Dwyane Wade's Renaissance: How it Affects the Playoff Hopes of the Miami Heat

After years of being a second and sometimes third option, Wade is once again the man in Miami. Can he drag the Heat into the playoffs?

Remember what it was like before the Miami Heat had a "Big Three"? Back when Dwyane Wade was the unquestioned alpha dog, instead of being the second (or sometimes third) option?

Back then, when games were on the line, there was no question that Flash was getting the ball and that the opposing team was likely going to walk away with a loss. No talk of who should shoot, who should pass, nor who should stand where. It was simple, effective, and most of all, it was deadly.

After a couple years of balky knees and teammate MVPs, those days when Wade was in the conversation for not only being the best player on his team, but perhaps in the league feel like they happened over a decade ago. Even when LeBron James broke up with the Heat this summer and went back to his high school sweetheart, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Heat looked like they would be Chris Bosh's team moving forward (we said as much at the time). That indeed seemed to be the case early in the year, but unfortunately the Heat lost Bosh for the rest of the season during the All-Star break due to blood clots on his lungs.

Even with the emergence of Hassan Whiteside and the acquisition of All-NBA guard Goran Dragic at the trade deadline, it was hard to make the case for the Heat as a playoff team, let alone contenders. After watching Wade sit out periods of last season for a maintenance program, only to see him break down entirely anyway in the NBA Finals, it didn't feel like vintage Dwyane Wade would be coming through the door for this team to lead them to the postseason anytime soon.

But then he did.

Over Wade's last seven games (with a rest game mixed in to remind you this isn't time travel, it's just a still busted up guy digging deep), he's been a revelation for the Heat. A line of 29.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.9 steals, and 0.3 blocks per contest over that span looks like something from 2009-10 Dwyane Wade (the last time he was an All-NBA First Team member), not the version we've seen defer and slowly disintegrate the last few years.

Even his efficiency -- which saw a huge spike when LeBron was in town, only to dip back down when the King left -- has been back on point over this recent stretch. His shooting split of 53.6% from the field, 36.4% from long range, and 84.7% from the charity stripe (on an aggressive 8.4 attempts per game) over his last seven all exceed his season-long and career numbers. He's quietly had a very effective season, but he's been in full-blown renaissance mode recently, as he tries to pull the Heat into the playoffs.

Last night's game against the Portland Trail Blazers -- a gutsy 108-104 victory for the Heat -- is the perfect example of that.

Coming off a huge 106-92 win over LeBron and the Cavs on Monday, the Heat faced another formidable challenge in the rolling Trail Blazers (winners of eight of their last 10 coming in) last night. The game was closely contested throughout, but it was Wade's performance in the second half -- and in particular the last seven minutes of the fourth quarter -- that got the Heat the W.

Wade's first half was nothing to write home about, as he shot 5 for 13 from the field and was having a hard time establishing a rhythm.

Then, Wade turned it up in the second half, going 8 for 13, including 5 for 8 in the last seven minutes, while hitting all 5 of his free throws.

As you can see, he basically owned the left block, but he put his official stamp on it with this clutch shot with 13.6 seconds remaining in the game to take the 106-104 lead.

Yes, you've seen that shot before. Perhaps a hundred times. LeBron, being Wade's old teammate, even saw it before it happened.

And although Wade's opponents, the Blazers, had likely seen that shot a hundred times before as well, and they had defensive specialists like Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez close enough to defend it, it still went down. Because - despite a few years away from it - this is what he does.

Wade knocked down two more free throws to seal the win in the dying seconds and finished with 32 points, four boards, six assists, a steal, and one stark reminder that he's still got it.

And so do his Heat. With the win, the Heat moved into sole possession of the 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, 1.0 game ahead of both a surging Boston Celtics team and a similarly reborn Indiana Pacers squad. The Charlotte Hornets also sit 1.5 games behind, but we have the Heat with the best playoff chances of the bunch at 60.9% as of today. They have games remaining against all three of the Celtics, Pacers, and Hornets, with an opportunity to win the series with Boston and draw even with Indiana and Charlotte (in case the head-to-head records come into play for playoff tiebreakers at season's end).

It will take a lot of hard work and some luck to make it, but Wade playing like Flash of days gone by will certainly help the Heat's cause. If they can make the 7 seed, they would likely square off with LeBron's second-place Cavs (which, the Heat's having arguably the easiest remaining schedule of the teams left in the hunt could facilitate). Considering the now-underdog Heat have won two of the three matches that have taken place so far in the season series between the two teams, it's safe to assume that this battle of old buddies would be entertaining as all hell.

It's up to whatever version of Dwyane Wade we get down the stretch and his Miami Heat to make it happen. It's certainly starting to look like they might.