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Pulse of the NBA

By Andy Roth, Contributing Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - Going back to last season, Dwyane Wade's knee issues have provided the one big question mark for the Miami Heat in their title quest.

Well, if Wade's play for just over the last month is indicative of what we'll see from the 10-time All-Star come playoff time, then you certainly have to like the Heat's chances to become the first team to three-peat since the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers accomplished that feat in 2002.

Since the start of February, Wade has played in 10 of the Heat's 13 games like his former superstar self. The Heat won nine of the 10 while he averaged 21.6 points, 5.4 assists and 5.2 rebounds, and shot a phenomenal 61 percent from the floor.

His best game just happened to come against the toughest opponent as he shot 11-of-17 from the floor and put up 24 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and three steals in the Heat's 22-point rout of the Thunder in Oklahoma City.

Wade is moving extremely well and the game looks very easy to him right now. You don't see as many explosive, athletic moves to the hoop as in the past, but he's overpowering defenders with his post-ups and his mid-range game has been deadly.

"The worst-kept secret is the fact that he has worked on his game and developed his game for the last three years to not only reinvent himself, but more importantly add a skill set that is important for this group," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He couldn't just be the same player that he was before, the way this team has been put together. It has been a long steady process of developing his post-up game and mid-range game."

The Heat are peaking during this great run by Wade, and he knows at this stage of his career that his basketball IQ is more important than ever.

"As you get older, your game has to change and you have to think the game," Wade said. "More than anything when you're young, you just react. ... Now you got to think the game, and so certain games when I'm frustrated with myself because I'm not thinking the game like I should, but for the majority of it, I do a good job of reading the game and thinking the game a little."

Keeping Wade's knees healthy is an ongoing process and Spoelstra is happy to see that he's able to do the work right now that keeps him playing at a high level.

"That's really all I look at - more than the stats or the game," Spoelstra said. "Is he able to do the strength training, the lifting, the corrective exercises, the stretching, the treatments and the conditioning, and when he's able to do all those things, it has meant good basketball out on the court.'

While Wade has been on this terrific run, his teammate, LeBron James, seems very determined to hold onto that MVP trophy that looked like it was Kevin Durant's until recently.

When Durant went on his tremendous tear during Russell Westbrook's absence, he appeared to be on his way to ending James' two year reign as MVP.

But "The King" isn't going to let go of his crown that easily as evidenced by his recent play and most notably his 61-point explosion against the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday.

Over his last 12 games, in which the Heat are 10-2, James is averaging 31.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 2.6 steals while knocking down 58 percent of his shots from the floor.

"Oh (the race) is not decided," Wade said after the Heat's win in Oklahoma City. "I don't think it was a message (to Durant). That's LeBron James being LeBron James. ... No, the MVP race is a long, long ways from over."

QUICK DRIBBLES

- The Toronto Raptors basically don't get any national media attention. Yes, they're in first place in the NBA's weakest division - the Atlantic - but there's no denying how good they've been since dealing Rudy Gay to Sacramento.

The Raptors are 27-14 following the trade after being 6-12 prior to it, and lead the Brooklyn Nets by 3 1/2 games. I think Toronto is the more talented team, and with the Raptors having the more favorable schedule down the stretch and holding the initial tie-breakers, it looks like they'll win their first division title since the 2006-07 season.

While Brooklyn is at least likely to make the playoffs, it looks like their New York counterparts - the Knicks - will be sitting home at that time. And come the summer, we'll find out if Carmelo Anthony, who plans to opt out of his contract to become a free agent, prefers a bigger bank account over a real chance to win a championship, because that won't happen unless he signs elsewhere for less guaranteed money.

The Knicks won't be able to make any major roster upgrades this offseason because they're significantly over the salary cap, and even when the hefty contracts of Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler come off the books following the 2014-15 season, I doubt a big-time free agent would sign with them even if Anthony were there, considering the weak supporting cast that comes with it.

- It's been a long time since Vince Carter was considered a star, but at 37, he's still a very productive player and is one of the top sixth men in the league. The eight-time All-Star, who is averaging 11.9 points in just over 24 minutes per game for the Dallas Mavericks, was excited last season about taking over Jason Terry's role as a sparkplug off the bench after Terry signed as a free agent with the Boston Celtics.

"I said, I can handle that one," Carter said. "We want to continue the scoring and having the energy off the bench. I took it as a challenge, and it was something I was willing to do.

"Once I figured out how to go about it - because it's different as a starter - I wanted to take the Vinnie Johnson approach," he said, referring to the former Detroit Pistons' sixth man known as the Microwave. "Just come in ready to put the ball in the basket. It was tough in the beginning finding a rhythm and being effective. It's easy now."

03/05 13:26:22 ET

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