DALLAS Dwyane Wade grabbed LeBron James late in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the NBA finals, one Miami Heat star telling the other that he could play better.
Wade did the talking. James did the nodding.
And heres some likely unpleasant news for the Dallas Mavericks: Wade might be right.
Heres what constitutes what some might consider a down series for James so far: 20.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6 assists per game on just over 50 percent shooting from the field. James, as hes done most of the season, is shrugging off the criticism. The Heat are two wins from an NBA championship, and to James thats the only number that matters now.
Anybody that knows me throughout the years, all I care about is the W no matter if Im scoring, James said Monday. Im not just a scoring guy. Ive got a lot of points in my career. I have had some teammates who have given me great confidence and ability to go out there and score a lot of points. But Ive done other things. I dont have to score points to be effective.
So true, as proven by this nugget. James had 17 points and nine assists in Miamis win over Dallas in Game 3 on Sunday night. Since December, when James has posted at least that many points and that many assists in a game, the Heat are 15-1.
He averaged 38.5 points in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals, and his Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Orlando Magic anyway. Not wanting to try and carry the workload alone any more, James came to Miami last summer, and the rest soon may be championship history. The Heat have three players Wade, James and Chris Bosh averaging more than 16 points in these finals. Dallas just has one, Dirk Nowitzki. Want a reason why the Heat lead this series 2-1? Try that.
Game 4 is tonight in Dallas.
And the Mavericks, well, the last thing they want to see is more production from the two-time MVP.
First of all, hes playing both ends of the floor, Nowitzki said Monday. They keep sticking him on (Jason Terry) in the fourth quarters, and hes been doing a good job. Jet hasnt really been a crunch-time, clutch player for us the way we need him to. So hes done a good job. Look, Wade has been great in the fourth quarter, so LeBron is being more of a facilitator. It worked so far.
That was the formula Miami used in Game 3.
James has a total of nine points in fourth quarters so far in the finals, shooting 3-for-11. For comparisons sake, he averaged 9.8 points in the fourth in the 2007 finals, when he led the Cavaliers there. Cleveland got swept anyway.
In Game 3 against Dallas, James had four assists in the fourth quarter, including the one that set Bosh up for the game-winner with 39.6 seconds to play. Plus, his defense against Terry held the Mavs sixth-man to 0-for-4 shooting in the final 12 minutes Sunday night.
Im welcoming the challenge, Terry said. Again, were going to see if he can do it for seven games. Thats going to be the challenge. Right now, its Game 4. Can he do it again in Game 4? He wasnt able to do it in Game 2. He did it again in 1 and 3. So Game 4 is another opportunity. ... A lot of guys wear down. So well see.
Thats part of Wades challenge to James and the rest of the Heat: Dont wear down now.
He told the team at the beginning of the finals to savor the opportunity, because even though this team was put together with an eye on multiple title shots, Wade wants to assume nothing. In short, hes passing along the wisdom he collected from the likes of Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille ONeal during the last Miami title run in 2006.
Ive been here before, Wade said. Ive experienced a very weird tough series before to win the championship. I dont want none of these guys for us to walk away and say if we would have did this or would have did that. If you get beat, you get beat because you put it all out there and did everything you said you wanted to do. When those moments are happening, I feel like its my time to step up.
Jason Kidd understands what Wade is doing better than most Mavs might.
Kidd and Wade have been USA Basketball teammates in the past, so the Dallas starting point guard knows what sort of impact the 2006 NBA finals MVP can have when he decides its time to say something.
I think hes learned that hes the voice now, and that he has to talk to guys and tell them what hes looking for them to do, and theyre doing it, Kidd said. That just shows hes the leader and he understands how important it is this time of the year to talk. And when he does talk, guys are going to listen.