Heat celebrate James' birthday with win

Michael Kelly, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

DENVER -- LeBron James gave his team a couple of presents on his 29th birthday -- another double-double and a win to end the year.
The superstar forward scored 26 points and handed out 10 assists, and the Miami Heat beat the reeling Denver Nuggets 97-94 Monday night.
Center Chris Bosh added 17 points for Miami, which finished its Western Conference road trip 3-1.
James, who sat out Saturday's win over the Portland Trail Blazers because of a groin injury, shrugged off his birthday performance as just another day at the office.
"Special? It wasn't special," he said after his 258th career double-double. "It's special to go out there with my teammates and be back in uniform, help them win a ballgame on the road."
Denver could have used a present on James' birthday. The Nuggets got 26 points from guard Ty Lawson, and center J.J. Hickson contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds, but it wasn't enough.
The Nuggets (14-16) saw their losing streak reach seven games, their longest skid since the end of the 2002-03 season, which was the last time they didn't make the playoffs.
"Obviously we're on a seven-game losing streak, but hopefully we can turn this thing around," said forward Darrell Arthur, who had 13 points. "We're trying to put it together."
The Heat (24-7) swept the season series against Denver in 2012-13 by winning at Pepsi Center for the first time since 2001-02. The Miami players and coaches wanted to make it two straight Monday.
The Nuggets tried to prevent that by keeping James out of the lane, but he was content to score from the outside. He shot 5-for-9 from 3-point range and said his groin wasn't the reason he hung around the perimeter.
"I took whatever I wanted. They went under a lot of pick-and-rolls, they left me open at the 3-point line, so I took nine 3s," he said. "All of them felt good except one, the one at the end of the first when I took that heave. The groin wasn't an issue at all."
The game was tied at 87 when James, who was content to pass for most of the period, scored two buckets to give the Heat a 91-90 lead. After a Denver miss, Miami guard Ray Allen hit a floating jumper.
Forward Wilson Chandler's dunk made it a one-point game again, but Miami forward Michael Beasley hit a 3-pointer from the top of the circle to make it 96-92 with 30 seconds left.
"That was a huge shot," James said. "Great for his confidence for him to step up and make a huge shot like that."
Denver guard Randy Foye's driving layup cut the lead in half, and after Allen made just one of two free throws, Lawson's 3-point attempt was off.
Denver had one more chance with 1.7 seconds left, but Hickson couldn't inbound the ball, turning it over on a five-second violation.
It was a tough way for the Nuggets to finish the calendar year.
"We wanted to end 2013 on a high note and start trying to build for 2014," Denver coach Brian Shaw said.
The Heat got James back but lost two more players. Guard Dwyane Wade didn't play after halftime because of back spasms, and guard Norris Cole left the game early in the third after he slammed his head onto the floor on a foul by Lawson. Cole was helped to the locker room by teammates and didn't return.
"He's fine right now, and he could have gone back in," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Cole. "If that's not an endorsement to wear your mouth guard, I don't know what is."
Wade said his back just tightened up and he should be fine in a few days.
The Heat started the game with an 8-0 run before Denver rallied to take a 55-46 lead. Miami began the second half the same way -- with a big run. The Heat scored the first 13 points of the third before the Nuggets woke up.
Arthur, who came into Monday averaging 5.6 points, scored six in the third alone to spark a comeback. Denver went on a 14-7 run to end the period and led 77-72 entering the fourth.
NOTES: Heat F/C Chris Andersen (sore back) missed his third consecutive game. ... Denver coach Brian Shaw continued to juggle his lineup to try to find a spark. Jordan Hamilton started at shooting guard for Randy Foye for the third straight game. "We don't have an identity. We're in a state of discovery right now," Shaw said. "We're trying to figure out what we have in terms of our personnel." ... Miami C Chris Bosh was named the NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 22.3 points and 8.0 rebounds in four games. He had 37 points and 10 rebounds against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday, hitting the game-winning 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left. ... Nuggets F Darrell Arthur returned to the lineup after missing two games with a right quadriceps contusion.

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