that position. He has a way of making plays. He's just incredible."

The Raptors, who led by as many as 16 points, had plenty of chances to put the Heat away. But they learned the hard way that if you give Wade a chance to beat you he'll do just that.

For much of the game, Wade seemed to do just enough to keep his team in it. But he has a sense for seizing the moment like all the greats have.

Wade isn't known as a great shooter, but he's a great shot maker, especially in the clutch. The only NBA player who rivals him in this area is Kobe Bryant.

"You want to be a guy your teammates depend on," said Wade, who added a spectacular blocked shot in the closing minute Wednesday. "They give me the ball a lot and call a lot of plays for me. With that being said, I try to make different plays on both ends of the floor, especially in the fourth quarter when my team needs it. That's something I do pride myself on and hopefully will continue to make plays."

When O'Neal played for the Los Angeles Lakers, he refused to pass the leadership torch to Bryant. Now that he's in the twilight of his career, Shaq has been more willing to step aside and allow the Heat to become Wade's team.

But O'Neal didn't need to do that. It's a role Wade has earned by his own deeds.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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