MIAMI — Whenever Dwyane Wade ventures into public and gets recognized, he gets The Question.

“Are you staying or going?”

“If I see 10 people, it happens 10 times,” Wade said. “Whether it’s a kid or a grown person, it doesn’t matter.”

Most NBA fans surely know Wade is among the group of stars, like LeBron James and Chris Bosh, who can exercise their rights to become free agents July 1. And for months Wade has insisted he won’t truly begin thinking about that process until this season ends.

Which might happen today, if the Boston Celtics get their way.

The Celtics could bring Miami’s season, and maybe Wade’s stay with the Heat, to a quick end, provided they finish a sweep in Game 4 of the teams’ Eastern Conference first-round series. Boston leads 3-0, and no NBA team has dropped a best-of-seven after taking the first three games.

“You’ve just got to play the game,” Wade said. “You can’t worry, you can’t let your mind start wandering too much. If it does, that’s not a good thing at this time, especially down 3-0.”

On the other side, what Kevin Garnett shrieked when the Celtics won the 2008 title — “Anything is possible!” — still resonates.

“I’ve seen boxers lose 11 rounds and knock the guy out in the 12th round,” Celtics forward Paul Pierce said Saturday. “Anything’s possible, like Kevin said. We don’t want to leave anything behind. We don’t plan on coming back to South Beach probably until the summer.”

Pierce put Boston in a position for a sweep Friday night, hitting a 21-footer at the buzzer that gave the Celtics a 100-98 victory — a play Wade watched from the bench, paralyzed by cramps in his left calf.

The leg pain subsided by Saturday afternoon.

The emotional anguish of seeing a game, and a chance, slip away still hadn’t.

“There’s so many other storylines, things that could distract us from (today’s) game,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And I’m sure everybody, obviously, is writing us off for (today). But what we can control is win (today). Then we can deal with the next day and take it one step at a time.”

Should Miami find a way to win today, the series returns to Boston on Tuesday night.

This Boston-Miami series has been one statistical anomaly after another, with items like the Celtics using runs of 34-10 and 44-8 to win the first two games of the matchup, and Heat center Jermaine O’Neal going 5 of 31 from the floor.

What doesn’t change is this: Boston has Miami’s number. The Celtics are 6-0 against the Heat this year, 14-1 since April 2007.

“We haven’t won the series,” Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said. “We’ve won three games. And until they change that number, we have to stay on the attack.”

Even while now facing overwhelming odds, the Heat insist there’s plenty of fight left in them.

Spoelstra reminded players at practice Saturday that it’s times like this when a team’s true character will be revealed. Udonis Haslem, who beat long odds in going from an undrafted player to a pivotal member of a team that won the 2006 NBA title, said some team will have to be the first to dig out of an 0-3 hole sometime. And Michael Beasley tried to offer an inspirational quote.

“Let’s go boldly where how’s that go?” Beasley asked.

With that came a much-needed laugh, but then his look turned serious again.

“If there’s any team in the NBA that can win four straight, I think we can do it,” Beasley said. “I’m still fighting. I know everybody on the team is. I don’t think anybody’s ready to give up. We can still win. I’m still here.”

So is Wade. For now.

Both publicly and privately, Wade has said throughout this process that his preference will be to stay with Miami, provided some roster upgrades get made that move the Heat back to championship-contending form. Since the night the Heat won the title in Dallas in 2006, they’ve won just three playoff games, a total topped by 17 other NBA franchises entering Saturday.

Pat Riley, the Heat president, will have the money to give Wade what he wants this summer, tons of salary-cap room that would suggest Miami is operating from the position of most strength on the 2010 free-agent market.

“It’s funny to hear scenarios, for people to tell you that you know and you thought about it,” Wade said.

“In New York they kind of made me say, tried to make me say that I have thought about it or I have talked to LeBron. It’s amazing to me that people are inside my head that way. I don’t know.”

He’ll keep getting asked The Question anyway.

“Wait and see,” Wade said. “Wade and see, if you want to be cool with it.”


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