DENVER -- Before Friday night's game, Denver coach George Karl said he believed Miami is the best team in the NBA.
Perhaps he was wrong.
As far as the NBA standings are concerned, the Heat aren't even the best NBA team in their state.
Miami (8-4) dropped its third straight game, 117-104, to the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center to fall a half game behind Orlando in the Southeast Division. This sure doesn't look like the same outfit Heat forward Chris Bosh called tops in the league before the season.
Well, Bosh continues to say it.
"We're still the best team in the league," he said.
It might be pretty hard to continue with that boast if the latest injury to Heat star guard Dwyane Wade is serious. Wade went down in a heap with 7:24 left in the game and limped to the locker room.
It initially looked pretty bad, with Wade saying later he thought his right ankle was broken. But Wade said the good news is X-rays were negative, and it's merely a sprain.
"I've sprained my ankle plenty of times," Wade, who came down wrong on the floor after stealing the ball from Denver forward Al Harrington, said with his right foot in a bucket of ice. "I've never really sprained it like that before (A sprain) never hurt that bad before I stole (the ball) and I think was going to turn around, and it just went."
Making matters worse for the Heat is that Wade, who doesn't know if he'll be able to play Tuesday against San Antonio, was already banged up. He entered the game bothered by a left foot contusion that had cost him three games earlier this month. And Heat forward LeBron James revealed after Friday's game that Wade also had suffered a quad strain in Wednesday's 95-89 overtime loss at the Clippers.
How bad was Wade hurting even before facing the Nuggets? He missed shootaround, then revealed he had been undergoing treatment Thursday from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.
"We really need to get healthy," James said. "That's our main thing right now Everybody needs to get healthy We haven't been healthy yet since the start of the season."
At least James broke out of his fourth-quarter woes, scoring nine of his game-high 35 points in eight minutes of action. But it hardly mattered since the Heat trailed by five points to start the quarter and were down by 16 less than four minutes later.
When Wade left the game, Miami trailed 100-86, so the Heat's latest loss can't be blamed on that injury.
"We have to play better," Bosh said. "Everybody knows that's pretty evident (With a record of) 8-4, we think we're better than that. But it's not bad. It could be worse."
Yes, it could. The Heat already have needed last-second shots by Wade for victories at lowly Charlotte and Minnesota and survived to win at Atlanta in three overtimes with Wade and James both out with injuries. Had those games gone the other way, Miami would be -- egads -- 5-7.
Yes, there have been injuries, but perhaps this Heat outfit isn't as good as most folks had thought.
Miami was sloppy with the ball Friday, committing 17 turnovers. Heat players watched as Denver shot 55.1 percent, including 12 of 25 on three-pointers.
The Nuggets didn't just run circles around the Heat, they ran squares, triangles and rhombuses. Six Denver players scored in double figures, with Ty Lawson leading the way. He had 24 points on 9 of 11 shooting and also handed out nine assists.
Even raw Denver center Timofey Mozgov was dominant at the start. He had six of his 12 points and four of his eight rebounds in the first eight minutes, leading Miami center Joel Anthony to then be banished to the bench for the rest of the game because coach Erik Spoelstra said more size was needed.
"Caoch talked to me at halftime," said Anthony, who was replaced for the rest of the game by Dexter Pittman and by Bosh also playing center. "You just roll with it."
Meanwhile, the Heat have been getting rolled. Their game fell apart when they blew a 17-point third-quarter lead in Tuesday's 111-106 overtime loss at Golden State and they have yet to recover.
Miami concluded a tough five-game road trip that started with two games on the East Coast and finished with three out West. Heat forward Shane Battier said he'd never been on a trip in which four times he went to bed at 5 a.m. or later. Then he counted up the trips and figured that, including the flight home after Friday's game, it actually would mark six late bedtimes.
"This was a tough one tonight to finish that way," Spoelstra said of the end of the trip. "We'll go home, we'll get healthy and we'll get ready for an inspiring game Tuesday night."
The game at AmericanAirlines Arena against the Spurs will take place on Wade's 30th birthday. He said it would be a nice present to be able to play, but doesn't know yet how his ankle will respond.
"Unfortunately, when the (injury) bug hits you, you just continue to get therapy," said Wade, who didn't want to talk about his quad strain.
"There's nothing I can do. Stuff like that happens It's always frustrating, but that's a part of sports. But I look at it and knock on wood and say it could be worse The only thing you can do is try to get back on the court whenever you can."
Even before the game, Wade had said he was having trouble with his explosiveness and that he wasn't concerned about putting up big scoring numbers until he got healthy. He's averaging just 19.6 points, on pace to be by far his lowest since his rookie season of 2003-04.
"I think from an individual, it's hurt him," James said of Wade's injuries this season. "I think it's probably frustrating for him that he's not been able to have his explosiveness. We haven't seen his Eurostep at all this year because that foot is where he usually steps off, and he's kind of timid to even use that. A lot of his moves that he hasn't been able to use thus far this year because he's afraid that he may reinjure his foot."
Nevertheless, Wade did hit those two game-winning shots after he already had gotten hurt in the Dec. 28 game at Charlotte. And the Heat did score that dramatic three-overtime win over a solid Hawks team with neither Wade nor James playing, the latter out with a sprained ankle.
That was back when everybody was saying Miami had the best team in the NBA. However, the last three games have cast some doubt upon that.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson