The rap on the Miami Heat, if you're looking for a reason to doubt the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, is that it's a two-man team. There's Shaq, there's Dwyane Wade and after that there's — well, there's not that much, or at least that was the popular notion coming into the playoffs.
Yet, two games into this series that notion seems suddenly to be absurd. Ten minutes before tip-off, while he was bouncing up and down in the layup line trying to get loose, I asked Shaq about his deeply bruised thigh, if he felt okay. "Not really," were his exact words. If Miami was just Shaq, Wade and a bunch of stiffs, this would have been the perfect opportunity for the Washington Wizards to take a road game, climb into the series and put the Heat on notice that the remaining games would be terribly difficult. But on a night that the Wizards played very, very hard and reasonably well, Miami got limited production from Shaq yet rode the contributions from Eddie Jones, Damon Jones, Udonis Haslem and, of course, Wade, to victory.
This is what's called "having the Big Fella's back." Wade had the kind of game — 31 points, 15 assists and 7 rebounds — that makes you reach back to Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson for comparisons. Every time the Wizards worked their way into something promising, Wade answered with a pass, a basket, a rebound or a blocked shot. Miami, still in need of a good wing man with Shaq operating at less than full diesel capacity, got 21 points from Eddie Jones and 13 rebounds from Haslem and looked to any reasonable person like a complete team in Game 2.
And the Wizards might be looking for help. Etan Thomas was off to a fabulous start. He'd hit all three of his shots and started to mix it up pretty good with Miami's big men when he suffered an abdominal injury and had to leave the game after only six minutes of playing time. You know where this is going, don't you? As the series moves back to Washington for Games 3 and 4, Thursday and Saturday respectively, one can't help but wonder: if Thomas cannot play, do the Wizards lift their suspension of Kwame Brown?
It might be the most practical thing to do, considering the NBA isn't the NHL. In the Stanley Cup playoffs you could just go to the Palm Pilot and dial up Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky if you wanted to and have him in uniform the next night. Playoff rosters, in the NBA, are set in stone. You can't go to the pen and wave in 7-foot-2 Peter John Ramos or call Charles Oakley and ask him to come in and hack at Shaq for the rest of the series.
Kwame is 7 feet tall, 265 pounds or so of granite. The Wizards drafted him four years ago for just these occasions. This is how he was supposed to earn his keep: battle Shaq. Notice, I didn't say stop Shaq. Just battle him. Get in there and compete with another guy who was chosen No. 1 overall.
"I'd be all for it," said Antawn Jamison, who scored 32 points, somewhat amazingly, on a bum knee in need of surgery. "I know that's up to management, not us. But we might have to bring him back. We definitely need him right now. I know it's something that would have to be handled in-house. And Kwame would have to come back and demonstrate to them that he'll do what is necessary. But I'd love to entertain the idea. I might suggest it myself. He has the size and strength and toughness we need right now. We'll see how Etan is. But if it's bad, it would seem to me you'd have to entertain the idea."
Gilbert Arenas had pretty much the same opinion, especially after seeing a reduced Shaq go for 16 points, seven rebounds and a couple of blocked shots. "A hurt Shaq is still the number one center in this league — still the dominant player."
So what about the notion of bringing back Kwame? "He's probably getting in shape, I hope. Just in case."
It was topic number one in the locker room afterward because the Wizards think they're close to breaking through. They're going home, where they are 3-0 in the playoffs. They feel they need a little boost, a little bit of help — okay, a big body of help to get them past Shaq, even Shaq at 60 or 70 percent.
Brendan Haywood, even at 7 feet tall, knows he needs help. On the subject of Kwame he said: "I think if he could look into a crystal ball and see the future, he'd probably realize he made a big mistake because he could've made a name for himself and changed the way this whole league views him, just off this series alone. He has a great 15-foot jump shot and he's highly skilled. This could have been the series that changed his game around, because like it or not, he was going to play."