Even with a change in the lineup, Miami Heat looked like the X-factor team many have slept on.
With the help of their two All-Stars, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, Heat basketball returned to its admirable self, as a 69 point second half helped Miami push past the Denver Nuggets 125-105.
“They’re [Jimmy and Bam] both the heart and soul of what we’re planning on doing,” coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters following Saturday’s victory. “We saw a lot of that in the second half.”
Whether it be from three-point range or inside the paint, there was no stopping the Heat, who are now just 1.5 games behind the Boston Celtics for the third seed in the East standings.
Against a Western Conference team in which the Heat struggled against early in the season, Miami showed no pressure this time, as Denver was without starters Jamal Murray, Garry Harris and Will Barton.
Unlike a usual comeback effort for the Heat, they played dominant throughout the game, eventually taking an 87-72 lead with 01:50 to play in the third quarter.
That continued on in the game’s final 12 minutes, extending Denver’s deficit to 22 points with 04:47 remaining. Nuggets coach Mike Malone threw in the towel soon after.
Miami restricted Denver to 22.9 percent (8-35) from three-point range and 43.8 percent (39-89) overall. On the other hand, Miami shot 44.8 percent (13-29) from deep and 55.6 percent (40-72) on field-goal attempts.
Best of all, Miami scored 35 points off turnovers.
The Heat saw 22 points and 7 assists from Butler, 22 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists for Adebayo, 20 points from Kelly Olynyk – all in the fourth quarter — and 17 points from Duncan Robinson on 5 of 9 shooting.
Miami had a total of six players score in the double-digit range.
For Denver, Nikola Jokic closed the game with 19 points on 7 of 16 shooting, and Jerami Grant with 19 points as well.
5 takeaway’s on Heat’s Saturday victory:
1 – Adebayo captures battle versus Jokic.
Today’s primetime game headlined the matchup between Bam Adebayo and Nikola Jokic, two big men capable of producing on all ends of the court.
In just his second game at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, Adebayo posted 22 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists, dominating the stat sheet against Jokic.
“He [Bam] was really good on both ends,” Spoelstra said. “Along with Jimmy, [he] gives us this great competitive nature that you can’t teach, can’t manufacture that.”
2 – Attacking the basket crucial to Heat’s offense.
Converting in just 6 of 17 shots from beyond the arc early on, the Heat adjusted to the Nuggets’ style of play. Even with a fairly tall group of guys, Miami had no problem attracting points in the paint.
Led by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, Miami penetrated the paint constructively, scoring 50 points inside. At the same time, Tyler Herro, Goran Dragic and Duncan Robinson attacked the basket as Denver limited the Heat’s three-point shooting.
Such play also led to opportunities to shoot free throws, as Miami converted 86.5 percent (32-37) of attempts.
Miami’s sharp playmaking, mixed with scoring from the paint helped go on a 14-3 run to regain their lead in the third quarter. And when Denver modified their defense, the Heat began to strive from deep with the help of Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder and Duncan Robinson.
3 – Despite no Murray, Harris and Barton, Nikola Jokic kept things difficult for the Heat.
Finishing with 19 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, Jokic took over Denver’s unit and made things strenuous for the Heat when matching up. And with three of his top scorers on the floor with injury, he took over on the scoring end while facilitating, recording team-highs on both categories.
Still, rough stretches to score the ball eventually got the best of Jokic and the Nuggets, as they entered the fourth quarter down 15 and never bounced back.
4 – From starter to rotational player, Meyers Leonard filling a new role.
Coach Erik Spoelstra made the decision to start forward Jae Crowder instead of Meyers Leonard, who’s started in 49 of 50 games he’s been available with the Heat.
Instead, Leonard played a new role in the rotation: role player. The 6-foot-11 big man saw no action all night long, with Olynyk filling the backup spot for Crowder and Adebayo.
Both replacements were essential to win No. 42 for the Heat, with Olynyk scoring 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting and Crowder scoring 9 points and 7 rebounds.
“In the second half, there were a lot of things that were good with Jimmy, Bam and Jae,” Spoelstra said. “Extremely disruptive defensively. … Jae’s had a very good camp, he’s played well.”
Spoelstra noted that he’s likely to keep the lineup for the next two games but will keep his options open in the case of matchups.
5 – Great victory, but don’t get comfortable.
There’s no debating how meaningful it is to kick off the Heat’s “seeding” games with a victory. Nonetheless, with three of Denver’s’ starters out with injury, it wasn’t as competitive as expected for a No. 3 seed in the West.
“Denver hasn’t had their guys,” Spoelstra said. “They had to mix and match and play huge lineups. They haven’t had the opportunity to have training camp. I’m not making excuses for them, but that is reality.”
Miami is now entering arguably its toughest stretch of games at Disney World, as they take on the Toronto Raptors (46-18) and then the Boston Celtics (43-22) in a back-to-back series.
If all goes well, the Heat could jump to the third spot in the Eastern Conference standings.