MIAMI — It's become quite the hot topic.
The question: Does Miami star Dwyane Wade, whose Heat play host today to the Jazz, deserve to join Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland's LeBron James smack dab in the middle of this season's NBA MVP discussion?
Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith debated it Thursday night on TNT. It's addressed on the league's own Web site, nba.com. And Jazz stars Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer both discussed it prior to practice Friday.
Williams feels the team of bona fide MVP candidates should be among the league's elite, or at least top three in their respective conference.
The Heat aren't that.
"He's not on one of those teams," Williams said. "But as far as having an MVP season, yeah, he's definitely having an MVP-type season."
Williams called Wade's numbers, including a league-leading 29.7 points-per-game scoring average and the 48-point, 12-assist, six-rebound, four-steal and three-block line he had in Monday's double-overtime win over Chicago, "ridiculous."
But he's still hung up on Miami's 35-29 record.
"They've got a solid team," Williams said, "but he's putting the team on his back night in and night out and carrying it."
Yet it's for that very reason Boozer believes Wade should be considered.
"Absolutely. Are you serious? He's unreal, and this team wouldn't be nowhere near the playoffs without (him), in my opinion," he said.
"Not saying they're not talented. They're very talented. But D-Wade makes them a playoff team.
He's a stud. One of my best friends, one of my good friends. And playing out of this world."
MVP or not, Wade has a world of respect from Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
"Nobody's gonna stop this guy, in my opinion, from what I've seen of him. He's a tremendous competitor," said Sloan, who plans to use starting shooting guard Ronnie Brewer as his defender on Wade today. "He doesn't just shoot the ball. He does everything. He rebounds, he defends, he'll even pass the basketball. He's just a terrific player.
"He gets on top of the basket. He'll get 15, 18 free throws, I assume — somewhere in that neighborhood — playing against us," added Sloan, who pins the Jazz's 1-9 record in their last 10 games vs. the Heat and five straight losses in Miami squarely on Wade. "We can't get him stopped. We don't block his shot. We can't get him shut down. He's just been a terrific player every time we've played him. He takes big shots.
He makes tough shots, too — HORSE shots."
WHO'S NO. 1? So who is Williams and Boozer's current top choice for MVP, which, by the way, is voted on by media members?
"That's tough," Williams said. "I would say Kobe's doing it in a tougher West. ... But, I mean, LeBron — what he's doing is crazy."
"My '1' would be LeBron right now, because he's dealing with less talent," Boozer said. "I mean, you put the same guys that Kobe has on LeBron's team — they might have only lost to a couple teams."
Smith, incidentally, goes with James over Bryant, and Barkley, who also holds the Heat's record against Wade, does the same. Ditto for SI.com's Ian Thomsen, who offers some stats and history to back his pinching of Wade from the conversation.
"He needs a better team," Thomsen wrote on Sports Illustrated's Web site. "The Heat are headed for a 45-win season. Every MVP over the last 26 years has won at least 50 games (or else he has been on a pace to win more than 50, as the Utah Jazz were in the shortened 1998 lockout season when Karl Malone was MVP) and the average number of wins for the MVP has been 62 (not including the lockout year)."
HOMEFRONT: Veteran forward Matt Harpring was allowed to stay an extra day at home in Atlanta, where Utah lost Wednesday night, rather than fly with the team to Miami on Thursday, so with an early game today the Jazz held their combined practice/shootaround Friday afternoon rather than Friday morning.
Boozer, meanwhile, flew to Miami, where he and family chiefly reside, from Atlanta immediately after Wednesday's game.
"It's great to be home," he said. "I got there around 12:30, 1, and the kids woke me up at 6."