January 12, 2015

Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat are closing in on a playoff spot, while Kobe Bryant's final season is entering the Los Angeles Lakers' record books for all the wrong reasons.

Wade and Bryant will face off for the last time Wednesday night when the Heat continue their pursuit of first place in the Southeast Division.

Miami (43-30) is fourth in the Eastern Conference, 6 1/2 games ahead of ninth-place Chicago with nine left in the regular season. The Heat are also one-game back of Atlanta for the Southeast lead with Charlotte lurking one-half behind Miami.

Wade played through a wrist injury to score 30 points on 14-of-19 shooting and handed out nine assists in Monday's 110-99 win over Brooklyn.

It was the 11th win in 15 games for the Heat, who overcame the absence of point guard Goran Dragic (illness), who was ruled out just prior to the game.

Rookie Josh Richardson started in place of Dragic, scoring 16 points and connecting on 3 of 4 3-pointers.

"We all had to breathe collectively, without our point guard, without somebody who puts pressure around the rim and attacks," said Wade, who jammed his wrist early. "I took it upon myself to be that one to attack."

That's usually a recipe for success for the Heat, who are 12-4 when Wade has at least 25 points.

He only needed to score 12 as Miami cruised to its seventh straight win over the Lakers, 101-88 on Nov. 10.

The conference-worst Lakers (15-59) look incapable of ending that skid, losing eight of their last nine after being hammered 123-75 at Utah on Monday to match the worst loss in team history and the most lopsided defeat of Bryant's career.

"I didn't say anything," coach Byron Scott told the team's official website when asked how he addressed the team. "I'd hope they would do a little soul searching and just think about what happened and think about how we just didn't come to play and how we didn't compete.

"Sometimes it just comes down to having some pride."

Los Angeles is in serious danger of finishing with the fewest wins in a single season in franchise history. It needs to win five of its final eight games to surpass the 19 victories from 1957-58 when the Lakers were based in Minneapolis.

Bryant is trying to bounce back from one of his worst performances of the season. He had five points while missing 10 of 11 shots Monday after averaging 20.5 while hitting 41.4 percent from 3-point range over the four previous games.

He's averaging 25.8 points over his last nine meetings with Miami, but he's missed four of the last five with injuries, including the November matchup with back pain.

Now, Bryant faces the Heat for the last time and should find himself matched up with Wade. The two were teammates on the gold medal team at the 2008 Olympics.

Bryant and the Lakers will also have to worry about Hassan Whiteside, who had 19 points and 15 rebounds in this season's first meeting. The center has totaled 53 points on 22-of-31 shooting, 20 boards and six blocks over the last two games.

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