Finally, it’s a winning streak.
Chasing a spot in the playoffs and jelling after a season of injuries, D-League additions and trades, the Heat defeated the Denver Nuggets 108-91 on Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena for its third win in a row. It’s Miami’s first three-game winning streak since the first week of the season.
This one was considerably easier than the first two victories against playoff-bound Cleveland and Portland with the Heat (32-36) playing a Nuggets team on the second night of a road back-to-back and without starting forward Danilo Gallinari. The Heat pushed its lead to double digits early in the second half and coasted to a relatively easy victory considering the breakneck pace of the last week.
Miami started its three-game home winning streak 10th in the East, but now hits the road for a four-game trip with a chance to overtake the Milwaukee Bucks for sixth in the conference. The Heat trails the Bucks by one game in the loss column after Milwaukee lost to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday in triple overtime. The sudden shift in the standings reminded Dwyane Wade of his rookie season when the Heat was chasing the eighth seed, but then climbed all the way to fourth before the start of the postseason.
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“You keep fighting and you give yourself an opportunity,” said Wade, who finished with 22 points and four assists in 31 minutes. “I’m proud of the way this organization hasn’t quit, and I’m proud of the way that this team hasn’t quit, and we’re giving ourselves a chance.”
Wade led all players in scoring, but his streak of games scoring at least 25 points ended at seven ‒ two shy of his career high for that benchmark. The team’s future Hall of Famer carried the Heat against the Cavaliers and Trail Blazers, but he got plenty of help on this night. Point guard Goran Dragic had 18 points and five assists, but most noticeably the Heat’s bench contributed 33 points, 23 rebounds and 12 assists.
Leading the way was Michael Beasley, who had another breakthrough performance for his on-again, off-again team. Beasley has been giving the Heat quality minutes off the bench since re-joining the team at the end of February, and he had nine points, eight rebounds and seven assists against the Nuggets (26-44).
Beasley played starter’s minutes (35), and his seven assists was his high with the Heat, and two off of his career high. At one point, Beasley came off the court for a sub and coach Erik Spoelstra greeted the forward with a big smile and a pat on the back. It was a telling exchange.
“Michael played a very good defensive game,” Spoelstra said.
This is Beasley’s third stint with the team that drafted him. Originally extended a pair of expiring 10-day contracts, Beasley now is signed on for the remainder of the season and has been an important and consistent player off the bench. He had company this time, though. Henry Walker ‒ who didn’t play in Wednesday night’s victory against Portland despite being healthy ‒ had nine points off the bench in 20 minutes, and made key three-pointers in the second half. He also had an impressive block against Kenneth Faried in the fourth quarter to preserve the Heat’s comfortable lead.
In addition to Walker’s production, reserve shooting guard Mario Chalmers had 10 points, four rebounds and three assists. Chris Andersen had five points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes.
“What you liked about it was the energy they brought to the game,” Spoelstra said of the Heat’s bench. “Immediately in both halves when we went to the bench it sparked us.”
A three-pointer by Walker gave the Heat a 93-81 lead with 6:11 left in the game. Wade set up the points with a drive-and-kick assist, then added a layup on the Heat’s next possession to push the lead to 14 points. A put-back dunk by center Hassan Whiteside extended the lead to 16 with four minutes to play.
Whiteside finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks to give him 15 double-doubles in his past 22 games.
“We’re starting to get to know each other a lot more, and we’re really building chemistry, and we’re really getting an understanding of each other,” Whiteside said. “Goran [Dragic] hasn’t been here that long, but he is starting to understand how guys play, and I’m starting to understand how he likes to play.”
▪ Whiteside offered the highlight of the game in the third quarter when he stepped in front of a passing lane to initiate a one-man fastbreak. With no one chasing back on defense, the Heat’s center put on a show with one-handed dunk that featured a rock-the-cradle variation. He finished the basket with a sweeping over-handed dunk similar to LeBron James’ signature move.