Nuggets’ depth a challenge for short-handed Heat

Field Level Media

January 26, 2021 at 8:56 pm.

The Denver Nuggets, who are set to visit the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, have a good thing going with both their starters and their second unit.

Denver, which defeated Dallas 117-113 for its fourth straight victory on Monday, pounded the Mavericks’ second unit. Denver’s reserves, including Michael Porter Jr.’s 30 points, outscored Dallas’ backups, 63-29.

“I just wanted to give us a spark off the bench,” said Porter, who had been a starter until spending Jan. 1-19 in COVID-19 protocol. “Now, (our second unit has) developed chemistry.”

That could spell trouble for Miami, which has lost three straight games and six of its past eight.

Miami has been badly hit by COVID-19 as well as injuries, with the biggest absences being Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro. Butler, Miami’s emotional leader who contributes all over the floor, has missed eight straight games due to COVID protocol. Herro, second on the team in scoring at 17.6, has missed six straight games due to a neck injury.

Without Butler and Herro, Bam Adebayo has stepped up as Miami’s go-to player. A first-time All-Star last season, Adebayo’s scoring average of 20.7 is up nearly five points from the 2019-20 campaign. He is also averaging 9.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists.

After scoring a career-high 41 points in a 128-124 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, Adebayo said: “Forty don’t mean nothing if you don’t get the ‘W’, for real.”

Second-year guard Kendrick Nunn is another Heat player to watch. He has averaged 19.4 points in Miami’s five most recent games. Prior to that, he was inactive or did not play in five games and got limited minutes and averaged just 5.5 points in the other six contests on Miami’s schedule.

Meanwhile, Denver is rolling. After a 1-4 start, the Nuggets are 9-3, rising up the Western Conference standings.

The Nuggets are so hot right now that they were able to beat Dallas even after Denver star Jamal Murray was ejected for a very personal foul. Murray hit Dallas’ Tim Hardaway Jr. in the, um, nuggets, shall we say, and that’s when Porter and the bench crew took over.

For the season, Murray is second on the team in scoring (19.3) and assists (4.3). Nicola Jokic leads Denver in scoring (25.4), rebounds (11.9) and assists (9.3). Porter is third in scoring (18.4) and second in rebounds (7.4).

The matchup between Jokic, 25, and Adebayo, 23, should be fascinating. They are part of the new breed of versatile centers who can pass as well as rebound and score.

Even so, it’s important to note that Jokic is getting more help from his teammates right now than Adebayo. In Monday’s 98-85 loss to the Nets, Adebayo scored 26 points and Goran Dragic had 21, but the other three starters combined for 12 points.

Nunn had 11 points, but he made just 5 of 17 attempts from the field, including 1 of 8 from 3-point range. Duncan Robinson, one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA, made just 1 of 10 from distance.

And without Herro and Butler — as well as role players like Avery Bradley, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless — the Heat didn’t have the firepower to beat the Nets, repeating a common Miami trend of late.