Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had nothing but good things to say about Dwyane Wade after the MVP candidate delivered one of the best performances of his career to help the team clinch the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.An encore effort from Wade in his next game would likely inspire even more confidence as Miami heads toward the postseason.
Wade looks to follow a remarkable performance with another strong outing Tuesday night when the Heat visit the Hawks in a preview of the teams' first-round playoff series beginning this weekend in Atlanta.
Wade scored a career-high 55 points Sunday night to lead Miami (42-38) to a 122-105 win over New York that wrapped up the No. 5 spot. It was the 11th 50-point game in the NBA this season and the third by Wade, the league's scoring leader with 30.2 points per game.
"He just has a remarkable way of rising to the occasion," Spoelstra said.
Wade, who was 19-for-30 from the field with a career-high six 3-pointers Sunday, was one point shy of Glen Rice's franchise record when he left the game with 1:06 remaining.
"He's broken every other (team) record," Spoelstra said. "Let's leave one of them to Glen Rice."
As impressive as Wade's performance against the Knicks was, the Heat would likely feel even better if he could put together a similar outing against the fourth-seeded Hawks (46-34). Atlanta will host Miami in Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs Saturday or Sunday.
Wade has averaged 25.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 51.7 percent from the field in three meetings with the Hawks. The Heat have dropped two of those games, including a 91-83 defeat in their previous trip to Philips Arena on Feb. 27.
That was one of the Hawks' 30 wins in 40 games in Atlanta this season, their best record since they went 36-5 there in 1996-97. They clinched home-court advantage in the first round with a 122-118 home victory over Indiana on Friday night.
"Critics didn't give us a chance at the beginning," said forward Josh Smith, who had 30 points and 10 rebounds. "That's what makes this so special."
Smith is the only holdover from the Hawks team that went 13-69 in 2004-05. The franchise has increased its win total each season since then, and after taking eventual champion Boston to seven games in the first round of the playoffs last season, the Hawks sound prepared to take the next step this spring.
"This team is different from last year," coach Mike Woodson said. "We had to fight just to get in and made a series out of the first round. This year is a lot different, and it started from day one. We are playing good ball."
However, All-Star guard Joe Johnson - the team leader with 21.5 points per game - says the team still has a lot of work to do. Tuesday's home finale could be a good barometer for Atlanta's success in the postseason.
"We can't relax even though we have home court," Johnson said.
The Hawks finish the regular season at Memphis on Wednesday, while the Heat close at home against Detroit that night.