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Nuggets hand Heat fourth-consecutive loss in NBA Finals rematch

UPI

MIAMI, March 13 (UPI) -- Nine months had passed since the Denver Nuggets faced the Miami Heat in Miami before Wednesday's rematch of last year's NBA Finals foes, but the results of the squabble were eerily similar.

Big man Nikola Jokic again used pristine pirouettes to pilfer momentum, driving for acrobatic rim finishes or dishing assists to teammates whenever the score tightened at the Kaseya Center.

The two-time NBA MVP totaled 12 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in the 100-88 victory in Miami. Forward Michael Porter Jr. logged a game-high 25 points and seven rebounds for the defending champions, who also beat the Heat on Feb. 29 in Denver.

"The biggest thing for us is that all of our players trust in each other," Nuggets coach Michael Malone told reporters. "It's fun to watch."

The Nuggets, who won Game 4 of the NBA Finals on June 9 in Miami before going on to win in five games, outshot the Heat 48.8% to 42.5% in Wednesday's victory. The Heat made just 5 of 21 shots from 3-point range.

The Heat got off to a solid start, but could not hold their first quarter lead. The Nuggets answered with an early 18-2 run and held their foes to a 37.5% shooting clip, including 16.7% from 3-point range over the first 12 minutes. They carried a 26-19 lead into the second quarter.

The Heat shot 46.7% and outscored the Nuggets 25-24 over the next 12 minutes, but would not regain the lead until the third quarter. Center Bam Adebayo scored nine points in the frame and the Heat exchanged the lead several times with the Nuggets, but still trailed 72-71 to start the fourth.

The game remained tight early in the final quarter. The Nuggets then used an 11-4 run to push their lead to double-digits and never looked back. They outscored the Heat 28-17 over the final 12 minutes.

Adebayo scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the loss. Heat forward Jimmy Butler chipped in 15 points.

The Heat (35-30), who are on a four-game losing streak, currently hold the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference with 17 games remaining in the regular season. The Nuggets (46-20), the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, are headed in an opposite direction.

They will take a four-game winning streak into another road game against the San Antonio Spurs (14-52) at 8:30 p.m. EDT Friday in San Antonio.

The Heat will battle the Detroit Pistons (12-53) at 7 p.m. Friday in Detroit.