Shortly before tipoff, three players who were questionable for Monday night’s game had their statuses revealed. Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro were both ruled out, and Nikola Jokic returned from a four-game absence to play.
The Denver Nuggets vs. Miami Heat rematch largely reflected a game with one team missing two of its top players and the other getting the reigning league MVP back. The Nuggets built a lead that crested at 24 points and seemingly responded to every Heat run with a deflating 3-pointer.
Bones Hyland made five 3s, including some deep ones. After Gabe Vincent made a 3 with a few seconds remaining in the third to cut the deficit to 14, Facundo Campazzo promptly launched a 3 with 0.6 seconds left. It went in. Only three late 3s from Vincent in the fourth quarter turned the final score into a respectable 120-111 decision.
The Heat hung with the Nuggets early — a Max Strus 3-pointer with 5:03 left in the first made it a 21-20 deficit. But Miami went into a long drought to end the period — including a brutal stretch without Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo — and the Nuggets built a lead.
Adebayo didn’t score his first points until an alley-oop dunk in the second quarter. He only had four points by halftime, but the Heat were already down 20. Somehow, Adebayo couldn’t miss in the second half, and he knocked down all the jumpers he missed in the first.
The Heat center finished with 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field, 13 rebounds and six assists. That’s a good stat line. But exchanging baskets when you’re down 20 isn’t a formula for success. Adebayo needed to dominate for the entire game for the Heat to have a chance tonight — not just a half.
Similar to Adebayo, Lowry had a good stat line — 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 shooting from the foul line to go with 14 assists. But he, too, looked pedestrian during portions of the first half that saw Miami fall behind.
Duncan Robinson hit his first 3-pointer on the night, but missed all eight of his subsequent attempts from downtown. Without Butler and Herro, Robinson needed to hit at least 40 percent of his 3s — not go 1-for-9. With every sub-par shooting performance, the critics who said his new contract would hurt Miami grow louder. He needs to turn this around, and fast.
P.J. Tucker went 0-for-4 from downtown, but scored on some nice shots around the rim. Max Strus went 6-for-12 from downtown. Caleb Martin started for Butler and gave some solid minutes, going 8-for-15 from the field. He even made two of his four attempts from downtown.
The Heat host the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.