MIAMI (AP) - Mike Bibby came to Miami to provide veteran leadership. The Heat soon may be asking him for much more.
LeBron James scored 33 points, Dwyane Wade had 32 and Miami never trailed during a 103-98 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.
Chris Bosh finished with his fifth straight double-double, 18 points and 11 rebounds. But the Heat may have taken a significant hit when starting point guard Mario Chalmers was carried off the floor late in the first quarter with what was preliminarily diagnosed as a sprained right knee.
``Injuries have just figured out a way to bite us, seems at the wrong times,' James said. ``And it happened again tonight. Hopefully it's not a huge thing.'
Bibby, the only other true point guard on Miami's roster, scored 14, going 4 for 8 from 3-point range.
J.R. Smith had 27 points and Danilo Gallinari finished with 23 for Denver, which went 0-2 on their back-to-back swing through Florida after losing in Orlando on Friday night. Denver was without point guard Raymond Felton, who sprained his ankle in the final minute of that loss to the Magic and is not expected to play when the Nuggets host Toronto on Monday.
``I felt we were trying to search for our personality rather than knowing our personality,' Nuggets coach George Karl said. ``When you are playing a team and their best players are having great games, you are just searching for too many answers.'
Ty Lawson scored 16 points, Wilson Chandler finished with 12 and Nene scored 10 for the Nuggets, who also played much of Saturday without guard Arron Afflalo. He aggravated a left hamstring strain in the first half and did not return.
But Chalmers' health concerns clearly seemed the most pressing.
``I think Mike fits right in,' Wade said. ``He's a guy who's great when he gets the ball ... a very good shooter and most importantly, he's a veteran guy who's very smart. He's going to be big for us in the playoffs.'
Chalmers was guarding Lawson on the right wing with about 1 minute left in the first quarter when he got hurt. Lawson tried to drive and Chalmers tumbled backward, appearing to favor his left leg. Chalmers tried to recover, then making contact with Lawson's outstretched right leg as he made a jumper.
Chalmers, who has started 27 straight games since Jan. 22, went down, holding his right knee. He will be re-examined on Sunday.
James picked up where he left off in Atlanta on Friday night, shooting 6 for 8 in the opening quarter for 13 points and helping stake the Heat to a 29-21 lead. But by then, Denver was finding its groove, and actually got within one on a 3-pointer by Smith with 7:20 left until halftime - with Miami's thoughts stuck on Chalmers.
``You just want to know,' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ``The unknown is probably worse than anything. And it was like getting hit in the face. But we gathered and I was glad to see our maturity from that point on. ... We continued to grind the game. It wasn't necessarily a pretty game going down the stretch, but we made enough plays.'
Miami stretched the lead back to double-digits three times, only to see the Nuggets keep rallying. And in the fourth, things got downright dicey for Miami, with Denver getting within four twice.
The Nuggets never got any closer.
``You start to help, then Mike Bibby comes in and starts knocking down 3s. It's real hard to guard that,' Lawson said. ``They are a good team, good players, and it's tough to stop that when they are hitting on all cylinders like that.'
Gary Forbes made a 3-pointer with 10:09 left to help Denver close to 82-78, and Gallinari scored inside about a minute later to keep the Nuggets within four.
They didn't score again for nearly four minutes, and the Heat put things away with a 10-0 run.
Wade stole the ball from Gallinari, passed to Bosh, who found James for a dunk that pushed Miami's edge to 89-80. James added two free throws 28 seconds later, and Wade hit a 3-pointer with 5:59 left to stretch the edge to 94-80.
Denver made one more late burst, closing to 99-94 on a jumper from Chandler with 42.3 seconds left. But James - who is 31 for 46 from the field in his last two games - sealed it with a runner off the glass with 21.5 ticks remaining.
The Heat scored the game's first 10 points, while Denver missed its first seven shots. Wade connected on his first four shots, the last of which gave Miami a quick 14-3 lead, and James had consecutive dunks to put the Heat up 25-9 in the early going.
Denver played uphill the rest of the way. And a brutal stretch of 11 straight Miami games against playoff-contending teams finally ended, with the Heat having won five of their last six after an 0-5 beginning.
``A lot of ups and downs, but I think it's been good for this team,' Bosh said. ``After the smoke cleared, I think we're better.'
NOTES: The Heat honored former first-round pick Tim James, now an Army Corporal, with a pregame ceremony, part of their tradition of recognizing servicemen who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. ... Miami was again without center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who missed his fifth straight game with an infected foot. ... Lawson was the first Denver starter to reach double figures. Gallinari and Smith were already there.
The Associated Press News Service
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