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GARY WASHBURN | SUNDAY BASKETBALL NOTES

Dwyane Wade isn’t fading into Miami sunset just yet

The veteran guard is essentially by himself again, leading a few vets and a couple of rookies as the Heat try catch the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

Dwyane Wade, 34, is enjoying a solid season, averaging 19.2 points per game. Lynne Sladky/Associated Press/File 2015

Dwyane Wade has seemingly experienced every phase the Heat have gone through in their 28-year history, but in truth he’s only been around for about half that time.

Besides Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tim Duncan, there is no current NBA player more associated with his franchise than Wade, a Miami lifer who not only re-signed with the Heat in 2010 but helped bring LeBron James and Chris Bosh to town.

Now that James is back in Cleveland after helping Miami to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, and Bosh is out indefinitely with another blot-clot issue, Wade is essentially by himself again, leading a few vets and a couple of rookies as the Heat try catch the Celtics for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

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With Bosh out, the Heat signed seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson, who was waived by the Nets. Johnson, along with Luol Deng, point guard Goran Dragic, rookie Justise Winslow, and prized defensive center Hassan Whiteside, join Wade in making another run in the East.

Wade, 34, is enjoying a solid season, averaging 19.2 points per game. He realizes that his prime years are closing, but he is enjoying the journey.

“It’s been an uneven season, from the standpoint of I think everyone in this locker room has been out [with an injury] at some point,” Wade said. “But I think the great thing about [us] is we’ve had a lot of fight. And to be in position with 25 games left to be fighting for playoff position shows a lot of toughness for this team.

“So for myself and [Udonis Haslem] and veteran guys in the locker room to continue to lead this team to compete, just give ourselves a chance to win. It’s been gratifying but it’s been fun. Just to get out there and not give up when we have guys out, it’s been cool.”

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Miami was expected to compete with Cleveland as the top team in the East. But injuries and an inability to score have besieged the Heat this season.

Still, without Bosh, they have remained in contention for a home-court playoff series. That has made Wade proud.

Making your point
Wade, the Heat's second-oldest player after Joe Johnson joined the squad recently, leads the team in scoring.
Dwyane Wade (34 years old)
19.2
Chris Bosh (31)
19.1
Joe Johnson (34)*
14.0
Goran Dragic (29)
13.3
Hassan Whiteside (26)
13.2
Luol Deng (30)
11.7
Source: basketball-reference.com, *in four games with the Heat

“We’re still in it, and it’s hard to say, but coming off the years I’ve had where we’ve had injuries like we’ve had like last year, the 15-win season [in 2007-08], we didn’t let go, we kept fighting,” Wade said. “I think one big testament was coming out of the All-Star break, [Bosh] was no longer with us and I was out for the first two games, our team came out and won both of those games. It really showed the character of this team and what we can be.

“We’re down one All-Star but we’ve still got some good players in here and these guys took it personally and have something to prove. I love the way they’ve been playing.”

There is little question that Wade will end his career with Miami, although he is set to become a free agent this summer and will have to again negotiate an extension. Wade is the franchise leader in games, minutes, points, assists, and steals. His impact on the sport in South Florida is unquestioned.

“It’s not that common in today’s game, but, yeah, you feel very prideful,” he said of staying with one franchise. “It hasn’t all been great, but you continue to stick with it, you continue to fight with it. I’ve been here, good or bad, the Miami Heat stays relevant. We stay giving ourselves a chance. We stay in the conversation, so it’s a good thing.

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“As long as you don’t fall too far out of it, you’ve always got a chance to jump back into [contention] and you’re competing for a championship and that’s one thing this organization is about.”

Wade is 14 years older than Winslow, and was a freshman in high school when Winslow was born. But he has taken the aging process in stride, understanding that getting old is part of the odyssey.

“We’ve all had the time where we came in and we were young, we never thought we would ever get old,” Wade said. “I just know the importance of what acknowledgment from a veteran, the encouragement they gave me, I just know how important it was for my growth.

“We need [our young guys] to play big minutes. Justise is a great kid, so it makes it easier to be able to give whatever you can to him, have a relationship with him. It’s crazy to me to play with someone that I’m [14] years older than. But it is what the game is, you have to pass down to give back, pass down the knowledge that you have.”

COMFORT ZONE

Jordan is content with his decision

DeAndre Jordan is scoring more (12.2 points per game, up from 11.5) simply because he is attempting two more free throws per contest.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press/File 2016

The DeAndre Jordan free agency saga has faded into oblivion. Jordan committed to signing with the Mavericks days before the moratorium ended, and in an unprecedented move, the center decided to return to the Clippers after several players and coach Doc Rivers sequestered Jordan for a heart-to-heart meeting at his Houston-area home.

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Jordan wanted more of an offensive role. He wanted Rivers to call plays for him. He wanted more responsibility besides just catching alley-oops and dunking on unsuspecting souls covering the pick-and-roll.

Well, that hasn’t exactly happened. Jordan’s numbers are very similar to his averages from last season.

He is scoring more (12.2 points per game, up from 11.5) simply because he is attempting two more free throws per contest. But the big man seems comfortable and content, especially after taking on an increased role with Blake Griffin missing the last two months.

Jordan has assumed more of a leadership role. No longer is he the upstart, second-round, one-and-done from Texas A&M. He is a franchise cornerstone who accepts that responsibility.

“I’ve been here the longest and I’m one of the three leaders on the team,” he said. “When Blake’s out, me and Chris [Paul] have to step it up even more and set an example for the guys on and off the floor. I’m just continuing to do my job; that’s it, the same thing.”

It’s been a difficult season for the Clippers, who are fourth in the Western Conference at 40-20. They are headed for a rugged first-round playoff matchup with the Grizzlies, with a potential second-round series with the rival Warriors.

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It’s highly unlikely the Clippers reach the NBA Finals, but with Griffin returning soon — he must first serve a four-game team suspension for punching a team employee — the club is going to give it a run.

“We’ve just got to continue to try to win as many games as we can,” Jordan said. “So whenever [Blake] does come back, guys’ confidence will be sky high and we’ll be a lot better, hopefully.”

Jordan has fought the stigma of being just a shot blocker, dunker, and defender, but that’s what the Clippers require. With Griffin, Paul, Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, and J.J. Redick, the team has enough offense. Jordan is one of the few players in the NBA who protects the rim, rebounds, and defends the pick-and-roll effectively.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban promised Jordan he could become a more complete center in Dallas. But Jordan said he believes that can be accomplished in LA, although he didn’t seem convinced of that early in free agency.

“There is still more things that I want to do to better my game,” Jordan said. “But on certain teams, everybody has a role to help that team be successful. I know what mine is with this team. I want to keep getting better all around. I found my niche, I found something that I’m good at and want to be great at. But I don’t want to be labeled as [just a shot blocker and defender], I want to continue to get better all around. But for this team to be great, that’s what I’ve got to be.”

The drama that followed Jordan’s commitment to Dallas could be the subject of a book after his career. He wouldn’t accept Cuban’s calls and finally signed his maximum contract extension with the Clippers. His first game in Dallas in November was expectedly emotional. The Mavericks, expected to be a lottery team when Jordan rejected their deal, are headed for the playoffs.

The Clippers have dealt with even more drama than Dallas, with Doc Rivers’s constant roster changes, the Griffin situation, and myriad injuries. Both sides may be better off, and Jordan maintained he has moved on.

“I’m over it,” he said.

Regardless of his offensive limitations, Jordan has become one of the league’s dominant centers. The kid from Houston has become a popular sports figure in Los Angeles with his vibrant personality. He’s even in a series of national television commercials.

“I’m from Houston, so we deal with pressure, so it’s cool,” Jordan said with a smile. “I was young, I was 19 years old [when drafted]. I wasn’t a shy guy, so it worked out.”

ETC.

Leonard quietly finding stardom

Kawhi Leonard is averaging 20.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.Soobum Im/USA Today Sports/File 2016

When one of the NBA’s emerging stars is so anonymous that most fans couldn’t recognize his voice, the obscurity is likely intentional.

The Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard doesn’t scream after making game-winning shots. He doesn’t have national endorsement deals, nor is he a social media maven. He just hoops. And he is one of the 10 best players in the world.

Leonard is the new face of the Spurs, a physically gifted swingman who can play three positions. Leonard is averaging 20.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, with a sparkling 48.4 3-point percentage. During interviews over All-Star Weekend in Toronto, he was polite but expressionless.

Leonard soaked in his first All-Star experience in his own matter-of-fact style, as if he expected to be there.

“I just separate my personal life from basketball,” he said. “I just go out, compete, have fun, and just go home after.”

Leonard was a little-known sophomore out of San Diego State when he was drafted 15th overall by the Pacers in 2011, Indiana then sending his draft rights to the Spurs in exchange for point guard George Hill. San Antonio was a perfect fit for his style.

“I felt like nobody watched since I was at a low-major,” Leonard said of his college career. “But since high school I thought I could be an NBA All-Star if I was able to get into the NBA. I’ve just been blessed to have an opportunity to play and coach [Gregg Popovich] and the organization seeing how hard I work and then giving me the opportunity to score the ball more and just play minutes out there on the floor.”

Popovich demands attention to detail and defensive intensity. Leonard is a tireless worker who has improved his offensive game; his scoring average has increased every season, and he is considered one of the league’s elite defenders.

Higher profile
A year-by-year look at Kawhi Leonard's statistics.
Season G-GS Min Pts FG% Reb
2011-12 64-39 24.0 7.9 .493 5.1
2012-13 58-57 31.2 11.9 .494 6.0
2013-14 66-65 29.1 12.8 .522 6.2
2014-15 64-64 31.8 16.5 .479 7.2
2015-16 56-56 32.7 20.8 .514 6.8
Career 308-281 29.6 13.8 .501 6.3
Source: basketball-reference.com

Leonard admitted that it was difficult waiting for his turn to become a go-to player. He entered the league as the Spurs’ fifth or sixth option, and he has finally become their first.

“I was happy winning but there were those times when you’re selfish and you want to do more on the floor for your team,” he said. “But I was always just the guy that wanted to take the best advantage of my opportunity. So whatever role that they gave me, I just tried to be the best in the league at that role.”

A reporter in Toronto asked Leonard about his favorite Drake song, and he responded by saying there’s so many that “I would have to get back to you with that.”

When the reporter suggested “Hotline Bling,” Leonard tersely responded, “You want that to be my favorite song? Nah, that’s not one of my favorite Drake songs.”

Leonard is a literal dude. There isn’t much joking or sarcasm. He is straightforward. And his understated style follows the lead of Popovich and Tim Duncan as the Spurs continue to be one of the premier organizations in professional sports.

“Everybody knows who the Spurs are and what they’re doing,” Leonard said. “We’ve got one of the greatest power forwards [Duncan] on the team and we’ve got two Hall of Famers [in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili]. I don’t know, I just go with who I work with.”

Layups

Thunder part-owner Aubrey McClendon died last week in a one-car accident. While Clayton Bennett was the face of the Seattle SuperSonics’ move to Oklahoma City, McClendon offered the financial backing and was considered the money man. McClendon was fined $250,000 by the NBA for saying that the Oklahoma-based ownership group did not purchase the Sonics to keep the team in Seattle. From then on, Bennett’s $500 million arena proposal in Renton, Wash., was viewed as just a guise. The Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season . . . The Spurs signed 39-year-old guard Andre Miller after he was bought out by the Timberwolves. But to clear roster space, they had to release 24-year-old Ray McCallum, making the point guard an intriguing free agent. McCallum spent the previous two seasons with the Kings before being shipped to San Antonio, and has spent a chunk of this season in the NBADL . . . The Rockets believed Ty Lawson would jump-start their offense. Instead, he was waived last week. The Nuggets traded Lawson, who had several alcohol-related issues, to the Rockets to give rookie Emmanuel Mudiay the starting point guard slot. It’s believed Nuggets management didn’t want Lawson to be a bad influence on Mudiay. But Lawson also had on-court issues in Houston. He lost his confidence and was benched. It will be interesting to see in what direction the Rockets go this summer, and whether GM Daryl Morey takes as many chances as he has in the past. The first move should be to hire a stable and respectable head coach who can manage personalities.

Sweet stroke

Warriors star Stephen Curry is rewriting the record books with his prolific 3-point shooting. Here’s a look at Curry’s downtown domination:

Compiled by Michael Grossi

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.