Dwyane Wade nails tough game-winning stepback jumper to push Heat past Blazers

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Dwyane Wade nails tough game-winning stepback jumper to push Heat past Blazers
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  • Dwyane Wade
    Dwyane Wade
    American former basketball player
  • Nicolas Batum
    Nicolas Batum
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After the summertime departure of LeBron James, many of us wondered whether Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade could prevent the Miami Heat from plummeting from the top of the East to the ranks of the also-rans. Despite the emergence of Hassan Whiteside and the trade-deadline acquisition of Goran Dragic, when a difficult first half of the season gave way to the sucker-punch loss of Bosh to blood clots in his lungs, it became harder to believe that Wade, still-gifted but so battle-worn, would be able to carry Miami to a seventh straight postseason.

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Apparently, Wade's eager to make us into believers.

In need of a win to keep pace with the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics in the push for one of the final two playoff seeds in the East, the Heat found themselves in a tough contest against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday. With just over 30 seconds left and the score knotted at 104, Wade dribbled the ball into the frontcourt against Blazers swingman Nicolas Batum. As the home crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena rose in unison, the 11-time All-Star decided it was time to be a very rude host:

Wade dribbled to his right around a screen set by Whiteside at the 3-point arc before snaking back around at the foul line and stepping back at the left elbow. Despite Batum staying as close as possible to Wade — and I mean close — Wade drained the jumper, giving Miami a 106-104 lead with 13.6 seconds remaining.

As it turns out, Batum wasn't the only one who had Wade's move scouted:

After the game, Wade wasn't surprised by his former teammate's prediction:

But as Batum found out, knowing it and stopping it are very different things.

The Blazers had a chance to tie after advancing the ball to half-court following a timeout, but the Heat smothered every angle of entry to Portland point guard and vaunted late-game sniper Damian Lillard, to whom Batum was clearly looking to inbound the ball. After Miami forced the Blazers to call their final timeout on their first try, Portland came back for a second attempt with no margin for error ... and committed a turnover.

All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge — who had been sensational to that point — tipped the inbounds pass into the backcourt, where C.J. McCollum picked it up, prompting an over-and-back call that gave possession back to Miami. After a quick foul, two more Wade free throws sealed a 108-104 Heat victory.

The win — combined with Boston's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana's loss to the Chicago Bulls — bumped the 31-36 Heat up to the No. 7 seed in the East, a half-game ahead of the Celtics and a full game ahead of the Pacers. With the loss, Portland falls to 44-22, down to the No. 4 spot out West, a half-game behind the Houston Rockets.

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It was a brilliant end to a brilliant fourth quarter for Wade, who scored 15 of his team-high 32 points (to go with six assists, four rebounds and a steal) in just seven final-frame minutes to match Aldridge (eight of his game-high 34 points, with 12 rebounds and two assists) shot-for-shot down the stretch and improve Miami to 6-3 in March.

"When I got in the game — and my teammates played great, they got a three-point lead [when Wade checked back in at the 6:59 mark of the fourth] — they turned to me and about five or six of them said, 'Hey D, take us home,'" Wade told Sun Sports' Jason Jackson after the game. "So from there, man, I got so much confidence from my teammates wanting me to do it. I just have to get to my spots and raise up and shoot it."

While confidence has likely never been a problem for the three-time champion and former NBA Finals MVP, he's certainly seemed to be feeling himself of late. He looks better and better with each passing game in his new backcourt pairing with Dragic, who finished with 20 points, 11 assists, three rebounds and two steals in the win, and he's rediscovered his dominating scoring touch at just the right time for Erik Spoelstra's club.

Wade has now scored 25 or more in seven straight games, his longest such streak since December 2010, and he's getting his points efficiently. He's averaging 29.5 points on 53.6 percent shooting during that span, plus an 84.7 percent mark on 8.4 free-throw attempts per game. He's shown a quick first step, a combination of explosiveness, savvy and footwork to get himself to the rim at will, and — as evidenced on Wednesday's winner — plenty of touch on his midrange jumper, all of which has been driving defenses crazy in a fashion we weren't necessarily sure that Wade still could after all the bumps and bruises he's picked up on the way to four straight Finals trips.

That sure shows on the court, and it's sure making a difference for the Heat, who have now won three of four and will look to finish their homestand strong when the welcome the resurgent Denver Nuggets on Friday night before embarking on a tough four-game road trip — at Oklahoma City, who are fighting for their playoff lives every night; at Milwaukee, who are sliding but still pack one of the league's very best defenses on a nightly basis; at Boston, who should have spark-plug scorer Isaiah Thomas back by then; and at Atlanta, owners of the best record in the East — that could make or break their postseason push.

"Right now, it's just doing whatever I can to help my teammates," Wade told Jackson. "We've been playing good as a team on both ends of the floor. We started a little sluggish today, but I think from the second quarter on, man, we played playoff basketball. We have aspirations of going to the playoffs. That's how we have to play.

"It's starting to feel right," he later added. "We feel that when we play our game, we can compete with anyone. Right now, we're playing our game."

And that's a pretty good game ... even if a certain someone watching from the locker room at Quicken Loans Arena can call what's coming next.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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