MIAMI — Dwyane Wade got the ball on the left wing, darted toward the basket, leaped to avoid Dwight Howard and dunked from the right side of the rim.
A year ago, a play like that one from Sunday might have been impossible for Wade.
Now, he's looking good as new, at maybe the perfect time for the surging Miami Heat.
LeBron James might be the best player in the world and might be playing like the best player in the world, but he's hardly having to carry the entire load for the Heat these days. While James is on a history-making run of scoring at least 30 points and shooting at least 60 percent in Miami's last five games — all wins — Wade is averaging 24.8 points on better than 50 percent shooting over that same stretch.
And what's weird is, it almost seems as if Wade is doing it quietly.
I know what a problem he is, said the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, who watched Wade score 30 in a Heat win on Sunday. You try to focus in on him as much as you can. They have two very, very special players. Two of the best that we've seen. Dwyane obviously is dealing with injuries starting the year, but he seems to be rounding into form and you saw that breakaway dunk he had — that's the younger D-Wade.
During this Miami winning streak, James and Wade are combining to average 55.8 points a game. Over the same time span, no other NBA 1-2 punch was close.
Tony Parker and Danny Green combined to average 49.3 points for San Antonio. Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire averaged 48.8 points for the New York Knicks. James Harden and Jeremy Lin scored 47.1 per game for Houston. And while the rest of the NBA shot 46 percent during that stretch, the Heat shot 52 percent.
Miami closes its homestand Tuesday against Portland, then is at Oklahoma City for a 2012 NBA Finals rematch before heading into the All-Star break.
And part of the reason why Wade is hurting opponents is because he's hurting less than he has in the past. Wade said months ago that he figured offseason knee surgery would keep him from getting to his best level until about the All-Star break.
Here comes that timeframe, and Wade is flying.
Feeling good, Wade said. Feeling better. I've come in and gotten my work in, taken care of my body and it's working.
Wade is averaging 21.1 points for the season, and if he stays there his average will have dropped for the fourth straight year after a career-best 30.2-point-per-game clip in 2008-09. And that scoring dip has prompted many, including one-time Wade commercial co-star and now often-critic Charles Barkley, to say the 10th-year guard is clearly in a career decline.
Wade publicly laughs off that talk, yet privately seethes about some of that criticism. While his scoring has dipped each year, so have his shots per game — something that he knew would happen when he helped lure James and Chris Bosh to Miami in the summer of 2010.
Wade famously left a huge bit of salary — about $17 million over the lifespan of his contract — on the Heat bargaining table that summer, providing the team with flexibility to not only close the deals with James and Bosh but to add other players. James and Bosh also took less money than they would have been entitled to under the terms of the past collective bargaining agreement.