Justice Winslow, Josh Richardson lead Heat past Nuggets, 124-119

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MIAMI (AP) — What Miami rookie Josh Richardson is doing on game nights now was born in part from what he and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went through in private on an off day back in December.

Before he could leave the gym, Richardson needed to make 70 out of 100 jumpers with some sprints between shots. He needed four tries to get it done, after making 64, 65 and 69 in his first three attempts.

“I shagged balls for him for about an hour and a half before he hit that number,” Spoelstra said. “But it was an important thing for him mentally. You can get there – you just have to put in the time.”

The payoff is coming now. Fellow rookie Justise Winslow scored 20 points, Richardson added 17 and the Heat held off the Denver Nuggets 124-119 on Monday night, moving within a half-game of idle Boston for third in the Eastern Conference.

“Off the court, we’re still rookies,” Richardson said, noting that he and Winslow still has to carry veterans’ luggage. “But on the court, we’re basketball players.”

Dwyane Wade scored 19 points and Joe Johnson added 18 for the Heat. Hassan Whiteside finished with another double-double off the bench, scoring 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and adding 10 rebounds.

“We won tonight, but shootouts, that’s not our identity,” Winslow said. “It took us a while to wake up, but we got the stops we needed to do and came out with the (win).”

Data curated by PointAfter

Kenneth Faried matched the best single-game shooting effort in the NBA this season, going 11 for 11 and finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Emmanuel Mudiay had 23 points and 10 assists for Denver, which had its four-game winning streak snapped.

Faried’s 11 for 11 matched Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter for the best night from the floor this season.

“I just played basketball,” Faried said. “Just trying to get a `W.’ We lost, so it’s tough.”

Gary Harris finished with 18 for Denver.

“Give Miami credit, first and foremost,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I think Spo does a great job … but any time you allow a team to score 124 and shoot 60 percent from the field, it’s going to make for a long night.”

The Nuggets had a chance to tie the game with 4:15 left after a Heat turnover, but Richardson snuffed that out. He chased down D.J. Augustin to get a block at the rim, Winslow grabbed the rebound and the ball found its way back to Richardson – who set up Johnson for a 3-pointer that gave the Heat a much-needed bit of breathing room.

Richardson and Winslow each played the entire fourth quarter.

“I couldn’t take them off the floor,” Spoelstra said.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Denver signed forward Axel Toupane to a second 10-day contract. … The Nuggets were bidding for their first five-game winning streak since Jan. 3-14, 2015. … Faried’s previous best for makes in a game without a miss was a 7-for-7 effort on Nov. 23, 2013, against Dallas.

Heat: Luol Deng scored 17 for Miami. … Wade is now 24 points shy of 20,000 for his career. … The Heat reached 100 points for the eighth consecutive game. … Winslow’s previous high for points was 15, reached against Indiana on Feb. 22.

BOSH RETURNS

Chris Bosh was back with the Heat on Monday night, his first time visibly around the club since he was sidelined by a blood clot in his leg last month. Bosh sat near the end of the Heat bench. He’s been at home games throughout his absence, but only watching from the team-only areas until now. There’s no known timetable for Bosh’s return to play.

MILLER’S TRIP

Mike Miller is going to have three homecomings in a five-game road trip. Denver’s last East Coast jaunt of the season takes the Nuggets to Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte and Cleveland – and Miller has called three of those cities home. He was drafted by Orlando, became a champion in Miami and spent last season in Cleveland. Miller, by the way, is on pace to be the first player in NBA history to play at least 40 games and shoot zero free throws in a season.

UP NEXT

Nuggets: Visit Orlando on Tuesday.

Heat: Host Charlotte on Thursday.

Anthony Davis says his goal is to play in all 82 games

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Anthony Davis played 40 games last season, and 36 the season before that. Charles Barkley has nicknamed him “street clothes.”

In a critical season for him and the Lakers, the biggest question with Anthony Davis is not his skill set and if he can be elite, but how much can the Lakers trust him to be on the court? Davis said on media day his goal is to play all 82 games (speaking to Spectrum Sportsnet, the Lakers station in Los Angeles).

A full 82 may be optimistic, but Davis saw last season as a fluke.

“Last season, I had two injuries that you can’t really control. I mean, a guy fell into my knee, landed on the foot,” Davis said earlier at media day. “And the good thing for me is that the doctors after they looked at us, they could have been, like 10 times worse.”

Davis talked about his workout regimen, getting his body both rested and stronger for this long season, knowing more will be asked of him. New coach Darvin Ham wants to run more of the offense through Davis, but all the Lakers’ plans are moot if Davis and LeBron James are not healthy and on the court for at least 65 games this season.

“The focus of my game is being available…” LeBron said Monday. “Availability is the most important thing in his league and to be able to be available on the floor.”

Ham has to walk a line of pushing this team to defend better, show a toughness it lacked last season, and make the playoffs in a deep West while keeping his stars’ minutes under control. In a league all about recovery, the Lakers need to prioritize that, too.

“Just being efficient with how we practice, how we manage shootarounds, how we manage their minutes,” Ham said Monday. “I don’t need ‘Bron or Ad playing playoff minutes in October, November, December.”

It’s the first days of training camp, everyone is feeling good, everyone is rested, and everyone is optimistic. The real tests for the Lakers and Davis start in a few weeks — and just how much will the Lakers’ stars play.

Report: Celtics reach out to former assistant Larranaga about joining Mazzulla’s staff

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The Boston Celtics are reportedly looking for a veteran assistant to put on the bench next to 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla, the man thrust into the head coach’s chair for a title contender in the wake of Ime Udoka’s suspension.

Who better than a guy who spent nine years on the Celtics’ bench? Boston reached out to Jay Larranaga, currently on the Clippers bench, about returning to the East Coast, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Clippers had no turnover on Tyronn Lue’s staff heading into this season. Mazzulla has become a trusted member of the Clippers staff, working a lot with the big me on the roster. However, if the Celtics back up the Brink’s Truck, the Clippers will not stand in his way if he wants to leave. It’s a question of comfort level, lifestyle, and of course money for Larranaga.

The Celtics made Mazzulla their interim head coach after an investigation found a “volume of violations” of team policy by Udoka, who had an improper relationship with a team staff member. So far the Celtics and Udoka have been able to keep the details of what happened under wraps, but league sources described the situation to NBC Sports as “ugly” and “messy,” especially if/when those details do find their way to the public.

For Celtics players, just getting back on the court, practicing Tuesday and focusing on basketball — not the turmoil around the franchise — was a good thing.

“Once we got out on the court, it was just nice to get back out the court and review our defense and to talk about offense and doing what we do,” Al Horford told the Associated Press. “It’s a good thing to just play basketball. That’s what we’re here for. It’s important to just start this thing back up again.”

Getting another coach on the bench will be important for the Celtics as well.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.