After more than four months the Denver Nuggets played a basketball game that counted in the standings. Their opponent? The Miami Heat. Nikola Jokic looked back in his mid season form leading the Denver offense, but it was his counterpart Bam Adebayo and Heat teammate Jimmy Butler who proved to be the catalysts for a win today. Each player had twenty-two points while Miami used a huge third quarter to take them to a blowout win. The Nuggets stumble out of the gate to the season restart and drop their matinee contest 125-105

Jokic opened the game energetic, clearly now that the games matter Joker was back to dictating the Nuggets offense. Torrey Craig also gave Denver a strong start to the game with a putback and then a three. Otherwise though the Nuggets didn’t find much offense as the quarter progressed which let Miami build a lead behind Butler. Miami was knocking down their threes, the Nuggets were not which quickly led to a Denver falling behind by eight. Coach Michael Malone called a timeout and settled things down. Jokic came out of the TO and asserted himself to almost single handedly tie the game. As the quarter closed it was the collection of Denver’s bigs putting pressure on Miami but they responded through their guards. Ultimately the first ended with the Nuggets trailing by just two.

Bol Bol entered the game to start the second quarter and immediately paid dividends with a soft floater close to the basket and a board on the other end. Butler was still a thorn in Denver’s side as they trotted out the Long Bois (Jokic, MPJ, Bol, Mason Plumlee) and Troy Daniels so Malone quickly re-inserted Jerami Grant and Paul Millsap to make for better matchups. Bol was still out there but he had some poor possessions were his rawness was apparent. Despite the clunky big lineups Denver still hung tough, keeping within two points before P.J. Dozier and Craig re-entered the lineup and restored some normalcy. The Heat were playing well and pushed the lead about to about six with a mini run. Adebayo in particular played well, but then the Nuggets responded through Grant. Millsap knocked down a three with about three minutes to take a two point lead for Denver. Dozier had a strong close to the half while Butler kept pouring it in for the Heat. Denver closed out the first half with a one point lead.

Denver’s reserve guards who were thrust into the starting lineup (Craig and Monte Morris) gave the Nuggets a boost early in the second half to grow Denver’s lead. Butler and Adebayo responded for Miami to briefly take the lead back before MPJ converted an And-1. Miami pushed the lead back in their favor but seemed to stall when Butler came off the court so Denver stayed within a bucket. Duncan Robinson and Jae Crowder had some strong minutes as the quarter turned past the halfway point and quickly the Heat lead was up to eight. Denver’s offense completely stalled with the quarter drawing to a close so the Miami lead grew to fifteen with two minutes to go. Morris had a couple strong moves to close the quarter but Butler continued to be a pest. Miami scored 38 in the third and went into the fourth up by fifteen.

Bol opened the final quarter with a great skip pass in transition to Plumlee, otherwise though the Heat weren’t letting up. They pushed the lead up to seventeen and it started to become apparent the Nuggets were letting this one get away. They continued to turnover the ball and commit fouls. Even when Miami started to stall, probably because the result was not really in doubt anymore, Denver was unable to close the gap in the score at all. Halfway through the fourth they still trailed by fifteen. Denver’s legs appeared to be gone, nothing was dropping for them, meanwhile Kelly Olynyk got red hot from outside and pushed Miami’s lead above twenty. Coach Malone relented and put in the reserves, who played some sloppy basketball to close out the game. Terrible second half from Denver and they end up losing by twenty.

Best matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Bam Adebayo

This content is no longer available.

The centers did not disappoint in the game today. Jokic was one of the few Nuggets who looked like he was ready to play at full speed. He wound up with 19 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists and carried Denver for several stretches. Meanwhile Adebayo was even more outstanding with 22 points, 9 boards and 6 assists. His two man game was excellent with Butler as well. It doesn’t get talked enough about how good that duo is. Every time Denver made a run in this game it was the combination of Adebayo and Butler that responded.

Main thing I noticed: Nuggets are still in scrimmage mode

The absence of three starters no doubt hurt Denver today. They were forced to go with a moderated version of their giant lineup for a couple shifts and that certainly was clunky. It also was very apparent that Denver has a bunch of guys who didn’t get to the bubble until late which hurt them on multiple fronts. Guys like Morris, Craig, MPJ and Dozier really lost their legs in the second half. Meanwhile, guys like Jokic, Millsap, Plumlee and Grant, who have been their the whole time, were trying to adjust to more normal lineups and looked out of place at times. All in all it was a bad game from many angles, execution not the least among them.

Closing thought: got to get healthy

It’s painfully obvious that the Nuggets aren’t as good of a team when they are missing so many guys and have so many guys still knocking off the rust. The key thing to remember is home court advantage doesn’t exist in the bubble so if the Nuggets slip a couple seeds it really isn’t the worst thing in the world. Coach Malone said he was focused on the playoffs more than these seeding games and perhaps we’re seeing why. If the Nuggets just stay out of the path of the Los Angeles teams in the first round then sacrificing a couple victories for the sake of getting everyone 100% is maybe the best thing in the long run.