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

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MIAMI (AP) β€” 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).”

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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.

Gordon Hayward does not plan to leave bubble for birth of son

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When Boston first went to the NBA restart bubble in Orlando, Gordon Hayward was upfront: He was leaving the bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

Hayward ended up leaving the bubble for another reason β€” he severely sprained his ankle and was out for more than a month. During his rehab, Hayward left the bubble and spent time at home, returning a couple of weeks ago. Saturday he played his first game back for Boston, helping it to a win against the Heat.

Hayward’s wife, Robyn, has yet to have their son, but now Hayward does not plan to leave the bubble for the event, something first reported by Rachel Nichols of ESPN during Saturday’s game.

Hayward confirmed this after the game. So did Robyn in a social media post, adding the reports she was in labor already were not true.

I don’t envy the Hayward family having to make this choice. As a parent, I can’t imagine having missed the births of any of my children, but, like everything else in 2020, this is far from a typical decision at a typical time. The Haywards are making the best of it they can. They deserve support no matter what they choose.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

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“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one,Β “I missed that on purpose.”Β 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. β€” he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle β€” providing more quality wing play and good decision making β€” and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game on Saturday night.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart β€” an All-Defensive Team player β€” had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that β€” and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late β€” to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year β€” 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.