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Miami’s Dwyane Wade finally has a strong supporting cast against the Lakers

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In recent seasons, since the split with Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade felt a bit lonely when it came to these matchups against the Lakers.

On one side, Kobe Bryant would arrive alongside All-Star talent. For Wade, the supporting case wasn’t quite at the same level.

Now, as has been the case since the Miami Heat’s off-season overhaul, everything has changed.

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“It feels good,” Wade said, as he looked ahead to Saturday’s Christmas showcase against the Lakers at Staples Center. “I was thinking about that the other day. For the first time, we get to go at ‘em with a good team, as well as them having a good team.

“For the first time in a while, I’m not just going into the game saying, ‘If we’re close in the fourth quarter, we’re doing a good job against this team.’”

The degree of the Heat’s talent level will be predicated by Wade’s fitness level, after he missed Thursday’s road victory over the Phoenix Suns with a sore left knee. There is confidence from Coach Erik Spoelstra that Wade will be lining up alongside LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

But Wade cautioned that it doesn’t necessarily mean that will put the two teams on equal footing.

“We’re not the equal,” he said. “Talent-wise, we can match up with anybody. As for what they are as a team, we’re not their equal and it’s going to take a while to become their equal. As a team, they’re way ahead of where we’re at. We’re trying to get there.”

At seemingly every turn this week, Heat players have cautioned about overstating the meaning of the matchup. Bosh said you can’t compare a team in its second month to a team defending back-to-back championships.

“It’s too early for that, especially for us,” he said. “I mean, they’re the defending champions, they’ve played a bunch of seasons together. We’ve played 30-something games together.

“When you look at it in the grand scheme of things, they have a lot more experience together and they have a lot more big-game experience. We know it’s going to take a long time for us to get to where we want to go.”

To Spoelstra, the most meaningful element of the game is that it is viewed as a meaningful game.

“We think since the first day of the season we’re one of the most improved teams, and we think we’re ready for it,” he said. “In terms of it meaning more than other games, I think it’ll be a special opportunity for the guys to play on Christmas in front of a great environment, also knowing that many people will be watching. We have several people in the locker room that love games that really mean something to the fans.”

When it comes to perspective, James has no better example than his two games last season against the Lakers, when his Cleveland Cavaliers swept the two-game series, including a 102-87 Christmas Day victory at Staples Center, when he scored 26 points.

“I beat the two-time champs twice in a row in the regular season. That didn’t get me anything,” he said of the Lakers going on to win a second consecutive championship and his Cavaliers being bounced in the second round of the playoffs. “So I know what it’s all about. It’s one game, hyped up.

“It’s not if we win or if they win or if we lose or they lose then it’s going to define our season in any way.”

In recent years, Heat-Lakers meant Wade-Kobe. Now it is a much more complex equation. For that, Wade said he is thankful.

“It’s different now,” Wade said. “There’s a lot more to it, now.”

iwinderman@sunsentinel.com

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