Behind another double-double from Nikola Jokic, the blocks and determination of Mason Plumlee, and the scoring prowess of Denver’s young guards – no not those ones, the other ones – the Nuggets routed the Miami Heat in Denver 103-87. Jokic had 23 points, 12 rebound and 4 assists, Plumlee had three blocks and some key points and rebounds while Malik Beasley and Monte Morris scored 37 combined points to make up for off nights from the still-recovering Will Barton and Jamal Murray and out-race the Heat to the finish line. The Heat had five players in double figures but Justise Winslow had their game-high of 15, as no one was able to put the team on his back in this road effort.

The Nuggets had back-to-back turnovers to start the game on poor communication, both of which led to scores and a quick regrouping timeout. Mason Plumlee came back with a couple of buckets and Beasley attacked for another paint score and a three to tie the game at 9 early. Jokic led a couple of transition fast breaks for points, but the Heat bombed threes early to make up the difference. The Nuggets kept playing ugly basketball but enough of the shots fell for a 17-15 lead halfway through the quarter.

Monte Morris hit a three and a floater as he came in off the bench, but Dwyane Wade answered with a runner of his own. Paul Millsap hit a surprise three, then created a turnover that became another Morris three and pushed the lead to 7 for Denver. Another steal by Millsap – who looked fresh early – turned into a spectacularly botched dunk by Torrey Craig, but Morris put the ball back in the hoop and buried the final shot for 13 first quarter points as Denver wound up leading 35-27 after one.

After a couple of misses by Denver, Paul Millsap had a nice spin move for a bucket to start Denver’s second quarter scoring, but his follow-up three rattled out. The Heat kept pressing on the offensive glass and pushing inside, though, closing to 39-38 with four minutes gone. Jokic started off just 2-for-7 and Denver’s cold streak from the floor let Miami retake the lead. Jokic banked in a shot finally, then buried a three as Denver’s offense stirred with him getting into double figures. 

Olynyk hit Jokic in the face on a rebound, then got called for shoving Jamal Murray to the ground, but Denver kept attacking the rim regardless. Unfortunately the Heat did also and Denver’s cold shooting quarter (5-for-20 in the first 10 minutes of the second) kept the score where the Heat wanted it. Jokic handled the scoring in the second quarter like Morris did in the first, putting in Denver’s final 8 points of the quarter including a banked three. That effort kept Denver up 54-49 at the half despite a combined 1-for-9 from Murray and Barton.

The Nuggets came out flat in the first few plays of the second half, but both teams struggled a bit until Malik Beasley slammed home a dunk, then another on a break after a Plumlee block. Plumlee hit a finger-roll and then another block on Whitesite as the Nuggets found a little energy if not much of a lead at 61-57. Jamal Murray finally hit his first three in six attempts for a 9 point Denver lead, then Barton’s three made it 12 as the Nuggets hustled on both ends and Miami just could not keep up. 

Murray hit another three and a Morris steal led to more points, while Jokic kept hitting the glass and getting to the line for a 16-0 run by Denver. Miami fought back to a 12 point deficit, but Denver kept the pressure and led 83-70 after three.

Malik Beasley stormed back into the game in the fourth with a hard drive to the basket that resulted in free throws and a transition corner three. The two teams exchanged some awkward basketball for a and until Beasley hit another transition three, showing off that pretty form. Beasley had Denver’s first 11 points in the fourth to push the lead to 20 at 94-74. The two teams traded buckets down the stretch which wasn’t nearly enough offense for Miami to catch up. The most excitement happened when Beasley had his dunk stuffed by Olynyk, then a Miami turnover in transition off that block led to a Malik step-back three.

Final Thoughts

The Nuggets went big early and often tonight and paid it off. Denver actually got out-rebounded tonight but their three key bigs – Jokic, Millsap and Plumlee – nabbed 30 combined rebounds and both Plumlee and Millsap brought great effort and enthusiasm in their stints. Jokic was just too big for Miami to handle inside despite his 7 turnovers, and on a night where a couple of Denver’s more natural scorers were hampered, Denver’s bigs helped turn the tide.

Lineups – and health – matter. First, a quote from Stiffs-own Adam Mares:

That’s a lineup put together by necessity, but necessity is called the mother of invention for a reason. Denver needs these lineups, they need the ability to mix and match their healthy contributors and get a good mix of offensive ability and floor spacing on the court at the same time. The wrong combinations have jinxed Denver at times this year, but tonight Denver had fast breaks, energy, and scoring from all areas of the court. They found the energy to grind down the tired Heat squad in the third and kept the pressure up in the fourth with their reserves.

Michael Malone having the ability to mix and match his pieces to get the right ones on the court together will be nice. Tonight, with Barton and Murray struggling on both ends for much of the game, he put together that lineup that set the third quarter on fire. As Adam said, hopefully we see more of it going forward. Denver needs that fire as the rest of the team heals up.

Reserves playing like starters. Malik Beasley rocks. That is all. Monte Morris saved the first half for Denver and Malik Beasley slammed the door. It’s hard to be an unsung hero when we happen to be singing the praises of both men quite often, but it’s hard to overstate how crucial both guards have been to the Nuggets throughout this injury-riddled season. It’s a credit to the work both have put in to be ready when called upon. No matter what happens with health the rest of the way, they should both be in the heavy rotation going forward.