Although the Miami Heat came within a Game 7 victory in Toronto two seasons ago of almost making it happen, Dwyane Wade said he and LeBron James have never talked about what it would it be like to face each other in the playoffs.
The two future Hall of Famers, former Miami Heat teammates and three-time NBA champions, though, are on the verge of facing that reality.
With essentially a two-game lead over the Bucks (42-37) and Wizards (42-37) because it owns tiebreakers, the Heat (43-36) is in prime position with three games to go to finish as the No. 6 seed in the conference. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are a Friday night road victory away against the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers (48-30) from pretty much locking up the No. 3 seed.
So, what would it be like for Wade to face LeBron in the playoffs? Would it be the ultimate test of their friendship?
“I don’t know. That’s a good question,” Wade said Friday as the Heat wrapped up morning shootaround.
“I know that we will have our work cut out for us. Anybody who plays LeBron in the playoffs, you’ve got your work cut out. So, I think for me it would be more so thinking about what we have to do to try to limit the greatest player in the game and arguably one of the greatest of all time and try to come out with the David-vs.-Goliath situation, how we can come out with a win in the series. So, I won’t really be concerned with playing against one of my best friends. I’ll be thinking about what I have to do to try to help this team win.”
Wade, 36, won two titles and made four consecutive trips to the Finals playing alongside James and Chris Bosh from 2011 to 2014. Wade’s head-to-head record versus James in the regular season is 15-15.
Wade was James’ teammate at the start of this season before Cleveland overhauled its roster at the trade deadline and the Heat reacquired Wade for a second round pick in 2024.
Would Wade’s knowledge of the Cavs’ system help the Heat?
“What does it matter?,” he said. “The playbook for the Cavaliers is LeBron James, and then everything else. No one has been able to download him for 15 years. Obviously, teams have beat him, greater teams from the standpoint of what Golden State has been able to do, etcetera, San Antonio at a certain time. But no one has been able to download LeBron.”
Despite the trade, Wade and James’ friendship has remained as strong as ever. In the Heat’s win at home over Cleveland last month, the two shared a warm embrace after the game.
A first round playoff series, though, would likely create radio silence between them.
“We know when the playoffs come LeBron goes dark,” Wade said. “So, I won't even be worried about communicating with him until after its over or the Finals are over. It was not a concern from an emotional standpoint. I mean we’re friends and we have a great relationship, but when playoffs come and games come — especially playoffs — it’s very different than the regular season.
“Like I said, for me and this young team, we’ll have our work cut out for us. So that will be my focus and my goal — to lock into my teammates what we have to do to dethrone the team and individual that’s run the Eastern Conference the last whatever years.”
One thing the Heat can hang its hat on: it has not lost to a LeBron-led Cavaliers team at home since 2010.
Veteran Udonis Haslem, who has spent all 15 seasons of his career with the Heat, said facing James in the playoffs “would not be weird at all.”
“It feels like even though it wasn’t too long ago it seems like it was long ago,” Haslem said of the last time James was in a Heat uniform. “We’ll always have those memories. He’s the ultimate competitor, and it would be great to see him compete against my guys.
“However we get to the Finals, whether it’s through LeBron or not, we’ll take it. But if we have to go through those guys, why not. Like I said, to be the best you’ve got to go through the best.”
▪ While Wade said he was definitely intrigued and hopeful he would get a chance to face James in the playoffs two seasons ago when the Raptors eliminated Miami in the conference semifinals, there’s another head-to-head postseason matchup that was No. 1 on his wish list for years.
“For me, it was more so wishing I had an opportunity to play against Kobe in the Finals,” Wade said. “That was the thing that would have been cool for me then.”
▪ Wade, James Johnson and All-Star Goran Dragic, who all sat out Wednesday’s win over the Hawks to heal up from nagging injuries, will be available Friday to play against the Knicks.
Wade said his sore right elbow, which he fractured last season, and his left wrist feel a little bit better, but the rest didn’t provide as much relief as he wanted it to.
“I want to get out there,” Wade said. “With my elbow, it’s something I had to deal with off and on at certain moments since it happened. But I don’t whine about it. I just go out there and some nights it’s not feeling the way I need it to feel. But that’s a part of the fracture that I had and that a part of the things the doctor said I might have to deal with over the course, etc. so.
“[The wrist] I’m not really concerned with, if I fall on it, yeah, it’s going to be sore. You look around, everyone’s dealing with something this time of the year. If Goran can get out there and play, anybody can get out there and play. Goran goes through a lot. If Goran’s suiting up then I’m suiting up.”