Michael Beasley, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem

Dwyane Wade – older and healthier – could give Heat an edge in NBA Finals

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As the final buzzer sounded in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals and the Miami Heat clinched their second straight championship, Dwyane Wade immediately sprinted to Tim Duncan and congratulated him on a well-fought series.

Later, Wade explained his admiration for the Spurs star.

“At his age, if I can still do that, man I’d have had a hell of a career,” Wade said.

Wade, six year’s Duncan’s junior, doesn’t need to wait until he’s Duncan’s age to understand the challenges of competing with declining athleticism. The 32-year-old Wade has experienced a career full of knee injuries.

He hobbled through last year’s playoffs and had his knee drained before coming up big in Game 7. But in sum, Wade had an unspectacular postseason.

Which was nothing new.

For a few years, Wade had been slipping in the playoffs. It appeared likely he’d have increasing trouble persevering deep into the postseason as his career continued.

But this season, he’s bucked the trend. Whether your catch-all stat of choice is PER or win shares per 48 minutes, Wade has reversed a three-year decline in playoff productivity:

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When LeBron James signed with the Heat, who already had Wade and Chris Bosh, the narrative said LeBron needed superstar teammates to win a championship because he couldn’t do it on his own. And that might be true. LeBron never won a title with the Cavaliers, though he also hadn’t yet developed into peak form in Cleveland.

Much more true: Wade needed help to win another title.

Since leading the Heat to the 2006 championship, Wade hadn’t won another playoff series until LeBron and Bosh arrived. He was still a great player, but all those postseason games were taking their toll, especially considering his physical style of play.

This year, through rest and intensive training, Wade tried to re-set his clock. He played just 54 games and a career-low 32.9 minutes per game in them.

The goal all along was to ensure he peaked at the right moment – and he is.

Round to round in the playoffs, his production has increased.

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These Spurs might be Miami’s toughest Finals competition yet in the Big Three era – and that includes the Mavericks who beat the Heat in 2011. Yes, Wade needs LeBron and Bosh. But they need Wade, too.

They have him.

After a year of careful planning – when it not long ago seemed he would never reverse his postseason slide – Wade is back in the NBA Finals, healthy and primed to excel.

Watch it again: Epic dunk contest duel between Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon

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TORONTO — I am always hesitant to say a player/team/situation is one of the best of ever because the history of the NBA is filled with greats. We tend to overstate how good something current can be.  That said…

That was one of the best dunk contests ever.

Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon put on a show for the ages. Gordon had the best dunks of the night (in my opinion), but LaVine is consistently amazing, every dunk he does is flat out ridiculous.

Officially, LaVine won. In reality, we all won. Enjoy watching it one more time.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.