- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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MIAMI -- That hamstring injury? Apparently healed.
That rust from missing all but 3 minutes, 17 seconds of the preseason? Essentially gone.
That confidence and comfort level in carrying the Heat's offensive load as the resident catalyst while newcomers LeBron James and Chris Bosh unpack their bags and get acquainted to their now roles? It's never been better.
After struggling in the season-opening loss to the Boston Celtics, Dwyane Wade has delivered back-to-back breakout performances in an attempt to get his game on track and his team into a rhythm. With James and Bosh stumbling out to another slow start, Wade took the leading role again in Friday's 96-70 victory over the Orlando Magic at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Wade relentlessly attacked the basket on the way to scoring a game-high 26 points to go with six rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 34 minutes. It was another significant step for Wade in distancing himself from Tuesday's rough outing in Boston, when he missed 12 of 16 shots and had six turnovers in the Heat's 88-80 loss to the Celtics.
Friday's performance against Orlando came on the heels of Wade's 30-point effort on Wednesday in Miami's 97-87 victory in Philadelphia. He said the biggest adjustment he's made since the loss to Boston was to reclaim his identity as an attacking scorer instead of holding back and forcefully deferring to James and Bosh.
"More than anything the last two games -- it's like what LeBron said on the podium in Boston -- I have to be who I am," Wade said Friday after making nine of his game-high 20 attempts from the field. "I have to be aggressive and not be too passive and understand that this is the reason [James] wanted to come to Miami. I tried to be that, be aggressive and continue to play the game."
Wade showed no effects from the right hamstring strain he sustained in the Oct. 5 exhibition opener against Detroit, an injury that shut him down for the duration of the preseason. Wade insists he's still not fully recovered from the strain. But he also said he's regaining more strength, stamina and timing with each game and practice.
That progression showed Friday, when he scored six points in the first quarter, eight in the second and 12 in third as the Heat gradually turned a tight game into a statement-making blowout against a Magic team that had won 15 of the previous 20 meetings in the series.
Defensively, Wade's energy provided the spark that allowed the Heat to limit Orlando's top perimeter scorers -- Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson -- to 4-of-25 shooting from the field, including 1-of-8 from 3-point range.
"He had some key baskets," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade. "But what I was encouraged about was obviously the other end of the court. He was as active as he's been in a long time, really covering a lot of ground, getting to the 3-point shooters."
Wade's familiarity with the offense and his ability to take over games in stretches have allowed the Heat to overcome moments when James and Bosh have had difficulty adjusting to new roles and teammates. James has 20 turnovers through three games and Bosh is shooting only 34 percent.
"He knows the plays. He knows where he can get shots," Bosh said of Wade. "As we start to find our way, he's doing a good job of carrying the scoring load right now. Eventually, me and LeBron are going to join him."
"Eventually" should come sooner rather than later. For now, James and Bosh have been able to focus more on the defense as they wait for their rhythm and timing to come around.
"That's the good thing about it," said James, who met with Spoelstra before Friday's game to address how James could cut down on his turnovers. "When you feel like you might not have it going offensively, that's when you can transform your game and work on the defensive end. D-Wade had it going. When he slowed down, I picked it up. To have that luxury is great."
That luxury is reciprocal.
"I'm feeling a little more comfortable, but I'm still a ways from where I want to be individually, because this was only my third game," Wade said. "I still got a lot of getting better to do. I was telling LeBron that it's good that I can look to the bench when I'm tired and see he's either on the floor or he's on the bench and can come in for me. It's still a process. I'm still physically getting back."
12hSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann