The Heat, winless in Denver since 2002, was without starters Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers. Naturally, Miami won.
Norris Cole rattled down a three-pointer from the corner with 51.4 seconds left to give the Heat a four-point lead and Miami hung on for a 98-93 victory in a wild and weird game in the Mile High City. The Heat plays the Suns on Saturday in the final game of a difficult (and costly) six-game road trip.
Wade, nursing a sprained foot since the Heat’s victory over the Rockets on Monday, will likely be a game-time decision in Phoenix. The Heat was off on Friday. Wade scored six points Wednesday against the Clippers and watched from the bench on Thursday as the Heat earned its first victory in Denver since 2002.
The Heat is now 16-3 without Wade in the lineup since last season. Statistically speaking, it was an odd way to win a game for the Heat. Consider:
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• Miami lost the rebounding battle 48-29.
• Attempted just 16 free throws.
• Gave up 26 more points in the paint.
• Allowed 10 more second-chance points and 13 more points off fast breaks.
The Heat countered those numbers with just 11 turnovers and 13 three-pointers. The Heat has made at least 10 three-pointers in five games this season, equaling the total number of double-digit three-point games last season.
To top of the Heat’s contrarian victory, second-year reserve guard Cole, who was 2 of 11 from the field before knocking down one of the biggest shots of his young career. He was wide, wide, wide-as-a-barn-door open when James found him with the corner of his eye and whipped a pass out to the perimeter. Cole didn’t hesitate.
“LeBron broke the defense down and I was open and he found me and I was able to knock it down for the team,” Cole said.
Considering the three-pointer helped snap the Heat’s 0-10 streak in Denver, it was perhaps Cole’s biggest basket since the clutch shot he made against Boston in last season’s opener.
“That was the first home game of my rookie year, so that felt great but tonight, on a road trip, we needed a win against a good team road,” Cole said. “This one was satisfying also.”
The Heat was 13 of 27 from three-point range, with Shane Battier going 6 of 7 from behind the arc for 18 points. Mike Miller, filling in for Wade, made 4 of 8 threes for 12 points.
Battier had a tough night, having to deal defensively with Kenneth Faried, who is the Nuggets’ version of Dennis Rodman. Faried had 16 points and 20 rebounds, including 11 on the offensive glass.
“I know I’m small. That’s fine. I’m tough and I’m going to fight guys every single night,” said Battier, sporting shiner under his right eye from an encounter with Zach Randolph’s elbow earlier in the week.
James finished with 27 points, seven rebounds and a season-high 12 assists. He had 15 points in the second half and a team-high eight points in the final period.
Miami committed just 11 turnovers Friday night int he win over the Nuggets. Chalmers, Wade and James combined for 12 of the Heat’s 19 turnovers on Wednesday in the loss to the Clippers.
The Heat led the Nuggets by as many as 19 points in the third quarter.
“We came out to play,” James said. “We played a great game for three quarters and we knew they were going to make a run, but we came to far to let that game slip away from us.”