The Miami Heat ended their three-game losing streak and solidified their grip on the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture with a 118-108 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday at the Moda Center.
Portland saw its three-game winning streak come to an end despite 33 points and five rebounds from CJ McCollum and a double-double from Damian Lillard (13 points and 10 assists). McCollum carried the offense for extended stretches, especially with Lillard struggling with his shot (2-of-10 from three-point range).
Hassan Whiteside (28 points, 11 boards, four steals and two blocks) and Dwyane Wade (22 points and nine rebounds off the bench) spearheaded the winning effort for the Heat.
Dwyane Wade Remains Crucial to Heat's Playoff Hopes in Final Season
Wade is 37 years old and already said he will retire after the season. He has received ovations on the road and was even named as a special roster addition to the All-Star Game along with Dirk Nowitzki by Commissioner Adam Silver.
It would be easy for him to coast and treat the 2018-19 campaign as a victory lap for a career that includes three championships, an NBA Finals MVP, eight All-NBA selections, three All-Defensive selections and 12 All-Star Game nods. After all, the All-Star selection is just that—a career-achievement award and a symbolic victory lap.
Instead, Wade was battling for offensive rebounds and diving for loose balls in crunch time of the victory over Portland. Not only was he getting out in transition as well, but he was also leading the break at times. He was 9-of-17 from the field and flashed the lethal mid-range jumper he is known for on multiple occasions.
As a result, he drew MVP chants on the road while shooting free throws in the final minute.
Tuesday marked Wade's second straight game with more than 20 points. He has assumed a ball-handling role for stretches with Goran Dragic sidelined with a knee injury, which is critical for a Heat team battling for playoff positioning.
Wade's ability to create and either hit from mid-range or attack the rim creates openings for the entire offense, and Whiteside was able to take advantage against the Trail Blazers.
Miami will need Wade to continue playing at the level he demonstrated the last couple of games given its position in the standings. It is 1.5 games ahead of the Detroit Pistons for the No. 8 seed, a half-game behind the Charlotte Hornets for the No. 7 seed and 1.5 games behind the Brooklyn Nets for the No. 6 seed.
It will have to hold off the Pistons to make the playoffs, but it could climb down the stretch and avoid a first-round matchup with the top two seeds in the East. That could set up the Heat for their first playoff-series victory since the 2015-16 campaign.
Depth will be important in the season's closing run, and having a future Hall of Famer in Wade anchoring the bench unit will allow head coach Erik Spoelstra to create matchup problems. Wade can also provide a scoring spark off the bench when the offense is struggling and won't be bothered by the pressure-packed moments to come given his illustrious resume that includes 177 career playoff games.
Wade is not just giving the Heat a ceremonious send-off in 2018-19. He is helping them in their playoff push as a critical piece of the rotation.
The Trail Blazers host the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, while the Heat are at the Sacramento Kings on Friday.