MIAMI (AP) A week ago, merely reaching the playoffs looked dicey for the Miami Heat.
A perfect homestand changed that.
Dwyane Wade scored 22 points, Goran Dragic added 18 and the Heat clamped down in the fourth quarter to beat the Denver Nuggets 108-91 on Friday night – and that win, combined with Milwaukee’s triple-overtime loss in Brooklyn, moved Miami within 1 1/2 games of the Bucks in the race for the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
”I’m proud of the way that this organization hasn’t quit,” Wade said. ”I’m proud of the way that this team hasn’t quit. And we’re giving ourselves a chance. That’s all we can ask for.”
Luol Deng scored 15, Hassan Whiteside added 14 and Mario Chalmers had 10 for Miami, which won its third straight game – its longest such streak since starting the season 3-0.
Michael Beasley added nine points, eight rebounds and seven assists off the bench for the Heat, leading a charge where Miami’s reserves finished with 33 points, 23 rebounds and 12 assists.
”As soon as we went to the bench, it sparked us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Kenneth Faried scored 20 for Denver, which got 16 apiece from Jusef Nurkic and Randy Foye, 13 from Wilson Chandler and a 10-point, 12-assist night from Ty Lawson.
The Nuggets missed 13 of their first 14 shots from the field in the fourth – plus their first six tries from the foul line in that quarter. Miami wasn’t much better, but even 10 points in the first 9 minutes of the final period was enough for the Heat to pull away.
”They are a good defensive team,” Nuggets coach Melvin Hunt said. ”Spo, that’s who he is, he’s a defensive-minded coach. I was concerned about scoring some, but then when you have a first ballot Hall-of-Famer over there in D-Wade, you’ve got to be worried about your defense.”
The Heat have now won a season-best four straight at home, and are 7-1 in Miami since starting 10-17 in their own building.
Miami used an early 13-0 run to erase a double-digit deficit. The Heat were down 10 when Spoelstra went to the bench for the first time, and outscored Denver by 27 the rest of the way.
Miami would lead by 15 at one point in the third, before Denver got within five. The Heat’s lead was 87-78 going into the fourth, and that’s when Denver’s offense vanished.
”Our guys continue to plug away,” Spoelstra said.
Nuggets: Danilo Gallinari was held out, resting a sore foot. It was the second time this week he didn’t play the second night of a back-to-back. … The Nuggets started 2-1 in road games against East teams. They’re 0-11 in those since. … Denver led 23-22 after one quarter, after being outscored in the opening period in each of their previous six road games.
Heat: Friday was Heat President Pat Riley’s 70th birthday. … Fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger sat courtside. … Spoelstra spent part of his morning participating in Lauren Book’s annual 1,500-mile walk through Florida to raise awareness about child sexual abuse and empower survivors.
Hunt, whose team witnessed James Harden’s 50-point, 10-rebound game in Houston on Thursday night, paid Wade a compliment. ”Dwyane Wade was the first to do what Harden is doing now,” Hunt said. ”Harden is the latest version of Dwyane Wade.”
Miami starts a four-game, six-day trip in Oklahoma City on Sunday, every game with major postseason implications. The Thunder are fighting for a Western Conference spot; Milwaukee (Tuesday) and Boston (Wednesday) are among the teams jostling for position alongside Miami in the East; and Atlanta (Friday) is trying for the league’s best overall record.