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Wade enjoying `sidekick' role

MIAMI -- Dwyane Wade calls himself a "sidekick," gladly accepting the role Kobe Bryant never wanted in Los Angeles. And not only does second-year Heat point guard Wade see himself as a complementary part to the inside dominance of new teammate Shaquille O'Neal, he feels honored just to be mentioned in the same sentence as O'Neal.

He will let others recognize his play and ranking as sixth in the NBA in scoring (25.2 points per game) and sixth in assists (7.6 per game) entering last night.

Boston coach and fellow Marquette alum Doc Rivers called Wade the best player to come out of their alma mater. (Wade, who has bonded with Rivers, disagreed.) But that was faint praise compared to what came next.

"Shaq is a [load], but Wade's the guy," said Rivers.

Whether Wade wants to acknowledge it or not, his penetrating drives in combination with O'Neal down low can make Miami ridiculously difficult to guard. Thanks to O'Neal and Wade, the Heat boast one of the more productive and efficient offenses in the league.

"You've got to understand in this game that everybody on a team has a role, whether that role is being a star or being a practice player," said Wade. "I understand my role. I'm happy in my role.

"As a young guard in the NBA, I'm happy that my name comes up when they talk about Shaquille O'Neal.

"I came in and really said I was going to work and work and see how far it goes. That's what I continue to do. I don't set individual goals. I'm [self-critical of] my team game. I'll just see how far my ability and my mind take me."

Wade had 25 points and O'Neal 21 in the Heat's 106-104 victory over the Celtics.

Remembering Ricky
Miami coach Stan Van Gundy was an assistant when Ricky Davis spent an injury-riddled stint with the Heat. Davis (16 points last night) played just seven games for Miami, but as might have been expected, he left an impression.

"I've always liked Ricky," said Van Gundy. "I liked him when he was here. He was a guy who had a real joy in playing the game, a great enthusiasm. He was usually the first guy up there [at practice] every day.

"Ricky loved to play and make it a competition and get out of drill work and start playing. He was always a real talented guy, but like a lot of these guys, he came to the league real, real young. Then I think he got the rap of being immature. OK, so most 19-year-old guys are immature. It's taken him some time.

"What you've seen with Ricky every year is more solid play, more fundamental play, learning to really use his athletic ability, being more concerned with production than all the flair and how he looks. I see a better version of him all the time. I know that he's a very, very difficult guy to guard.

"He's gotten a little bit better every year he's been in the league, like I think a lot of guys do. He's started to figure it out. I certainly think the things they're doing in Boston with Doc are things that really help him and accentuate his game. He's getting a lot of opportunities to drive the ball, the floor has opened up.

"All those things are very good for Ricky."

Payton's place?
Gary Payton is averaging 33.2 minutes per game. He played 31 minutes last night, scoring 15 points and grabbing six rebounds. It doesn't rank him near the top of the league, but the number of minutes is high enough to make Rivers concerned. The coach does not want to tire out the 36-year-old point guard early in the season. "The better Delonte [West] plays, the better for Gary," said Rivers. "It's too early in the season to be logging the minutes [Payton's] been logging. We need Marcus and Delonte to play to give Gary a rest." . . . So what's it like to be 19 years old, barely out of high school, and guarding O'Neal? Just ask rookie Al Jefferson, who drew the task for some time last night. At one point, Jefferson had no choice but to wrap O'Neal in a bear hug. "It was a great experience," said Jefferson. "It was really unbelievable. It hit me kind of fast. I just had to settle down and play, know I'm a professional now, too." . . . Despite recent changes in the rotation with Jiri Welsch taking a starting job, Davis joining the second unit, and West earning the backup point guard spot, Rivers reaffirmed that he likes the current roster. "I'm just trying to get used to who starts and who finishes the game," said Rivers. "It's a learning process for me and them. The second unit will bear out. It's a long season in that regard. Delonte and Marcus [Banks] are both young. There will be nights when one guy plays poorly and you play the other guy. I don't think either guy is the guy yet." . . . Heat fans may have watched the last home broadcast featuring Mike Fratello, the front-runner to replace Hubie Brown in Memphis. 

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