I'm not going to say this win should be graded a curve, because the Miami Heat, an older team (tied for 6th oldest in the NBA), was playing their third game in four nights, all on the road, and at on the wrong end of a back-to-back.
Because it shouldn't. Brian Shaw, finally seen the fruition of his 10-man rotation. It was a glimpse of something amazing, even if it wasn't perfect. 10 players played between 18 and 30 minutes, with five players in double figures. Denver came to play, but lapsed into their familiar issues with effort that cost them the lead by halftime. That was the only negative.
After halftime, the Nuggets outscored the Heat by a margin of 54-34, and put a nice bow around the game midway through the third quarter. The Nuggets outrebounded the Heat 50-42, outscored them in the paint 40-32, and killed them on the fast break 23-9. It was all-around win that the Nuggets won in many facets.
Ty Lawson only played 30 minutes. It was only the third time that Lawson had played less than 31 minutes this season and his lowest minutes played since the blowout win against the Phoenix Suns, at home. He missed registering double digits assists for the first time in 10 games, like he cares.
Wilson Chandler went for 17 points and 8 rebounds in 24 minutes. Timofey Mozgov had 10 rebounds in 26 minutes and even Kenneth Faried put up his best game in a while with 13 points and 8 rebounds in 22 minutes. We've all been screaming for more Erick Green and Gary Harris and they got plenty of shine in this one.
Green was featured early, doing wonders off the pick-and-roll, while Gary Harris's defense in the fourth quarter (particularly on Dwyane Wade) was full of length and activity. If Green and Harris have convinced Shaw, maybe the Nuggets have a young, hungry backcourt that can give Lawson some real rest on a consistent basis.
The Nuggets came out the gate on fire. They started on a 16-4 run that was full of attack-the-rim plays from J.J. Hickson (6 points, 4 rebounds, 23 minutes) and Arron Afflalo (16 points, 28 minutes) living up to his role as a solid two-way player that had flourished as a scoring guard in Orlando. He was all Michael Jordan-Andre Miller in the post.
Denver's 23 fast break points and 40 points in the paint where it's highest combined total since it scored 112 points in a loss at Phoenix. We've seen over and over (especially at home) when Denver get's out and runs. It was key against a tired, old team that could not keep up with the relentless pounding at the rim. Faried got out on the break, running it at one point, help him establish an effect on the game, Lawson got easy passes to Mozgov, and Wilson Chandler was able to abuse the slower Luol Deng in transition.
The bench brought some prolonged hope for the future with Green and Harris. I'll say it again, this was the mist encouraging sign I have seen for Denver. Nate Robinson's injury and ineffectiveness has been an issue in providing a difference maker behind Lawson and Afflalo for at least 20 minutes per game. The thought has been that they need a pass first point guard that will set up others, but that may not be true. They may only need what Green can provide: a spark plug.
The former NCAA scoring leader can help goose the bench lineups and he showed the ball skills to take care of the ball.
The defense had a few moments of concern. They let the Heat back into the game twice after shutting things down early in the quarter. In the first quarter the Heat had a 17-6 run after being down by 12. Norris Cole of all people, was too fast to the paint, collapsing the Nuggets defense and giving Miami easy baskets.
In the second quarter it was the same thing. Miami was winning the 50-50 balls much more often, Chris Bosh had a few moments of success dragging Mozzy out of the paint, and Miami ended the half on a 15-8 run after being down by nine earlier in the quarter.
Eventually Denver's efforts stayed consistent. They held the Heat to 36.6% shooting on 82 shots (three less than the Nuggets 85 attempts). Bosh and Wade to a combined 9-27 shooting, 24 points, and 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. Those are numbers that Bosh or Wade should have on their own.
The Nuggets harassed Miami in the paint, sending multiple bodies at anyone in view of the rim. They switched quite a bit on the perimeter, not letting anyone see the same look all the time. The tiredness seeped into the Heat's gameplan as they stopped moving the ball in the second half. This was particularly effective against Wade as he made just one shot in the second half while isolating frequently.
This game was both a nice win and another reminder of what kind of team the Nuggets can be when they run, use their depth correctly, and give that depth specific roles in the game. A few more of these wins and you'll see something to build on.