MIAMI (AP) - A year ago, LeBron James was one of Dwyane Wade's biggest supporters during the NBA playoffs.
Now Wade is returning the favor.
Wade, MVP of the finals last year with the Miami Heat, is sure his close friend can handle the pressure that comes with leading a team into the championship round.
James and the Cleveland Cavaliers meet the San Antonio Spurs in this year's finals, starting Thursday night.
``He's one of the best players in the world,'' Wade said Tuesday. ``There's not much you have to say.''
Still, there's plenty of dialogue between the two stars.
Wade offered James some counsel during this year's Cleveland-Detroit series for the East title. The Heat played the Pistons the last two years for the conference title, splitting those matchups.
``It's been rumored out there that I talked to him throughout the Detroit series a little bit, kind of what he did for me last year,'' Wade said. ``I just gave him some pointers from my point of view on what I'd seen and from playing Detroit before. He knows what to do.''
Wade was the undisputed star of last season's NBA finals, averaging 34.7 points for the Heat in their six-game win over the Dallas Mavericks.
These days, though, Wade is thankful to simply be walking without pain.
Three weeks removed from surgeries to repair his left knee and left shoulder, Wade said he expects a smooth recovery from both procedures, yet still isn't sure if he'll be ready for training camp in October. He began rehabbing the knee two weeks ago and starts shoulder exercises next week.
``I'm a hard worker. I know I'm going to do everything that they tell me to do to get back to the point I need to be back to,'' Wade said. ``I was never worried about that. That comes with the territory of playing sports. You're going to have to have surgery to get yourself back.''
Grueling hours of rehab represents something much different from the excitement he and the Heat had this time last year on their march to an NBA crown.
This year, Wade is merely an interested finals observer. But he has high hopes for 2008, telling season-ticket holders Tuesday that the Heat will be ``new and improved ... and refocused'' next season.
Wade took some time to decide which procedures to have; he originally wasn't sure if he needed the shoulder surgery after rehabbing the joint for six weeks following the dislocation in February. Ultimately, he said getting the shoulder and knee done at once was the most logical move.
``I'm glad I got both of them out of the way and got them done, so I'm on a faster pace to recovery,'' Wade said.
He was bedridden for five days after the surgery, barely able to move. He can now drive and walk, and is getting around without much difficulty.
``No crutches for me,'' said Wade, who averaged 27.4 points in 51 regular-season games this season for the Heat, who were swept in the first round by Chicago. ``I'm tougher than that.''
It's already been a busy offseason for Wade, with the surgeries and last week's birth of his second son, Zion. James and his fiancee are also expecting a second son shortly, and Wade and James spoken often about the importance of fatherhood to them.
They entered the league together in the 2003 draft, James at No. 1, Wade at No. 5. A friendship was struck up quickly, and although Wade didn't come out and say he was openly rooting for Cleveland to win this year's title, he clearly wants to see James fare well.
``He knows how to handle everything,'' Wade said. ``He knows how to handle the pressure people put on him. He's done it. In four years, he's in the finals. No one would have projected that.''
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