“I hit a lot of game-winners being Jordan when I was a kid,” Wade said.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Wednesday night, and the Hornets will try to do a better job of defending Wade. The rookie scored 21 points in the series opener, including the winning basket with 1.3 seconds left, and contributed five rebounds and five assists.
In his NBA playoff debut, Wade showed no sign of jitters.
“I think he has been over the rookie jitters since November,” teammate Lamar Odom said.
While Wade flourished in Game 1, counterpart Baron Davis spent much of the night limping and grimacing. The Hornets’ All-Star guard is slowed by a sprained left ankle that makes it tough to keep up with a slasher like Wade.
“It’s a big disadvantage,” Davis said. “It’s easier when you’re guarding a guy that shoots jumpers, or you’re checking somebody off a screen. To have to guard a guy that’s going right at you and moving you laterally, it’s tough. But you just have to suck it up and try to do it as best you can.”
With Davis hobbled, Wade juked past him for the winning score. The matchup may be a mismatch, but Hornets coach Tim Floyd’s options are limited because reserve guard Darrell Armstrong also has a sprained ankle.
Davis said he’ll definitely play Wednesday, but Armstrong is doubtful. All-Star center Jamaal Magloire sat out practice Tuesday with knee tendinitis but is expected to play.
The Hornets are already without forward Jamal Mashburn, who was left off their playoff roster and sent home Tuesday because he complained publicly that the team mishandled his medical care.
“Very bad timing,” general manager Bob Bass said of Mashburn’s remarks.
While the Hornets are reeling, the Heat are healthy and hot. They’ve won 18 of their last 22 games and go for their 14th consecutive home victory Wednesday.
The Hornets are 24-35 since mid-December, but a victory in Game 2 could do wonders for their mood.
“If we can get Game 2 going back to New Orleans, then it’s all in our favor,” Davis said.
But to win they need more offense, and it’s uncertain how much Davis can provide. He scored 17 points in the series opener, six below his average, and missed 11 of 15 shots. New Orleans failed to score a fast-break point.
“Baron Davis has a lot of pride,” Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I expect him to come back with a vengeance. This guy is a great, great player.”
Wade is blossoming into one. He averaged 16.2 points this season, a Heat rookie record, despite injuries that forced him to miss 21 games and play hurt in others. He finished third in voting for the NBA Rookie of the Year award, which LeBron James won Tuesday.
James’ season is over, while Wade eagerly embraces the chance to shine on the playoff stage.
“I’m trying to establish my game in the NBA, and I’m going against one of the best point guards,” Wade said. “It’s not the time to get nervous. I’ve been playing basketball all my life.”
Wade thrived under postseason pressure a year ago, when he led Marquette to the Final Four. He had 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the Golden Eagles’ final victory, which ended Kentucky’s 26-game winning streak.
Floyd said the Hornets don’t regard Wade as a rookie.
“When you play hard and you’re athletic and you’re as tough as guys that are 30 years old, you’re no longer a rookie,” Floyd said. “His makeup, his toughness, his athleticism, his ability to dance every dance and play every play is what separates him from a lot of rookies.”
Plus he has that knack, honed in childhood, for game-winning baskets.
“One thing Jordan said: ‘You’re going to hit some, you’re going to miss some,”’ Wade said. “No reason to be afraid to shoot the shot.”