MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – The Miami Heat are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and are hoping to build off a big win over LeBron James and the Cavaliers on Monday.READ MORE: Florida House Leaders Push Back On Redistricting Criticism
There’s no Big Three, so Dwyane Wade is once again carrying the Heat in a playoff race.
Wade looks to continue his dazzling stretch Wednesday night when the Heat host the Northwest Division-leading Portland Trail Blazers.
LeBron James left for Cleveland and Chris Bosh is out for the season with blood clots on one of his lungs, so Miami’s playoffs hopes mostly rest on the oft-injured Wade.
The 11-time All-Star has missed 18 games with various injuries, but he’s still making a major impact with a team-high 21.6 points per game. He’s been at his best lately, averaging 29.4 on 56.7 percent shooting in six games after sitting out one with an ailing hip.
The stretch is crucial for the Heat (30-36), who own a share of eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 16 games left.
Wade’s play even got the attention of James on Monday, when his 32 points came on 13-for-18 shooting in a 106-92 win over the Cavaliers in a vintage display.
“You knew he was in a good groove,” James said.
These days, the Heat need Wade at his best, and that’s exactly what they’re getting as he’s averaging 26.9 points in seven games this month – the third-highest in the NBA behind leader Russell Westbrook (33.6) of Oklahoma City.
Miami is 5-2 with Wade in the lineup over that stretch.
“This is who we are right now,” Wade said. “We have to figure out ways to win. We have enough to win games and we just have to understand that it is hard to win games. We can’t just come into a game and figure it out – we have to go from the beginning to the end.”
He’s always been a closer, and of late his end-of-game numbers have been as good as they’ve been in a long time.READ MORE: Keri Hilson Says 'Hip Hop Family Christmas' Is All About 'Honoring Your Family, Not Living For The World'
Over his last five second halves, Wade is averaging 15 points on 54 percent shooting – numbers way up from the 10-point, 45-percent clip he was on after intermissions until this stretch. But that doesn’t mean he’s exclusively waiting until the final minutes; Wade had 16 points in the second quarter Monday.
“He’s been in a good groove the last couple of weeks and he did it again,” James said, his words serving as a tip-of-the-cap to his close friend. “When his pull-up is going you can’t do much with him. … It was good to see him playing with a bounce in his step for sure.”
The last time Wade scored this well over a full month was January 2011, when he averaged 28.8 points in the first season of the Big Three era in Miami.
Wade – unexpectedly – is back to where he was before teaming up with James and Bosh, trying to carry the Heat. And right now, he’s getting it done.
“D-Wade is a Hall of Famer,” center Hassan Whiteside said. “It doesn’t surprise me.”
It certainly doesn’t surprise the Trail Blazers (44-21), either. Wade is averaging 33.0 points in the past six homemeetings with Portland. He missed the last one with an ankle injury, but Miami won 93-91 on March 24.
Wade’s 23 points weren’t enough in a 99-83 loss at Portland on Jan. 8.
The Blazers are looking to bounce back from Monday’s 105-97 loss at Washington after winning three straight and eight of nine. Damian Lillard missed 13 of 18 shots and scored 14 after totaling 51 points in the previous two games.
After being down 71-46 about 4 minutes into the second half, the Blazers got as close as 83-80 with a little under 9 minutes remaining. But they couldn’t pull even.
Trailing by 25, Lillard said, “At that point, we were in the huddle like, `All right, let’s get over the hump. Let’s make our push.’ And it just didn’t go our way from there.”
Lillard has totaled 35 points on 28.1 percent shooting in the last two against the Heat, while LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging 24.4 points in his last eight matchups.
Aldridge, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds in January, missed the last game at Miami with a back injury.MORE NEWS: Study: Books Are Better Than Tablets For Young Kids
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