MIAMI(AP) Once again, facing the Miami Heat was all the Denver Nuggets needed to get back on track.
Chauncey Billups scored 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, Carmelo Anthony finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, and the Nuggets swept the series with Miami for the fourth consecutive year, beating the Heat 99-82 on Tuesday night.
Kenyon Martin had 18 points and 10 rebounds, while J.R. Smith scored 10 for Denver, which wasted much of a 20-point first-half lead and still defeated Miami for the eighth straight time. It was the Nuggets' first game since Saturday's 44-point drubbing at New Jersey, and clearly, there was no Denver hangover.
"When it came down to it, we took the challenge,'' Nuggets guard Anthony Carter said.
Dwyane Wade scored 33 points on 12-for-22 shooting for Miami, which has lost five of its last seven games. Shawn Marion scored 14 and Mario Chalmers added 10 for Miami.
The Heat cut a huge deficit down to four early in the fourth quarter, before Billups lived up to his "Mr. Big Shot'' moniker.
Denver was 0-for-15 from 3-point range before Billups struck with 9:38 left, giving Denver a 79-72 lead, and the floodgates opened from there. Smith made one on the next possession, then another with 6:43 left for an 87-77 lead, twirling around with a big smile after that one went down.
"Two backbreakers, right there,'' Wade said. "That's what they do.''
Billups then finished off Miami with 3-pointers on consecutive trips, the last coming with 2:48 left for a 97-79 lead.
"We played with great passion,'' Nuggets coach George Karl said.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had a different assessment of his club.
Denver shot 75 percent in the first quarter, during which Miami's starting backcourt of Wade and Chalmers missed more shots (seven) than the entire Nuggets roster (five), no small reason why Denver ran out to a 32-20 lead.
"That's a championship level team that we did not give the proper respect coming into this game, certainly not in the first quarter,'' Spoelstra said. "A team that came out after an extremely tough and probably humbling loss the other night and the sixth-best team in the league right now record-wise, a legitimate championship contender, and we did not come out with a sense of urgency or real focus.''
The Nuggets connected on a 17 of their first 23 shots, and kept rolling right into halftime.
Chris Andersen scored on a fast break with 1:42 left before intermission, drawing a flagrant foul from Marion (one that eventually knocked Andersen from the game) and made the free throw for a 55-36 Denver lead. Anthony made a free throw a half-minute later, giving the Nuggets their biggest cushion, a 20-point edge that seemed to have Denver on the cusp of a blowout.
That is, until Spoelstra said whatever he said at halftime.
"The second half, we competed much harder,'' Spoelstra said. "We showed them the proper respect in the second half.''
Miami roared out of the break on a 19-8 run, ending with Chalmers hitting a pair of 3-pointers to get the Heat within 64-59 with 5:13 left in the period. Denver missed 11 of 12 shots during one stretch of the third period, but still took a 74-65 lead into the final 12 minutes.
And the late 3-point barrage sealed it for the Nuggets.
"Once one or two of us hit them, they just started coming,'' Smith said. "Like they always do.''
Notes: The Nuggets are 10-0 when holding opponents under 90 points. ... Andersen smacked the floor hard on the Marion foul, spraining his left wrist and bruising his left hip. X-rays were negative and he's questionable for Wednesday's game at Orlando. ... Wade sported an American flag bandage on his left cheek, protecting the six stitches he got after colliding with Charlotte's Juwan Howard on Sunday. "Makes him look tougher,'' Spoelstra noted. ... Joel Anthony's five blocks were one shy of matching the record for a Heat reserve.