Will Wade carry Heat past Raptors again?

Will Wade carry Heat past Raptors again?

There are times when critics like to question whether Dwayne Wade remains a top-level talent. Monday was not one of those instances.

Miami’s 12-time All-Star poured in 30 points in a 94-87 overtime triumph that tied his team’s second-round playoff series with Toronto at two games apiece. Nine of those points came in the final 6 ½ minutes of regulation. In many ways, the performance called to mind his vintage “Flash” form from yesteryear. Wade proved to be a one-man wrecking crew, insofar as 11 of his 13 field goals were unassisted.

Coach Erik Spoelstra basically needs the same level of output tonight. The Heat and Raptors meet in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, with an 8 p.m. ET tip at Air Canada Centre. Oddsmakers at online sports book Bovada.lv like the host club as a 4.5-point favorite. The over/under, meanwhile, rests at 188.

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Wade’s backcourt production assumes even greater importance in light of Miami’s diminished resources up front. Center Hassan Whiteside remains sidelined with a sprained ligament in his right knee. The seven-footer had a combined 29 boards in the first two games of the matchup, including 17 in a 102-96 OT victory in the opener.

Of course, Toronto is not without its own problems in the post. Jonas Valanciunas’ sprained ankle renders him useless for the rest of the proceedings. He averaged 18.3 points on 64.9 percent shooting 12.7 rebounds in the first three contests.

The Raptors’ world-class guards are still searching for similar marksmanship from the floor. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry went a combined 6 for 28 two nights ago, and both individuals carry sub-34 percent shooting rates for the postseason. Lowry even misfired on all six of his 3-point attempts in Game 4.

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Perhaps returning north will reinvigorate the Central Division stalwarts, even though Wade’s unlikely to falter anywhere. Having scored 30 points in two-straight playoff affairs for the first time since 2010, he now boasts 34 30-point games with the Heat – the most in franchise history. Can a Goran Dragic or Luol Deng shoulder at least a bit of the burden this evening, though? Miami players other than Wade are 1 of 25 on beyond-the-arc hoists in the past two contests.

At age 34, Wade can’t possibly keep turning back the clock forever. He’s performing – and feeling – at his best level in years, however, and that’s good enough to make us pick the underdog in a few hours. Expect a very tight duel between Spoelstra and Dwane Casey’s outfits that hangs in the balance until the waning minutes. Toronto will prevail thanks to the home-court advantage, but consider the stage sufficiently set for a lengthy, ultra-compelling series.

WEDNESDAY NBA FREE PICK: HEAT +4.5

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