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Billups leads Nuggets to pivotal road win

Feb 11, 2009 - 5:20 AM MIAMI (Ticker) -- Halfway through their lengthiest road trip of the season, the Denver Nuggets continue to roll.

Chauncey Billups scored 23 points, including a pair of clutch 3-pointers to help put away the game, as the Nuggets upended the Miami Heat on their home floor, 99-82, on Tuesday night.

Denver improved to 3-1 on its eight-game, Eastern Conference road trip, which began in Oklahoma City last week and concludes in Milwaukee on February 22. The Northwest Division leaders took a 20-point lead in the second quarter but saw it dwindle by the time the final session rolled around.

"Once you spot a team 20 points, that is one of the best teams in the league, it is going to be tough," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "The most disappointing part was coming out flat."

After Wade's bucket cut the Heat's deficit to eight midway through the fourth quarter, Billups answered with a drive to the basket for an easy hoop, then added back-to-back jumpers from the arc to cap a 10-0 run as Denver extended the lead to 97-79.

"We've got a lot of great shooters on this team," said Nuggets guard J.R. Smith, who was selected as a replacement for the injured Rudy Gay in this weekend's Slam Dunk Competition. "Once one or two of us hit them, they just started coming like they always do."

That all but sealed it for the Nuggets (35-18), who now have a three-game lead over second-place Portland (31-19). Kenyon Martin added 18 points and 10 rebounds and Carmelo Anthony added 19 and nine for Denver, which has won five of its last six games overall and eight straight over the Heat.

"We found (Martin) early in the game and offensively he gave us a good lift around the basket," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "I think he should be very proud of the passion that he played with."

It was a nice recovery for the Nuggets, who began their road trip with two strong victories but fell back to earth on Saturday with their worst loss of the campaign, a 114-70 drubbing by the New Jersey Nets. But they had no such trouble in this one, bouncing back with a strong defensive effort.

"It's easy to forget about 40-point losses," Karl said. "It's the one-point losses that you think about and hang over your head all of the time. ... Tonight we played with great passion."

The Nuggets held a 56-36 advantage late in the second quarter, but Mario Chalmers cut it to 64-56 with 6:04 left in the third. Moments later, the rookie point guard drilled another one from long range. But Anthony hit a pair of free throws to halt a 13-2 run by the Heat.

Udonis Haslem hit back-to-back buckets for the Heat to cut the deficit to four, 76-72, in the fourth. However, the Nuggets would stretch their lead back to 10 with 5:23 left and would keep the Heat scoreless for a four-minute span as the Nuggets maintained the lead for good.

"That's a championship-level team that we did not give the proper respect coming into the game," Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said.

They managed to survive another stellar effort from Wade, who went for 33 points and seven boards in a losing cause for Miami, which has lost three of its last four.

Things don't get much easier for the Nuggets on their road swing. They remain in Florida on Wednesday for a showdown with the Southeast-leading Orlando Magic and follow up the All-Star break against the surging Philadelphia 76ers.

"I wasn't worried at all (that we would bounce back)," Martin said of recovering from their blowout loss. "It was just one game. It was an aberration. We are not going to have too many of those games on the season where we only score 70 points. We've had halves where we've had 70 points at the half."

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    DENVER 99

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    RUWTbot Added 21 roots (Close Finish)

    Nuggets 76, Heat 72  4th - 10:00Feb 10 9:34 PM

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    Nuggets 56, Heat 40  HalfFeb 10 9:00 PM

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    DENVER 56

    Feb 10 8:49 PM

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    DENVER 32

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