James, once frustrated by the frequent injury absences of Wade and other veterans on the team, is confident that the player he's seen in the No. 3 jersey in the playoffs isn't slowing down anytime soon.
"I think he's very determined to prove a lot of people wrong," James said. "For the last three years, he's had people tugging at him and wanting him to decrease and decline. I don't see that. I see he's there when we need him. That's what motivates him. It's up to him how much he wants to continue to go."
Should the Heat beat the Spurs, James suggested Wade might be the most underappreciated superstar to have four championships and a Finals MVP award in his collection.
"That's for sure," James told ESPN.com. "But when it's all said and done, [critics] will realize what he's been able to accomplish. He's one of the best 2-guards to ever play the game, and he's going to be one of the best wing players to ever play the game. Look at his numbers, his accomplishments, Finals MVP, possible chance to win a fourth ring, MVP of All-Star Game, multiple All-Star Games, Olympian. Obviously, the list goes on. You can't find too many résumés like that."
Those closest to Wade don't believe he's done adding to it.
"Tell people Dwyane is a fresh, young 32 years old. He's not old," Bosh said recently. "I don't know why people keep acting like he's 47 out there playing. You'd think it's [Heat assistant Bob] McAdoo out there playing or something. He's 32 in the prime in his career. He's good. We can rely on him. He's our guy."
There are questions around the league about the Heat's ability to sustain this roster and add quality pieces with two top-salary, supporting-cast players in their 30s surrounding James. But Wade is trying to ward off some of those doubts with a strong finish to a turbulent season.
"From the outside looking in, all you can say right now is that it's worked," a rival Eastern conference executive said of Wade entering the Finals. "They had a plan with him, and only they knew exactly what they were dealing with day to day. If that's what it takes during the season to get the player you're seeing right now, then it's worth it. You trust it. You find a way to ease the load in January and you evaluate those guys based on April, May and June."
If that's the case, then a late-spring Wade is a spry Wade, and, barring a setback these next couple of weeks, Wade will enter the summer for the first time in three years without needing surgery or a major procedure.
He certainly doesn't sound like a player eager to opt out of $42 million.
There's no precedent of an elite NBA player pushing away from that kind of money. Riley has long held Wade in the same regard as Lakers treasure Kobe Bryant, who at 35 signed a two-year extension worth $48.5 million midway through an injury-riddled season.
Cases have been made that Duncan and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Garnett took less money on recent contracts that allowed their teams to add quality free agents or improve cap or luxury-tax standings. But the difference is that Duncan and Garnett had already played out the full length of previous top-dollar contracts before they respectively signed new, cap-friendly deals in 2012.