Despite being plagued by injuries, the Miami Heat played well against the Denver Nuggets, winning 106-98 late Wednesday night, its first game of a Rocky Mountain back-to-back featuring the Nuggets and the Utah Jazz.
A good portion of the Heat’s players is still in Miami, with guards Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow remaining home to treat groin and wrist injuries, respectively.
Guard Josh Richardson flew home early Thursday morning to join his teammates after suffering an ankle sprain during Miami’s last home game, against the Boston Celtics. Richardson didn’t play in Denver, as the ankle pain held him out of Wednesday night’s game.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said sending Richardson home was an easy decision.
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“We just want him to go back and get his body right,” Spoelstra said before Thursday night’s game in Utah. “We’ll focus on the guys we have here.”
Richardson will be reevaluated within three or four days, according to Spoelstra.
CENTER OF ATTENTION
The Jazz feature the fourth-best defensive player in the NBA in center Rudy Gobert.
Gobert trails Hassan Whiteside in defensive rating by 0.8 points, meaning the impact of both players on the defensive side of the ball is nearly even.
However, Gobert’s defensive prowess doesn’t intimidate Whiteside, or even get him to think about changing his game.
“[I] just come out here and compete,” Whiteside said before Thursday night’s game. “I just… play my game and not really worry about individual matchups.”
One Utah player does have Whiteside’s attention, however. Jazz forward Gordon Hayward is having a career-year, averaging 21.4 points per game —an increase from his 2015-16 season — and he’s getting to the free-throw line nearly 6.8 times per game.
“Gordon Hayward’s a talented guy,” Whiteside said. “Just keep Gordon Hayward off the free throw line, that’s probably the main thing.”
If Whiteside can successfully defend Hayward without sending the Utah veteran to the line at his usual rate, that should be considered a big win for Miami’s defense.
Heat guard Tyler Johnson has been vocal about his dislike for mouthguards, yet he wore one in Wednesday’s game in Denver. Johnson said the mouthguard didn’t affect his game against the Nuggets.
Johnson also isn’t concerned about the altitude in Denver or Salt Lake City.
“It was easy,” Johnson said. “If we can get through it in Denver, we can get through it in Utah.”
While this is Johnson’s first game in Salt Lake City, the young Heat guard is confident Miami can carry over its solid offensive outing from the Mile High City. The Heat scored 106 points against the Nuggets, even with its backcourt decimated by injuries.
When asked about the point guard situation and Miami’s game plan for making sure the offensive still hums, Johnson said the plan against Utah was, “The same as last night [in Denver)] It’s all hands on deck. I’m in the same position I’ve been in.”