Well, the Heat finally is succeeding at holding opponents under 50 percent shooting.
That was the good news out of Wednesday’s late-night game against the Nuggets.
The bad news, of course, is that the travel fatigue of the first Western Conference road trip of the season caught up to the Heat in Denver. With weary legs and a short bench, the Heat (10-12) shot 36.6 percent from the field — a season low — while being outscored by 20 points in the second half.
After the 102-82 loss at the Nuggets’ Pepsi Center, Wade called the Heat’s consecutive games in Phoenix and Denver “the worst back-to-back in the league.”
“It just got away from us in the third quarter,” Wade said. “We did a good job of fighting, but the third quarter was just a terrible quarter.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra gave his team the day off on Thursday here in Salt Lake City to recuperate and hopefully get a little healthier before Friday’s game against the Utah Jazz (6-16). A virus has been running through the Heat’s locker room, which hasn’t made this road trip any easier, and an injury to power forward Josh McRoberts has further complicated the Heat’s thin rotation. A knee injury forced McRoberts out of the game in Denver just when he was starting to find an on-court rhythm with his teammates.
Justin Hamilton started in place of McRoberts, and Hamilton could be used again on Friday to plug the hole in the frontcourt. Hamilton played 22 minutes against the Nuggets. It was his biggest contribution since injuring his hip at the beginning of the season. Newly acquired center Hassan Whiteside also played six minutes at the end of the game.
“They both did some nice things,“ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Justin [Hamilton] is a very intelligent player. He does things that don’t show up in the box score.
“Whiteside is just big and has that ability to block shots.”
Hamilton had four points and eight rebounds, while Whiteside scored six points in garbage time.
With McRoberts and Chris Andersen both out, the infusion of young legs was one of the only positives for the Heat in Denver. Bosh led the Heat with 14 points, and the Heat simply couldn’t match the energy of sparkplug Kenneth Faried and his Nuggets in the third quarter. The Heat scored 11 points in the first 11 minutes of the period and was outscored 31-14 in the first 12 minutes of the second half.
“We didn’t have any easy baskets or looks,” Bosh said. “We kind of just folded in the second. We played decent in the first, but after that it shifted quickly.”
In addition to defense, Spoelstra has emphasized points in transition and group rebounding during this road trip, but those things heavily favored the Nuggets. Denver had 27 second-chance points to the Heat’s 10, and the Nuggets scored 23 points in transition.
The Heat managed just nine fast-break points.
“We just didn’t have enough juice,” Spoelstra said.
The Heat has lost six of its last eight games but can salvage the road trip with a victory in Salt Lake City. The Jazz has lost nine in a row but has won three straight against the Heat at EnergySolutions Arena.
Poor shooting against the Nuggets overshadowed a marginally better defensive effort for the Heat, but that’s something Wade is hopeful the team can build upon. For the second consecutive game, the Heat held an opponent to under 50 percent shooting in Denver. The Nuggets were 38-of-85 from the field for 44.7 percent — not exactly all-NBA numbers, but a good start for the Heat in its effort to build a consistent defense.
“I think the biggest thing is when you’re a new team and you’re a team that has to develop, you just want to see your guys getting better,” said Dwyane Wade, who had 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting against the Nuggets. “You want to feel that you’re getting better, and the score doesn’t always tell that.”
Miami Herald reporter Chris Schmaedeke contributed to this report.
Friday: Heat at Jazz
When/where: 9 p.m., EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City.
TV/radio: Sun Sports/WAXY 104.3 FM, 790 AM and WAQI 710 AM (Spanish).
Series: Jazz leads 32-22.
Noteworthy: Utah is historically one of the most difficult places in the league for the Heat to play. Miami is 8-20 all-time in Salt Lake City and has lost three in a row there. The Jazz has lost nine in a row, though, so the Heat has a good chance of ending its five-game road trip with a victory. Dwyane Wade has been under the weather the last two games and scored just 10 points on Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets. Josh McRoberts is questionable with a knee bruise, and Chris Andersen remains out with a high ankle sprain. Luol Deng (hand) and Norris Cole (finger) are probable.