MIAMI — It didn't matter that the Nuggets got to bed at 4 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Nuggets franchise centerpiece Nikola Jokic was ready to play by Tuesday night.
Jokic sunk a difficult game-winning floater off a perfect bounce pass from Jamal Murray and the Nuggets survived the second night of a back-to-back to beat the Heat in a 103-99 thriller.
"End of games, we've been really good closing out close games, and Jamal (Murray) and Nikola have been a big part of what we do," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. "Jamal makes a really beautiful pocket pass and Nikola, very tough finish."
On top of his clutch tear-drop winner, Jokic also secured his fourth triple-double of the season, finishing with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
The Nuggets, boosted by a 50-38 rebounding advantage and a career-night from Torrey Craig, improved to 27-12 and have now won six of their last seven games. Craig finished with a career-high 16 rebounds, many of the offensive variety.
"Torrey Craig I thought was our MVP," Malone said. "Nikola gets a triple-double tonight so that's outstanding. ... But I thought Torrey Craig's defense, we had him guard every guy in the floor tonight, at one point or another."
The Heat, who got 55 points from their bench, threatened until the end when Kelly Olynyk threw the ball out of the bounds following Jokic's floater.
The Nuggets turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions early in the fourth quarter but quickly rebounded with back-to-back threes from Trey Lyles and Malik Beasley to build an 84-79 lead with 8:29 left. The Heat immediately responded with a driving layup from Dwyane Wade and a crowd-pumping alley-oop to Bam Adebayo to re-take the lead 91-87.
Paul Millsap eventually broke a 95-95 tie with a soft bank shot with 2:03 remaining to give Jokic his 10th assist, but Millsap also drew a foul on the play. Given his game to that point, it almost wasn't surprising when Craig corralled Millsap's missed free throw and laid it in for another crucial second-chance bucket to give the Nuggets a 99-95 lead.
Even before the clutch win, the Nuggets had made a believer out of Erik Spoelstra, the two-time champion coach of the Heat.
"If you're top of the West this deep into the season, you're legit," he said. "And this is not something that's just happened this year. They've had a core group of guys together and what you've seen is incremental, steady improvement, and it's coming together this year."
Much to the chagrin Malone, the Nuggets' defense has fallen off since their stingy start. Over their last 10 games dating back to Dec. 16, their defensive efficiency ranks 27th in the NBA.
"We got off to such a great start defensively at such a high level and it definitely has slipped and slipped in the wrong direction," Malone said. "During this tough stretch, it's going to be hard to kind of clean up on the go because, once again, five in seven nights, but through film work, walking through things on the court, I think there's more than enough time to right the wrongs, make sure we're communicating, making sure we have proper discipline, and most importantly, doing it for 48 minutes."
Injuries to starters haven't helped from a continuity standpoint. Gary Harris missed Tuesday's game after he felt tightness in his hamstring in the second half of Monday's loss, and the team is still awaiting the return of Will Barton.