Two days ago, the Miami Heat looked unbeatable as they tore through the schedule with ease, winning 19 of 20 games including 13 in a row on the road. Meanwhile, the Nuggets shaky season was starting to come off the rails. After a 3 game losing streak, Josh Kroenke and Masai Ujiri seemed all but certain to blow the lifeless roster up, punching fans in the gut by trading their 2 best players away for future assets and savings. Last night the Miami Heat were the vulnerable ones and the Nuggets were the team doing the punching.
I said in the preview yesterday that the Nuggets seemed to be catching the Heat at their weakest, off a west coast back to back in which their best player was injured. Lebron didn’t play last night and the Heat didn’t have the energy or depth to overcome it. For the second straight game, the Nuggets execute a balanced offensive attack and ride a scoring explosion from the bench to an easy blowout win.
The Heat looked to control tempo and used a zone defense early to start the game. The Nuggets responded with great passing to find the open man but were missing a lot of shots. On the other end, Miami’s offense looked flat footed and settled for too many jumpers. The Nuggets ball movement was superior, and thanks to 9 early assists they took a 3 point lead into the second quarter despite the slow pace and neither team playing very well.
In the second quarter, George Karl again went to a small lineup featuring Arron Afflalo and four subs. Melvin Ely and Al Harrington did an admirable job defending Erick Dampier and the Heat “bigs”, with Ely filling the Chris Andersen role nicely. On Miami’s end, their already lethargic offense died when Dwyane Wade went to the bench. Mike Miller was passive, Chris Bosh couldn’t get his hands on the ball and the disinterested Heat couldn’t get anything going at all. A key stretch occurred around the 6 minute mark when Ty Lawson hit a driving layup in traffic, then stole the inbounds pass, grabbed an offensive board off his own miss and passed out to JR Smith for an open three. This gave Denver their first double digit lead and they never looked back.
The pace of the game picked up furiously and a confident Nuggets team couldn’t be stopped. An unconscious JR Smith started flame-throwing triples from deep. Arron Afflalo got physical with a tired Wade early and never allowed him to get going. Nene destroyed Ilgauskas and Dampier. The Nuggets didn’t stop passing and playing hard en route to 31 assists and another 30-point lead going into the fourth. It was a total team effort and a sobering loss for Miami knocking them back down to earth.
It’s easy to look past these wins with the gloom of a post-Melo world hanging over. Denver is a good team at home and bad on the road. The Heat were on a tough back to back and missing the league MVP. Inspired by Jeremy’s post earlier, I can’t put together a clear case against anyone for the current dilemma all Nuggets fans face. I’ve been as cynical as my mind will allow me about this team’s future and the fact Melo won’t be a part of it. I know what the harsh reality of rebuilding means. Yet as a fan, against my best judgment I can’t help but believe in how special this team is – a team with a star at its core that can blow out Miami without really surprising anyone. Time may be running out for this inconsistent, road weary, small-market underachieving team. But these are the best of times and the worst of times too, and I can’t help but enjoy every fleeting moment we have left.