PHOENIX -- Battling the flu and dehydration, LeBron James gauged himself at 50 or 60 percent for the Miami Heat's fifth game in seven nights and the end of a six-game road trip Saturday.
James saved the best of what he had for when the Heat needed it most. He capped a 21-point night with a twisting layup with 42.5 seconds left, and Miami fought off two fourth-quarter rallies to beat the Suns for the fifth straight time in Phoenix, 97-88.
"It takes a lot for me not to play and not be out there with my teammates," said James, who took only two shots in the first quarter and headed back to the Miami dressing room after coming out of the game with four minutes left in the opening period. "Me at 50 percent or 60 percent is better than me not playing at all. I was able to get a little bit of rest in the early morning and afternoon. I didn't have much energy, but I wanted to be on the floor with my guys, and I was able to make a couple of plays.
"Yeah, I got a little sick (in the first quarter), came back, got a little more fluids in me, and I felt better."
Miami's Chris Bosh did a lot of the heavy lifting early, making his last six shots of the first half to keep the Heat even at 53. He wound up with a game-high 24 points. Shane Battier added 12 points and Mario Chalmers 11 for the Heat.
The Suns wiped out a 15-point lead in the third quarter and were still within 90-88 with two minutes left before Bosh hit two free throws and James sealed the win with his big shot over Phoenix's Marcin Gortat to give the Heat a 94-88 lead.
Miami, which played without Dwyane Wade (sprained foot), won for the 16th time in the past 17 games when either James or Wade was out of the lineup.
"We got the stop we needed on defense, and we wanted to run the (clock) down as much as possible," James said of the decisive layup. "We spread out the floor ran a high pick-and-roll, and I was able to get a little bit of an angle (on Gortat). I wanted to be aggressive and try to get a foul or what I wound up with, a bucket. I was able to spin off his body a little and finish."
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said he knew James was really hurting knew the superstar missed the morning shoot-around.
"He doesn't miss much," Spoelstra said. "I can't remember the last time he missed a practice or shoot-around, so that makes you wonder, and you know it's pretty serious.
"We knew he didn't have any food (Friday) and was able to keep down Gatorade but that was about it. Even though he wasn't himself, he still had a spectacular game, and his presence was important for us."
Markieff Morris scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, including seven straight late in the third quarter, to rally the Suns from a 15-point deficit. Shannon Brown and Michael Beasley added 14 apiece for Phoenix, which got 51 of its points from the bench on a night when the starters had little to offer.
The Suns have lost three straight -- all games in which the bench had to wipe out huge deficits -- and coach Alvin Gentry said his lineup is due for a shakeup.
"We can't keep playing like this," he said. "We have to make some adjustment. I think we tried to make sure we didn't make any rash decisions or snap judgments, but after looking at this and what's happened the last four or five games, it's time for us to do something."
The Heat appeared to take control of the game midway through the third quarter, with James, Battier and Mike Miller all hit 3-pointers during a 19-4 burst and a steal and layup by Norris Cole giving Miami a 75-60 lead.
However, with all five Phoenix starters on the bench, the Suns' reserves closed the quarter with 11 straight points, the first seven by Morris. Two Sebastian Telfair free throws with 8.4 seconds left pulled Phoenix within 75-71 at quarter's end. Morris' 3-pointer cut the Miami lead to 77-76, and his jumper tied it at 79.
Gentry stuck with his reserves, but they ran out of gas. Miami scored the next eight points, with a Chalmers 3-pointer and a James layup off a Bosh feed capping the run. Phoenix pushed back within two points on a Goran Dragic steal and layup with 2:12 left, but James followed two Bosh free throws with his dagger to end it.
"You have to credit them, they picked us apart a little bit," Bosh said. "At halftime, we talked about playing better defense and keeping a guy in front of us, and we started to take on the one-on-one challenges.
NOTES: The Suns were swept by the Heat this year, marking just the second time since the 2003-04 season they didn't record a win against the defending NBA champion. Phoenix's 2009-10 team was swept in two games by the defending champion Celtics ... Wade remains out, but the Heat play only twice over 11 days beginning Sunday. Spoelstra expects Wade to return during that span ... The Suns came into the game ranked third in the NBA in offensive rebounding (14.4 points a game), leading to 15.3 second-chance points a night. Phoenix pulled down nine offensive boards Saturday. ... One reason James might have wanted to play no matter what Saturday? He came in averaging 28.7 points a game in his career against the Suns.