The Miami Heat lost their first Summer League game of the year after going unbeaten in Orlando and winning their opening game of the Las Vegas tournament after a 86-83 defeat against the Denver Nuggets on Monday.
With a quick start, the Heat raced out to a double-digit lead in the first half with Shabazz Napier capably leading the offense at a quick but efficient pace. Justise Winslow played the first five minutes of the game and made his only shot attempt, a 3-pointer, but sat out the rest of the half as the Heat continued to control the pace of the game.
Even with Willie Reed now with the Brooklyn Nets, the Heat's power rotation each flashed potential out on the floor. The best of the bunch was Greg Whittington, who led the Heat along with Napier at halftime with eight points, showing plenty of versatility scoring inside but also showing some range with his shot.
Seth Tuttle continues to impress as well in limited minutes with his solid basketball instincts and he continuously shows good decision making when he has the ball in his hands.
The two centers had their moments as well. Now the starter after Reed's departure, Gabriel Olanesi continues to play well on both ends of the floor anchoring the middle for most of the game and finished with 10 points and six rebounds. Big man reserve Joshua Smith has proven he has an effective post-up game and can get inside position with his big body but he also displayed a soft shooting touch around the rim.
"Both guys have been great for us," said coach Dan Craig. "We're asking them to play more minutes with Willie signing in Brooklyn and I thought they both responded really well on both sides of the floor."
Winslow returned to the game to begin the second half but Denver soon fought back and took the lead at 71-70 with eight minutes left in the third quarter. The lead changed hands several times in the fourth quarter with Winslow again a spectator for most of the second half and Napier along with Josh Richardson tasked with the team's playmaking duties.
Gary Harris of the Nuggets sank a 3-pointer to put his team ahead 79-76 but Napier responded with a triple of his own with three minutes left in the game. On the next play, Napier earned a trip to the free throw line with an aggressive drive to the basket for two more points. He then grabbed a defensive rebound and was fouled again as he tried to receive a pass from Olanesi but Denver kept coming back and consistently scoring.
Winslow returned to the game with two minutes left with the Heat holding a slim 81-79 lead and Napier scoring to increase the Heat's lead. A subsequent Nuggets turnover caused by Napier dislodging the ball got the ball back for Miami but they could not score off a lob pass by Napier to Ennis.
Ian Clark of the Nuggets buried a 3-pointer to give his team the 84-83 lead with 1.4 seconds left after a questionable foul call on Whittington gave Denver another chance to score. Miami won a memorable Summer League game in Orlando with an out-of-bounds lob pass, but this time Josh Richardson could not shake free of his defender on a similar play and he was called for an offensive foul after pushing off his defender.
After the Nuggets scored two more points from the free throw line, the Heat had one more chance to tie the game but Napier could not respond with less than a second left.
"We'll learn from this experience," said Craig. "We've been on the other end of these situations last week. We've been in some close games that we've pulled out so I'll look at it on film and we'll fast track our guys on some teaching points in the morning."
As for why Winslow only played 12 total minutes today, Craig insisted it wasn't due to a lingering injury but more as a precautionary measure.
"Right now we're watching his minutes," he said. "The trainers wanted him to come out and play a little bit but we had him at a 10 to 12 minute limit just to see how's he was feeling. His body responded well to it. We'll get back with the trainers and evaluate his situation for tomorrow."
Regardless, Craig remains pleased with Winslow's progress and points to his versatility as proof.
"He's been great for us on both ends of the court," he said. "It's a lot on these guys' bodies when you have training camp and then you play in Orlando and then you turn around and have to fly to the West Coast and then play again in Vegas. Three games in four nights while we're out here after we just played in Orlando so it's a lot on the guys and that's why we're keeping an eye on minutes for certain players."