This would have been an easy game for the Miami Heat to lose. The team was playing on the second night of a back-to-back after getting blown out in Los Angeles by the Clippers on Wednesday, and was playing without Dwyane Wade, who sat this one out due to a foot injury.
All it would have taken was a competent offensive performance from the Nuggets to get this one, who were home and playing on three days’ rest. But that’s not something this Denver team is capable of at this point, and as a result the Heat only needed a solid game from LeBron James, and for some of his teammates to knock down open shots to get the desired result — a 98-93 road victory to improve to 7-3 on the young season.
James finished with 27 points, seven rebounds, 12 assists, and three blocked shots — typical numbers from the game’s best player. The assists came largely on drive-and-kicks or swinging the ball to the weak side, where Shane Battier was more than happy to knock down wide open looks from three-point distance — 6-of-7 to be exact, to finish with 18 points.
Mike Miller started in place of the injured Wade, and knocked down four of his eight three-point looks, and really, that was a huge part of this game — Miami hit 13-of-27 from distance, while Denver only managed to connect on 6-of-20 from long range.
Overall, the Nuggets have serious issues on the offensive end of the floor. The Heat proved vulnerable defensively against the Clippers’ guards in their previous game, as Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe carved up Miami’s defense to take control and put that game out of reach.
Ty Lawson couldn’t come close to doing the same for Denver; while he dished out eight assists, he couldn’t hit a shot, looking somewhat tentative while going 0-for-7 from the field and finishing without scoring a single point. Andre Miller, on the other hand, was masterful off the bench, and destroyed Miami when it was his turn to run the point, finishing with 19 points and seven assists in 26 minutes off the bench.
The Heat led by as many as 19 points midway through the third, before Denver mounted a comeback that had them within one late in the game. Miller was the catalyst for the Nuggets during that run, either scoring, assisting, or being generally involved in his team’s offense in that final period. Lawson is the starter and gets the bulk of the minutes at the one, and sure, sometimes he and Miller are in the lineup at the same time. But Miller steps in and takes games over, while Lawson, to this point, has mainly just taken up space — he’s now 12-of-40 from the field over his last four games.
Danilo Gallinari continues to struggle from the floor, and Kenneth Faried’s 16-point, 20-rebound night looks better on paper than it did on television. Many of those rebounds were tips at the basket, and he’s still extremely raw offensively to the point where his game on the offensive end of the floor cancels out the energy he brings on the boards, especially in a game like this one where his team was down and needed capable scorers in all five positions.
This was a game that the Heat could easily have lost. But it would take an effort from a team of at least average ability offensively to make that happen, and that description doesn’t fit this Nuggets team, which simply isn’t there just yet.