MIAMI -- Among the benefits of being a future Hall of Famer and established NBA veteran is the chance to pass wisdom along to younger players who are eager to listen.
Dwyane Wade had both an audience and an adversary in rookie Devin Booker throughout the Miami Heat's 108-92 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday. Matched up against one of his childhood idols at shooting guard for most of the game, Booker responded with a career-high 34 points on 11-of-21 shooting and kept the struggling Suns competitive until late in the fourth quarter.
In the end, it was another painful loss for Phoenix (15-46), which matched a franchise record with its 17th consecutive road loss. But Booker, a 19-year-old sharpshooter who was the 13th overall pick in last year's draft, received some parting words of encouragement from Wade as the two left the court.
"I was impressed with him the first time we played him, and I'm very impressed tonight," Wade said of his message to Booker, who averaged 20 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in two games against Miami. "When you've got a young guy going through a tough season like that, he's just out there having fun. He's out there getting better, and he's one of the future [top] two-guards in this league."
Wade, a 12-time NBA All-Star, has been among the top shooting guards in the league for more than a decade. In recent seasons, Wade has shared his experiences with several of the league's promising young players when they pass through Miami. The moment Wade, 34, shared with Booker on the court after Thursday's game was similar to an exchange the Heat's three-time NBA champion had with former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins when the Minnesota Timberwolves played Miami last season.
Wade and Booker could be seen at several stages of the game talking and smiling, particularly when they defended each other. Booker, who got 22 of his 34 points in the second half, won the scoring battle, but Wade led his team to the win and finished with 27 points, seven assists and four rebounds.
The Heat were ahead by as many as 21 points in the second half, and Wade went to the bench for what was expected to be the duration of the game, considering Miami plays the second half of the back-to-back set Friday in Philadelphia. But when Booker fueled a run that cut the Heat's lead in half, Wade checked back into the game midway through the fourth to help Miami (35-26) pull away to improve to 6-2 since returning from the All-Star break.
"Obviously, Dwyane is a living legend, especially when he's here in Wade county -- everyone knows that," Booker said in reference to the nickname Miami-Dade County adopted to honor Wade six years ago. "So I just tried to take that challenge on. I like to have fun with it. Those are the games I live for. People I grew up watching and learning from. Now, I get to play against them. It gives me that extra oomph."
Booker's previous high of 32 points came Jan. 19 against Indiana, and he joins No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns as the only rookies with at least two 30-point games this season. Last month in a loss to Golden State, Booker finished with 15 points and 10 assists to become the first Suns rookie with a double-double in points and assists since Steve Nash recorded one in 1996.
Booker's continued development is one of the lone bright spots remaining in a chaotic Suns' season that has included coach Jeff Hornacek's midseason firing, major injuries to catalysts Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, internal conflicts among players and 30 losses in the past 33 games.
"Those are the games I live for. People I grew up watching and learning from. Now, I get to play against them. It gives me that extra oomph." Devin Booker
"We aren't looking for any team to take it easy on us -- we want to grow," Suns interim coach Earl Watson said. "Devin Booker, coming into the draft, everyone thought he was just a catch-and shoot player. We played him at the point guard position, and he made a lot of plays. He played defense against Dwyane Wade, and I think it was a good challenge for him."
Booker is gaining confidence through the growing pains.
"It's tough, and a lot of people know we're down a lot of people," Booker said. "I've got the opportunities, so I took advantage of it. A lot of rookies don't get that. Our young guys, we're trying to grow. It'll help us next year when we get all of our players back. It's going to be like a revenge year."
Wade is already impressed with what he sees from Booker, who entered Thursday averaging 14.3 points as a starter and ranked second among rookies in 3-point shooting percentage (38.3).
"If he continues taking steps, he's going to be very, very good," Wade said. "I like him. I like him a lot."