LeBron James returned from a groin injury to score 26 points on his birthday, while the Miami Heat beat the skidding Denver Nuggets 97-94 on Monday night, despite losing Dwyane Wade and Norris Cole during the game.
James, who turned 29 on Monday, injured his groin on Friday during the Heat’s overtime loss at Sacramento. He sat out the following game, a 108-107 win Saturday in Portland, before coming back to help send the Nuggets to their seventh consecutive defeat.
Chris Bosh had 17 points and Ray Allen 13, including six in the final 5:08, as Miami won for the ninth time in 11 games.
Ty Lawson had 26 points to lead the Nuggets, who lost their second straight to Miami at the Pepsi Center after winning the previous 10 in a row.
Cole left midway through the third quarter after taking a fall at the end of a driving layup attempt and hitting his face on the floor. He had come into the game in place of Wade, who did not return after halftime because of back spasms, the Heat said on Twitter.
TRAIL BLAZERS 108
In New Orleans, Tyreke Evans hit a pull-up jumper from 17 feet with 1.2 seconds left to lift New Orleans over Portland.
Evans’ big basket came right after Portland’s Damian Lillard, who has hit several game-winners this season, made a contested three-pointer to tie the score at 108.
Jrue Holiday scored 15 of his season-high 31 points in the fourth quarter and tied a season high with 13 assists for the Pelicans, who won their fourth in a row at home. Anthony Davis added 27 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. Evans had 20 points.
Davis forced LaMarcus Aldridge into a tough shot from the baseline that bounced off the top of the backboard as time ran out.
Lillard scored 29 points and Aldridge had 28 for the Trail Blazers (24-7), who lost their second straight.
MAVERICKS 100, TIMBERWOLVES 98
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, Shawn Marion scored 32 points and hit two huge three-pointers in the fourth quarter to help Dallas withstand a furious second-half charge from Minnesota.
Dirk Nowitzki had 16 points for the Mavericks, who led by 19 late in the first half before the Wolves came back.
Kevin Love had 36 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, and his three-pointer 90 seconds into the fourth quarter gave the Wolves an 86-85 lead. They led 90-87 midway through the period, but Marion hit two three-pointers during a 10-0 run to put the Mavericks back in front.
Love had a shot to win it on the last possession, but Marion knocked his shot out of bounds. Love thought he was fouled, and replays appeared to support him. However, no whistle was blown.
Marion made 14 of 19 shots and also had six rebounds and three assists. He topped 30 points for the first time since the 2008-2009 season.
SUNS 107, CLIPPERS 88
In Los Angeles, Goran Dragic had 26 points and eight assists before sitting out the fourth quarter, while Gerald Green added 21 points off the bench as Phoenix ended the year with a rout of Los Angeles.
The Suns have won 10 of their past 12 after a 9-9 start under first-year coach Jeff Hornacek, and trail the defending Pacific Division champion Clippers by a half-game for the top spot.
Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford each scored 15 points for Los Angeles, while Chris Paul had 11 points and seven assists. It was the most lopsided loss of the season for the Clippers, who beat the Suns the previous three times they hosted them — by an average margin of 20 points.
Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix’s leading scorer, had seven points and four assists over 31 minutes in his first game against his former team.
In other NBA action, it was:
‧ Wizards 106, Pistons 99
‧ Bulls 95, Grizzlies 91
‧ Jazz 83, Bobcats 80