This one figured to be one of the most daunting Heat assignments of the season – the second half of a highly difficult back to back, at high elevation, against a very good team and a night after playing the defending champions.
And it went about as expected, with the Heat hanging around for a while before unraveling in the third quarter and ultimately succumbing to the Denver Nuggets, 103-87, on Monday night at Pepsi Center.
And so a road trip that began with such promise, with a win in Portland, has now left the Heat with a three-game losing streak and at five games under .500, in ninth place in the East.
With All Star Nikola Jokic dominating, Denver getting out in transition and Mason Plumlee outplaying Hassan Whiteside, the Nuggets stretched a five point halftime lead to 18 by late in the third.
The Heat never drew closer than 13 in the fourth.
Whiteside’s string of very good games ended with a thud. Plumlee blocked him twice at the rim in the third quarter, and Whiteside left for good less than five minutes into the third, closing with six points and eight rebounds.
It didn’t help that the Heat shot just 9 for 33 on three-pointers.
Kelly Olynyk was off with his shot, closing 4 for 13 from the field.
And Justise Winslow shot 6 for 16 on a 15-point night., then picked up a technical four during a timeout with the Heat down 16 late in the game.
And this was damaging: The Nuggets turned 16 Heat turnovers into 22 points, including two dunks by Malik Beasley.
James Johnson scored 14 for Miami, Josh Richardson 12 and Dion Waiters 11. Ryan Anderson made his Heat debut with some late-game minutes.
Denver, which ended a three-game losing streak, got 23 points and 12 rebounds from Jokic, 20 from Malik Beasley and 17 points from backup point guard Monte Harris.
Miami closes its pre All Star break schedule, and tries to salvage this road trip, on Wednesday at Dallas.