Dwyane Wade sat back inside his locker before the game and described what it feels like to play the game of basketball like few others ever have.
“Beautiful,” he said. “Like playing music.”
Wednesday night was one of his great symphonies. He was the master of sound and rhythm and athletic harmony.
Wade and his instrument of choice, a magical mid-range jumper, willed the Heat to another critical victory during a close playoff race at AmericanAirlines Arena. On Monday, Wade led the Heat past LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and on Wednesday the same excellence put the Heat past the Portland Trail Blazers 108-104.
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Wade scored 21 points in the second half, 15 in the fourth quarter and finished with 32 points. It was the seventh game in a row Wade has scored at least 25 points, a streak he hasn’t experienced since December 2010.
Wade led the comeback in the third quarter, but his clutch shooting in the final minutes ensured what felt like a seminal victory for the Heat (31-36), which moved to seventh in the Eastern Conference standings. Wade’s 12-foot floater from the free-throw line tied the score at 104-104 with 41 seconds left. It was a circus shot, but only a preamble to a 15-footer on the Heat’s next possession. That shot gave the Heat the lead for good, and Wade sealed the win with a pair of free throws with nine seconds left.
“When guys tell you bring us home, then you know they have a lot of faith in you,” Wade said.
Wade has been doing a lot of that lately, and the Heat’s back-to-back victories against two teams not only bound for the playoffs, but squads that fashion themselves title contenders, couldn’t have come at a more important time in the season. It was just a few days ago that the Heat was 10th in the standings after a discouraging loss to the Toronto Raptors.
“Dwyane Wade is amazing, and y’all can quote me on that,” said center Hassan Whiteside, who, along with Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen, provided the muscle inside to defeat a potent offensive team.
The lower bowl at the arena by the bay was on its feet when Wade sliced inside for a second-chance layup with 3:39 left. The points gave the Heat a 98-92 lead and were made possible by a tough offensive rebound by Whiteside. Following a three-pointer by Portland wingman Nicolas Batum, it was Whiteside’s turn to power his way into the paint. His hook gave the Heat a five-point lead with three minutes to play.
The Trail Blazers charged back, but Whiteside’s block on a layup attempt by Robin Lopez with 55 seconds kept the score tied. It was Whiteside’s sixth block of the game, but Portland’s big power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge, was there to clean up the play with second-chance layup. That gave the Trail Blazers a two-point lead and set the stage for Wade’s greatness.
“The best offense in the fourth quarter was get the ball to Dwyane Wade,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
And that was the best offensive plan for the third quarter, too.
Wade had six points and five assists in that period, and his playmaking ability triggered the Heat’s rally early in the period after trailing by 11. Assists by Wade found Luol Deng for five consecutive points, and then Haslem — of all people — hit a corner three-pointer with 7:14 left in the third quarter. It was just Haslem’s second three-pointer of his 12-year career, and it cut the Trail Blazers’ lead to 65-64.
Deng finished with 24 points and Goran Dragic had 20 points and 11 assists. Whiteside finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds to go along with those six blocks.
“This time of year, if we can get stops and keep the game close, then we got enough on the other end to close games with the penetration of Goran, myself, Mario [Chalmers] and timely shots,” Wade said. “I believe in us from that standpoint. It’s just about getting stops on the other end.”
Stops were tough in the first half. This Portland team led by Aldridge, Batum and guard Damian Lillard can flat-out shoot the ball. The Trail Blazers (44-22) shot 57 percent in the first half despite the Heat’s best defensive effort. Portland led 57-48 at halftime.
Aldridge finished with 34 points, going 15 of 24 from the field to go along with 12 rebounds. Lillard added 17 points and Arron Afflalo had 15 points.
▪ The Heat signed Michael Beasley for the remainder of the season Wednesday. Beasley, in his third stint with the team, came off the bench against the Trail Blazers as a defensive substitution for Haslem. He finished with six points and two rebounds.