By Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel –
DENVER — Well, this made no sense.
Until, of course, LeBron James made sense of it all.
Playing on the second night of a back-to-back set at altitude, lacking ailing Dwyane Wade and losing point guard Mario Chalmers in the first quarter, the Miami Heat were running on mile-high fumes Thursday night at the Pepsi Center, well positioned for more mile-high misery.
After 10 consecutive losses in Denver, 10 years of losses, this hardly was the scenario for a Heat breakthrough.
Not with Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried dominating the boards and Andre Miller turning into Chris Paul early in the fourth quarter for Denver.
And yet there the Heat stood at the finish, 98-93 winners after James filled the box score to the tune of 27 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds, after Shane Battier drained six three-pointers, after Norris Cole hit a huge late three-pointer.
No, Wade still has yet to win in Denver, a sprained left foot reducing him to spectator after he stumbled to a six-point shooting in Wednesday night’s 107-100 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.
But now Udonis Haslem finally has, the curse finally lifted for the Heat.
The Heat led by 19 in the third quarter and went into the fourth up 79-66.
But a night after Paul turned the game for the Clippers late in the third, Miller this time began to turn it with consecutive baskets early in the fourth, leading Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to call timeout less than two minutes into the final period.
The Nuggets’ quarter-opening surge later grew to 8-0, with Miller later converting a 3-pointer that drew the Nuggets within 81-77.
Later, Miller drove, scored and completed the 3-point play to draw the Nuggets within 85-84.
James later scored, blocked a shot, and the Heat got Shane Battier’s sixth 3-pointer of the night for a 90-84 lead, only to see Miller match it with a 3-pointer of his own.
James came back with a jumper for a 92-87 Heat lead, leading to a timeout with 2:19 to play.
Faried then missed a pair of free throws, with James securing his seventh rebound.
From there, Allen was well off with a 3-point attempt and Faried was fouled in transition with 1:57 to play. At 4 of 8 from the line to that juncture, Faried this time made both foul shots to draw Denver within 92-89.
An errant skip pass by James put the Nuggets in transition, with Andre Iguodala working his way to the line with 1:37 to play. He made both foul shots to bring Denver within 92-91.
Again James found Allen and again Allen missed, with Danilo Gallinari air-balling a 3-pointer on the other end.
And then up stepped Norris Cole, 2 of 11 to that stage, with a 3-pointer that put the Heat up 95-91.
Denver then failed with numerous point-blank opportunities at the rim, with the Heat gaining possession.
And it was over.
Already without Wade, the Heat lost Chalmers seven minutes in with a triceps injury.
But while playing for the fourth time in five nights, the Heat responded with an unexpected tenacity from the supporting cast, with Cole stepping in for Chalmers and Haslem, Rashard Lewis and even Joel Anthony having their moments early.
With Allen converting a 3-pointer off a 20-second timeout late in the second quarter, the Heat took a 54-42 lead into halftime, committing only two first-half turnovers.
The Heat managed to secure their 12-point halftime lead even with Bosh limited to one first-half rebound and Allen to one first-half basket.
Of course it helped that Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson went scoreless in the first half on 0-for-6 shooting and University of Florida product Corey Brewer also shot 0 for 6 for the Nuggets in the first half.
The Heat conclude their six-game trip Saturday against the Phoenix Suns.