EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)—A return of the usual Dwyane Wade, combined with a glimpse of the old Penny Hardaway.
Suddenly, the Miami Heat don’t look so bad anymore.
Wade scored 23 points, Hardaway added 16 in his best game since returning to the NBA, and the Heat beat the New Jersey Nets 91-87 Saturday night for their second victory of the season.
Shaquille O’Neal had 18 points for the Heat (2-8), who snapped a three-game skid and sent the Nets to their fifth straight loss. Hardaway was 6-for-6 from the field, making three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, as Miami turned in another improved effort after nearly beating undefeated Boston on Friday.
“Finally, tonight it all came together. I’ve been working so hard,” Hardaway said. “These last two games are huge because our confidence is at another level. We may be the most confident team at 2 and 8 in the history of the NBA. We know where we’re going. We’ve got our leader back and we’re taking great strides in the right direction.”
Wade was only 4-for-17 from the floor in his third game of the season, but made 15 of 20 free throws before a clinching jumper in the final second. He joked that he would sleep all day Sunday after playing 38 minutes Friday and 39 Saturday.
“I’m not where I want to be but I’m happy to be playing and happy to help make a difference with my teammates,” he said. “We’re a different team when I’m in the game of course. I bring a different element to the team with my driving ability, to get my teammates shots and to put pressure on the defense.”
Rookie Sean Williams scored a season-high 22 points in his first career start for the Nets, playing without injured All-Star Vince Carter. Jason Kidd had 16 points and 15 assists, but the Nets couldn’t overcome a season-high 27 turnovers.
“We’ve just got to keep moving forward, learn from this loss, learn from our mistakes,” Williams said. “We had a lot of turnovers. We’ve got to work to be more careful with the ball.”
Still, the Nets had a chance to tie when Richard Jefferson caught an inbounds pass right under the rim with less than 10 seconds left. But he missed the shot, and the Nets couldn’t foul Wade until he was in the process of making a jumper as the clock was about to expire.
Jefferson scored 18 points but was only 4-for-11 from the floor and failed to lead New Jersey in scoring for the first time this season.
O’Neal was yanked just 58 seconds into the game and was limited to only 9 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. But he wore the Nets down in the second half with 14 points and was surprisingly effective at the free-throw line, going 6-for-7.
Heat coach Pat Riley said he pulled O’Neal to reinforce how the Heat wanted to play pick-and-roll.
“I don’t know and I don’t care,” O’Neal said. “He took me out because I made a mistake. I guess I wasn’t perfect enough.”
In a game matching the NBA’s two worst offensive clubs, there were long stretches of sloppy passes and errant shots. But the Heat had just enough thanks to Wade’s free throws and some strong fourth-quarter play from O’Neal and Hardaway, teammates long ago in Orlando who were reunited this season.
The Heat were up five with less than 9 minutes left when Hardaway made a 3-pointer. He knocked down another one about 1 1/2 minutes later, giving Miami a 75-66 cushion with 7:22 remaining.
Williams’ bucket cut it to four with 4 1/2 minutes left, but Hardaway answered with another 3 with 4:09 to go. Hardaway hadn’t scored more than eight points in a game this season, when he returned to the league after not playing since the 2005-06 season because of leg injuries.
Nets coach Lawrence Frank called his team “offensively challenged” before the game, but the Nets were sharp in the opening minutes, hitting their first seven shots. They didn’t make another one in the first quarter, but still led 23-18 behind 10 points from Jefferson.
The Nets then had three field goals and 12 turnovers in a horrendous second quarter, getting outscored 27-12. Wade’s follow shot with 0.1 seconds left sent the Heat into halftime with a 45-35 lead.
New Jersey’s previous high was 22 turnovers Friday night in a loss to Orlando.
“The turnovers we are committing, we have to look at it,” Frank said. “We just have to make high-percentage plays. The intent is right, it just comes down to execution.”
Miami extended the lead to 12 early in the third quarter, but missed 12 of 18 shots and couldn’t pull away. Bostjan Nachbar’s jumper with 0.5 seconds remaining cut the Heat’s lead to 63-61.
The Nets entered 29th in scoring with 85.6 points per game, with Miami last in the league at 85.4. … Riley confirmed before the game that O’Neal recently had a shot in his knee, but said he hadn’t seen any visible proof that the knee was causing enough problems to consider sitting his center down. “Cortisone treatment is I think part of a player’s season,” Riley said. … Frank said Carter will travel with the Nets on their four-game western trip that begins Monday at Utah.