The Heat hadn’t lost four games in a row since the first season of the Big Three era.
Miami barely avoided that fate Monday on a night when LeBron James did most of his damage in the first half and Dwyane Wade rescued the Heat in the fourth quarter.
This 99-90 win was a struggle — Washington led 84-83 with 5:54 left before Wade ignited a 12-0 Heat spurt with brilliant work on both ends.
“We needed this win,” Wade said. “We’re not accustomed to losing three games in a row.”
The Heat (44-17) clinched a playoff spot with 21 games left and pulled to within one game of Indiana for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Wade entered the fourth with just nine points on 3 of 9 shooting. But then everything clicked, with Wade scoring 13 of his 22 points in the fourth and putting the Heat ahead for good with a sprawling reverse layup and ensuing free throw with 5:39 left.
Wade followed that up with a nifty pass to Chris Bosh for a bank shot. Wade then blocked Drew Gooden (who is six inches taller), rebounded a Ray Allen miss and passed to Bosh, whose three-pointer pushed the lead to 91-84.
Wade then darted a pinpoint pass to LeBron James for a layup, extending the margin to nine. And for good measure, Wade then broke down the Wizards’ halfcourt defense for a layup, capping the 12-0 Heat surge.
Wade was playing on the second night of a back-to-back set for only the third time this season and the first since January.
“I wanted to challenge myself, even though we have a lot of games this week,” he said. “I would love to play every night, but I’m still going to be smart. I felt pretty good. Coach put me in position allowed me to be able to make plays,”
Coach Erik Spoelstra said he considered giving Wade a rest in the fourth quarter but decided against it.
“You put the ball in his hands, but he was making the right play,” Spoelstra said. “His body looked good, live legs.”
Meanwhile, James snapped out of his recent slump by hitting three three-pointers early and shooting 8 for 10 from the field in a 19-point first half.
But James, who shot just 14 for 41 in the previous two games, scored just four points in the second half, making two of five shots.
And for the second consecutive game, James failed to get to the free throw line, which he called “very surprising” considering he said he attacked the basket “a lot more” than he did Sunday in Chicago.
Consider that before Sunday, James had shot at least one free throw in every game since December 2009, when he still played for Cleveland. James hadn’t gone two consecutive games without attempting a free throw since December 2003 in his rookie season.
“I want him to continue to attack and the results will come,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not my place to campaign for it. I felt good about this game the minute I saw LeBron come into the gym. He ran into the gym, shook hands of every single player and coach. That’s what leaders do. He takes it to heart.”
James said he went to the Heat’s main court, instead of the upstairs practice court, to shoot Monday afternoon but couldn’t because “some kids” were using the floor.
After his 61-point masterpiece last week against Charlotte, James had averaged just 19.3 points on 39 percent shooting in his next three games. He looked headed for a 30-point night Monday before opting to defer during much of the second half.
But Wade and Bosh offered more than enough offensively late, with Bosh scoring seven of his 22 in the fourth. Bosh closed 10 of 14 on night the Heat shot 50 percent from the field. Conversely, Washington shot 40.4 percent.
Heat point guards shot 0 for 11, with Mario Chalmers 0 for 7 and Norris Cole 0 for 4. But they did good work defensively on John Wall, who shot 2 for 8 and committed seven turnovers.
Miami, the league’s worst rebounding team, was annihilated, 50-33, on the boards by a Washington team that entered 19th in the league in rebounding. Marcin Gortat had 18 boards, including 10 in the first quarter.
“We cleaned it up a little bit more in the second half,” Spoelstra said.
• With Greg Oden resting on the second night of a back-to-back, Udonis Haslem received rare first half minutes (five of them) and had two rebounds in his 700th regular season game.