That the Miami Heat emerged from its four-game western road trip with a 3-1 record that featured a victory over the team with the best record in the NBA at the time is testament to the depth and “next-man-up” approach of the defending league champions.
Consider, in Monday night’s victory 97-94 victory over the Denver Nuggets the Heat were without key backup forward Chris Anderson (back problems) for a third straight game, and they lost both guards Dwyane Wade and Norris Cole early in the third quarter.
Wade went out with back spasms when he collided with Nuggets guard Jordan Hamilton and fell to the floor, and Cole implanted his face to the floor after being fouled on a drive, splitting his lip.
Neither returned, though Cole was back on the bench and ready to go back into the game after a brief visit to the locker room. He couldn’t go back in, however, because of NBA rules that state a player who is not able to shoot free throws because he has to leave the game can’t return later.
So what happened?
Veteran guard Ray Allen stepped up with nine points in the fourth quarter and forward Michael Beasley added a critical 3-pointer with 30 seconds left as the Heat rallied from a five-point deficit to outscore the Nuggets 25-17 in the final 12 minutes. Together, they combined for 22 points off the bench. Allen had 13 points and led the Heat in rebounding with seven.
Earlier on the trip, LeBron James sat out with Saturday night’s win at Portland, which was 24-5 and on top of the Western Division going into the contest.
With James resting groin and ankle injuries, Chris Bosh scored a career-high 37 points, including the game-deciding 3-pointer with half-a-second left in the 108-107 victory.
The night before in Sacramento both Wade and Allen joined Anderson on the bench to rest tender knees. The Heat lost to the Kings 108-103 in overtime but only because of a couple of misplays and missed free throws in the final couple of minutes of regulation.
Only on the first game of the trip at Los Angeles did the Heat have their entire roster available at the start of the game, but as noted earlier, Andersen played just over eight minutes, all in the first half, before leaving the game with stiffness in his back. He was coming off a season-high 12-point game in the win at home over Atlanta in the previous game.
With James scoring only 19 points, nine over the last three quarters, Bosh and Wade scored 23 each and Allen added 12 off the bench in the 101-95 Christmas Day win over the Lakers.
The Heat now will get a bit of a break in the schedule with three of their next four games at home, starting Thursday night when Golden State visits AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Heat have a short jaunt up to Orlando to take on the Magic on Saturday, but then are back home to host Toronto on Sunday and New Orleans next Tuesday.
Still looming in January is a stretch of six consecutive road games starting Jan. 9 with a visit to New York and ending 11 days later with a game at Atlanta. In between, the Heat are at Brooklyn, Washington, Philadelphia, and Charlotte.