The Denver Nuggets halted a three-game skid by turning up their defense and turning things over to their deep guard rotation which will only get deeper when Gary Harris and Isaiah Thomas return to action after the All-Star break.
“We were tired of losing, three in a row, and coach wasn’t too happy about it,” said Monte Morris, who scored 17 points in Denver’s 103-87 win over the Miami Heat on Monday night. “We just needed to get back to our old style, our old Nuggets basketball, flying around and covering for mistakes.”
The Nuggets have found a way to keep all their guards happy.
“Nobody cares, I mean, it’s a different guy every single night,” Morris said. “That’s what you get when you have a deep team. We’ve still got guys that haven’t even played yet that’s coming back. So, if winning is as important as everyone preaches on our team, we shouldn’t have a problem.”
On a night when Jamal Murray (3 for 12) wasn’t shooting well, two other guards stepped up. Not only did Morris score 17, but Malik Beasley chipped in 20.
With Thomas and Harris coming back soon, fans wonder how coach Michael Malone will get enough playing time for all his guards over the final 25 games.
Malone can’t wait.
“It’s going to be a great problem to have,” Malone said. “Our depth is something that we think we can wear teams down with and we’ve shown that we’re more than willing and capable of playing small at times. So, you can throw a small lineup out there. So, we’ll figure it out. But let’s let them get healthy first and then we’ll figure out what the best lineup is to win that game.
“After our first two possessions tonight, I wasn’t sure if we had a point guard who could run the team. That was comical. But after that, we got settled and played pretty good basketball from that point on.”
Murray was at the point when the Nuggets turned the ball over on their first two possessions, leading to fast breaks by the Heat, who would hang tough until the third quarter.
Nikola Jokic had 23 points and 12 rebounds for Denver, which swept the season series from the Heat for the first time since 2008-09 and improved to 18-1 when holding opponents under 100 points.
It marked the first time they did that since a 105-99 win at New Orleans on Jan. 30.
And they had allowed an average of 127 points during their losing streak.
The Nuggets struggled especially with 3-point defense in their losses at Detroit, Brooklyn and Philadelphia, yielding a combined 48 percent success rate from long range in their East Coast swing. And Miami was coming off a heartbreaking two-point loss at Golden State on Sunday in which they sank 18 3-pointers.
“I hope they got all their makes last night and left that in San Francisco,” Malone cracked before tip-off.
The Heat, who were led by Justise Winslow’s 15 points, did indeed go cold from long range, finishing 9 of 23 for a 27-percent clip.
The Nuggets regained their shooting touch, sinking 16 3-pointers including four in a 16-0 run they used to build a 75-57 lead.
“Our focus and intensity is in the right place, but our execution was a bit off for a bunch of reasons,” Winslow said. “But they outplayed us tonight. That’s the bottom line. They’re the better team.”
Nuggets: Host the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.
AROUND THE NBA
–The Milwaukee Bucks continue to maintain a one-game lead over Toronto for the top seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 29 points and had 17 rebounds in the Bucks’ seventh win in eight games, 112-99 at Chicago. Eric Bledsoe added 19 points for Milwaukee, which closed on a 12-2 to bounce back from Saturday’s loss to Orlando. Malcolm Brogdon added 17 points and Khris Middleton had 16 in the victory.
–In Toronto, Kawhi Leonard banked home the tiebreaking basket with 4.2 seconds remaining and finished with 30 points as the Raptors topped the Nets, 127-125. Leonard scored 30 points and Raptors beat the Nets for the eighth straight time in Toronto. Serge Ibaka had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Raptors, who also received 17 points from Pascal Siakam. Raptors center Marc Gasol scored 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter of his Toronto home debut. Brooklyn lost for the fifth time in six games despite D’Angelo Russell, who finished with 28 points and a career-high 15 assists.
— Russell Westbrook set an NBA record with his 10th straight triple-double and Paul George poured in 47 points to push the Thunder past the Trail Blazers, 120-111. Westbrook delivered 21 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists to pass the previous mark for triple-doubles set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1968.
— James Harden reached the 30-point plateau for the 30th straight game to lead the Rockets’ 120-104 win over the Mavericks. Harden finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists despite a strained left shoulder suffered in Houston’s previous game Saturday against Oklahoma City.
— The Pacers won their sixth in a row as Myles Turner scored 16 points in a 99-90 decision over the Hornets. Thaddeus Young added 11 points and eight rebounds to help Indiana overcome Kemba Walker’s 34 points, 26 coming in the second half.
— The Pistons knocked off the Wizards, 121-112 as Andre Drummond furnished 32 points and 17 rebounds in Detroit’s fourth straight win. Blake Griffin had 20 of his 31 points in the first half for the Pistons, who opened the game in a tie with Miami for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth.
— Derrick Rose contributed 22 points and Jeff Teague added 19 as the Timberwolves earned a 130-120 win over the Clippers. Karl-Anthony Towns had 24 points and 10 rebounds for Minnesota, while Dario Saric had 19 points to help the Wolves withstand a 45-point eruption by Clippers reserve Lou Williams.
— Collin Sexton scored 20 points and the Cavaliers held off a late rally to send the Knicks to their franchise-record 17th straight loss, 107-104. Larry Nance Jr. had 15 points and 16 rebounds for Cleveland, while Kevin Love had 14 points and nine rebounds in his second game since returning from foot surgery.