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2016 may offer the first ever Wade versus LeBron playoff series

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With the Cavs and a resurgent Heat appearing to be the top teams in the East this upcoming season, will fans finally be treated to this long-awaited matchup?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were both drafted in 2003, they have never faced each other in a playoff game.

Over Wade's 12 seasons, the Miami Heat's road to the Eastern Conference Finals has not gone through Cleveland. The closest brush with their showdown came in 2006 when both teams made the playoffs, but Cleveland was eliminated in a thrilling seven-game series against the Detroit Pistons.

In LeBron James' first two seasons, the Cavaliers were lottery teams who watched Wade in the playoffs from the sidelines. The Heat won the NBA championship in 2006, but after that they never made it past the first round in the post-season for the next four years. Then the rivalry turned into a partnership, with a visit to the NBA Finals a given when Pat Riley created the "Big 3" of James, Wade and Chris Bosh.

This season might provide basketball fans a long-awaited rendezvous with destiny when the two future Hall Of Famers could possibly square off against each other for the first time in a playoff setting.

Statistics don't measure the value each player brings to the table. Only once before have the teams been so evenly matched that a face-off in the playoffs seems inevitable. While the supporting cast has changed since 2006, the leading men have remained in place.

Both players realize the table could be set for the last time in 2016, with a new cast of characters waiting in the wings to eventually take their place in 2017 and afterwards. Opportunities to prove their team reigns supreme in the basketball universe are rapidly evaporating.

Can the top draft pick from the legendary 2003 draft single-handedly slay the fourth and fifth picks of that year playing together? Will Bosh and Wade be ready enough to bring down James as they claim?

A subplot involves the coaches, where one coach could not win a championship with James, while the other coach needed James to win two championships.

Perhaps a Wade-James showdown never happened in their prime, but even now Heat fans would love to see the best of friends become the best of enemies in the playoffs for the first time.