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Wizards simplyblinded by the Flash

WashPost: Heat guard is obviously best perimeter player in league
HEAT WIZARDS
Alonzo Mourning congratulates Dwyane Wade during Thursday's game.Nick Wass / AP

Usually only bad news spreads so quickly. Shaq would miss the game. Seriously, no Shaq for Game 3. There he was in the MCI Center hallway in a suit, vest and tie, a fetching ensemble. He was ready for a magazine cover shoot, but not a basketball game. Bruised thighs that haven't responded well to treatment would keep him on the bench and hand the Wizards a victory, right?

Steve Nash may be the NBA's MVP, but Shaq is the man you least want to play against. Shaq is the most dominant force in sports, the most important basketball player in the world. To see him sitting on the sideline in that soft gold tie with the perfect knot is pure heaven for an opponent, especially one playing at home. A team couldn't get better news than to hear "Shaq's out" a half-hour before a playoff game, down 0-2 in a series.

But the Wizards got hit by a storm named Dwyane Wade last night, and the kid Shaq calls "Flash" effectively ended Washington's season with a breathtaking game of 31 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists. No wonder Shaq, the moment Miami's 102-95 victory was over, walked over to Wade and said, "I love you. I owe you one."

Turns out Miami has not only the best player in this series, but the runner-up as well. We're going to look back in a few years at this series as the coming-out-party for one of the five best players in the league. The Wizards honored Larry Hughes before the game for being named to the NBA all-defensive team, and it's as if Wade was offended by the notion. He hit jump shots, spinners and even a half-hook late in the game when his team desperately needing a basket. It's not often a player scores 31 points with no three-point baskets.

There will be plenty of hand-wringing about what the Wizards didn't do. The coaches and players will look at the box score, and cringe at seeing that Udonis Haslem grabbed six offensive rebounds and 12 total. You can't get outrebounded 43-29 at home by a team missing Shaquille O'Neal. It just shouldn't happen that Wade, at 6 feet 4, grabs more rebounds nine), than any Wizards player. And once again, the Wizards couldn't keep themselves between the ball and the basket, as evidenced by Miami's 51.3 shooting percentage. I don't care how many shots a team makes, playoff games still come down to defense and rebounding and the Wizards didn't do a good job in either department.

And Miami is a team built for the playoffs, from Shaq to Wade to Alonzo Mourning, who enjoyed a triumphant homecoming. The former Georgetown star returned to Miami as an insurance policy, a guy in the twilight of his career who would spell Shaq for 10, maybe 12 minutes per night. Yet, he played 35 minutes in Game 3, scored 14 points and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds. It's difficult to imagine a sweeter outcome than this for Mourning, who retired after a kidney transplant and had to miss most of two seasons.

Mourning had as many rebounds as Brendan Haywood, Jared Jeffries and Michael Ruffin combined. The box score says Mourning blocked four shots. I counted six. How satisfying it must be for him to contribute to a meaningful victory in May down the street from Georgetown, down the road apiece from his home in Chesapeake, Va. "A lot of you who have seen him for longer than I have know he's the ultimate warrior," Miami Coach Stan Van Gundy said of Mourning. How cool it must also be for Mourning to play with a great young player in ascension, like Wade.

Don't get me wrong, Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas and Hughes are very, very nice players. They're all-stars. Arenas didn't have his stroke, so he handed out 14 assists. Jamison, whose knee is wracked with tendinitis, scored 21 points. And Hughes expended every ounce of energy he had on both ends.

But Wade is the best perimeter player in the game right now, better than Kobe, better than LeBron, better than Carmelo, better than Iverson. The only thing Wade doesn't do well is shoot three-pointers, so he doesn't shoot them. If he wasn't making a critical basket, he was grabbing the rebound or blocking the shot (twice) or making the pass that led to a basket. With Shaq, Wade is unstoppable. Without Shaq in 10 games this season (during which Miami is 7-3) Wade is shooting 58 percent. He's utterly fearless and highly skilled, and the Wizards had nothing for him.

So the season will come to an end, almost certainly Saturday night in Game 4. Shaq will get a chance to debut another fine garment and will get another chance to owe Wade in the end.