There was nothing to expect but a big game from LeBron James as he returned to the lineup for the Miami Heat, on his 29th birthday nonetheless. It wasn’t one for the ages, but good enough to cover for another Dwyane Wade injury and lead the NBA champions to a 97-94 win over the Denver Nuggets.
James didn’t score, but assisted on the biggest shot of the game, as Michael Beasley knocked down a huge 3-point shot with 30 seconds left in the game to give the Heat a 96-92 lead that lasted in the tense finale, that included J.J. Hickson called for a 5-second violation with 1.8 seconds left in the game, unable to inbound the basketball with time running out for the Nuggets to make something happen.
James finished the game with 26 points, 6 rebounds and 10 assists, enjoying the Nuggets’ plan of letting him shoot 3’s and not hurt them from the inside. James had no problem with that approach, finishing with 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, all of them good shots he felt happy with taking. James isn’t going to be in the 50-40-90 club because he isn’t a good enough free throw shooter, but he is scoring on 41.5% of his three point attempts this season.
James being back meant Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade taking a step back. Wade actually played well in the 18 minutes he was on the floor, but back spasms took him off the court. Norris Cole also left the game with an injury that shouldn’t cause him more than a fat lip on the next day, but he was having a rough game, finishing with 0 points. Mario Chalmers got more minutes thanks to that, finding himself going 10 times to the line and scoring 10 points in 38 minutes.
The Heat found it hard to get into the paint, getting outscored there 48-28, but it didn’t matter, as they shot 50.7% from the field, managed to keep the Nuggets off the offensive glass (8 off rebounds) and have LeBron James come up with the right plays in the end, having no problem with the groin that kept him out of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers.
They left me open at the 3-point line. I took nine 3s and all of them felt good. The groin wasn’t an issue at all. It’s special to go out there with my teammates, to be back in good form and be out there and help them win a ballgame on the road. The shot Beasley made was a huge one. It was great for his confidence. For me, I didn’t even second-guess it. I trust my teammates.
The Heat now improve to 25-7, one game behind the Indiana Pacers. They’ve won 8 of their last 10, continuing to distance themselves from the 3rd in the East, the Atlanta Hawks, who won’t be bothering them in the big picture.
The Nuggets? Their worrying slide continues, losing a seventh consecutive game. Randy Foye came off the bench for 34 minutes and the Nuggets were winning by 17 when he was on the floor, which means it might be a good idea to put him back in the lineup, as the West doesn’t really allow teams to slip so far away from the playoff and then make up for it later.