MIAMI (AP) – There was a time before the Big Three era that Dwyane Wade was the unquestioned leader of the Miami Heat.
With LeBron James in Cleveland and Chris Bosh out for the season, it’s again up to Wade to lead Miami to the playoffs – and he seems up to the task.
The Heat look to win three straight for the first time since the beginning of the season when they host the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
Wade and Bosh essentially were James’ sidekicks as Miami made four straight trips to the NBA Finals, winning two championships. Wade battled injuries for much of the last two years – as he has again this season – though he seems to be 100 percent now.
Miami (31-36) hasn’t been nearly as successful without James, but it is 9-6 since Bosh was diagnosed with a blood clot on his lung during the All-Star break. Wade has led the charge lately, averaging 29.8 points over his last six.
He scored 32 in Monday’s 106-92 win over James’ Cavaliers, then netted the same amount after hitting the go-ahead jumper with 13.6 seconds left followed by two free throws to seal Wednesday’s 108-104 victory over Portland.
“This is what I love to do,” Wade said. “I mean, obviously the last couple years I had to do what I had to do for that team. But now for this team I get to be a little bit back to my usual self, having the ball. I’m not going to do it right every time, but I like my chances most nights.”
The Heat sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and would face Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs if the season ended today.
Wade has gotten some help in the backcourt with Miami’s acquisition of point guard Goran Dragic, who is averaging 17.0 points and 5.8 assists in 12 games with the Heat after finishing with 20 and 11 against Portland.
Miami is on the verge of winning three straight for the first time since beginning the season 3-0.
“Since Chris went down and getting this team together with Goran, this is a tough-minded team,” Wade said. “Everyone around the league deals with different things. We’re not the only ones. When you still have some life left, you have to try to see what can come out of it. Everyone wants the best for this team.”
Wade didn’t have his best performance in the first meeting with Denver, finishing with 10 points while shooting 4 of 15 from the field in a 102-82 road loss Dec. 10. That was one of the better defensive efforts of the season for the Nuggets (26-43), who allowed James Harden to score a career-high 50 points in Thursday’s 118-108 loss.
“I can’t think too long about this one. It’s on to the next one,” said interim coach Melvin Hunt, who fell to 6-4 since taking over for Brian Shaw. “We have to get ready for Miami. They’ve got a guy down there named Wade, don’t they? He’s pretty good. Dragic. They’ve got some players.”
Wilson Chandler and Randy Foye had 23 points apiece Thursday for Denver, which fell despite tying a season high with 13 3-pointers. It has dropped two straight following a four-game winning streak and will be making the fourth stop on a five-game road trip.
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