The Nuggets had lost six straight, but Denver is a tough place to visit.
The road-weary Miami Heat trudged into the Pepsi Center to face the slumping Denver Nuggets on Monday, Dec. 30. Following a familiar narrative, the Heat struggled for 36 minutes and then turned it on in the fourth quarter for the 97-94 victory.
LeBron James led the Heat with 26 points and also dished out 10 assists. Ty Lawson matched his 26 points and his five three-pointers, but the Nuggets point guard only managed seven dimes. Dwyane Wade finished with 12 points after an early exit due to back spasms.
The Nuggets came in having lost six straight games, and they very nearly nipped the defending champs. The Heat did not rebound well for much of the game and their defense seemed disinterested as Denver dominated scoring in the paint 48-28. These factors helped create a 55-46 deficit for Miami at the half.
But the fourth quarter is like the anchor in a relay: It's the leg that matters most.
The Heat reigned supreme in the final dozen minutes and whipped Denver 25-17 to emerge with a crucial victory. Mercifully, Miami did not need overtime to end its road trip.
Michael Beasley drained a vital three-pointer in the final minute which helped secure the win, and LeBron seemed very grateful for that bucket when interviewed on the Sun Sports postgame. Beasley was kind enough to share his irrational confidence after the game with Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick. His advice: You better guard him or else!
Beasley: "If you're not in my face, I'm gonna take it. And in my mind, I'm going to make it."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) December 31, 2013
Player grades start at a C+ for a decent overall performance. That increases by a full letter grade for certain extraordinary accomplishments (30 points, 15 rebounds, high-IQ play) and decreases by the same margin for less-than-ordinary performances (worse than 25 percent shooting, lots of turnovers, especially awful defense). We'll put role players on the grading curve.
Instead of gold stars and frowny faces, here are grades for every Heat player.
Key Player Grades
LeBron James, Power Forward
LeBron turned 29 on Dec. 30, so here's wishing a very happy birthday to a player who already has more points than Larry Bird. What else can you get him?
Unfortunately, the birthday boy was also nursing a sore groin, and that is no way to spend your special day. It led to some unique stats which basically resulted from his multitude of spot-up jump shots.
LeBron attempted just one shot in the restricted area tonight, just the fourth time he's taken less than two as a member of the Heat.— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) December 31, 2013
If your groin is sore, it makes sense that you don't drive to the hoop. James still notched 26 points thanks in part to his 5-of-9 shooting from downtown, plus 10 assists and six boards. He did, however, miss three of his eight free-throw attempts and committed four turnovers.
He still helped power the Heat to victory, and without him the result would not have been a W.
Dwyane Wade, Shooting Guard
Wade sustained an injury when Jordan Hamilton collided with him on a shot attempt in the third quarter. It was an odd shot challenge by Hamilton, as he bought into Wade's shot fake so deeply that he essentially leaped to the exact location where Wade was already standing.
That play prompted D-Wade's back spasms to act up and he missed the remainder of the contest. He tallied 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting, two dimes, two rebounds, a steal and a block in 18 minutes.
Chris Bosh, Center
Chris Bosh turned in a phenomenal performance in Miami's win over the Portland Trail Blazers with 37 points and the game-winning shot. He wasn't up to that form with LeBron back in the lineup, but he continued to play well.
Bosh notched 17 efficient points on 8-of-12 shooting plus five boards, two steals and a block. The lone block was a thing of beauty as he rose up to swat a lazy shot, and LeBron slap-passed it perfectly to Chalmers. The highlight dunk was marred by a Denver foul.
Mario Chalmers, Point Guard
Chalmers went all James Harden on the Denver Nuggets. He made only one of his five field-goal attempts, but he still scored 10 points thanks to his 7-of-10 shooting from the line. The Heat actually struggled from the charity stripe for most of the evening and finished 18-of-28 overall.
Chalmers also dished nine dimes, but that wasn't good enough for the team high thanks to LeBron's unselfishness.
Shane Battier, Small Forward
Shane Battier takes a lot of charges, but he doesn't get every call. Wilson Chandler deked LeBron and left him rooted to the spot on a drive. All Battier got on that was a crotch in the face as he was knocked to the court.
Aside from that, he came up with six points and attempted all three of his shots from downtown, netting two of them. He also tallied a steal and two rebounds in 22 minutes of intelligent play and attempted charge-drawing.
Rest of Bench
Ray Allen is a fantastic rebounder. You probably didn't know that. He's a vulture for guard rebounds, not unlike fellow old guy Jason Kidd. Allen put in 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting, but he also added seven boards and led the team in rebounding!
Norris Cole whacked his face off the floor in the third quarter and walked to the locker room with a coterie of team staff and Joel Anthony. He may have a broken nose or broken teeth, but hopefully he's OK. He returned to the bench later in the quarter, but he could not return to the game by rule because he was not on court for the resultant free throws after his face injury.
Udonis Haslem blocked a shot. He also missed all four shots he attempted. But, and this is a big but, Haslem provided the suffocating defense on Denver's inbounds pass with one second left—or rather, the lack of an inbounds pass. Haslem forced a five-second violation and a Nuggets turnovers to secure possession and the three-point victory.
Michael Beasley hit his 12th three-pointer of the season, and it was very timely hooping; it extended Miami's lead to four points with 30 seconds left.
LeBron with a chestbump and a pat on the back of Beasley's head. Biggest shot he's made in second tenure.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) December 31, 2013
Rashard Lewis didn't do very much, notching two points and a steal. Roger Mason Jr. had a similar night with single-digit minutes and very few stats. With Wade hurt, RMJ had a cup of coffee and snagged a steal and a rebound while he was at it.
The Heat will be delighted to return home after a four-game road trip on the West Coast over a six-day span. They will get to enjoy their New Year's celebration because they don't play again until hosting the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 2.