Miami Heat

Off night for Heat turns into first blowout loss of season. Takeaways from Heat-Nuggets

The Heat finally had an off night.

Entering with an impressive 5-1 record, the Heat’s early-season momentum was interrupted with a 109-89 blowout loss to the Nuggets (5-2) on Tuesday at Pepsi Center.

Next up on the Heat’s three-game West Coast trip is a Thursday matchup against the Suns. The Heat (5-2) then closes the trip Friday against the Lakers.

Here are five takeaways from the Heat’s loss to the Nuggets ...

1. The Heat’s offense was really off.

After scoring 106 or more points in each of its first six games, the Heat turned in its worst offensive game of the season. Miami scored a season-low 89 points while shooting 36.4 percent from the field and 9 of 29 on threes in Tuesday’s loss.

“We just didn’t execute,” Heat forward Justise Winslow said. “Whether it’s making the right read or setting a good screen or floor spacing, we just had poor execution on the offensive end. We have a lot of smart guys, so I’m sure we’ll fix it for the next game.”

Those struggles weren’t even because of turnovers, with the Heat only committing 15 of those. Miami entered averaging the most turnovers in the league at 20.3.

The Heat just couldn’t make shots.

Jimmy Butler finished with 16 points on 3-of-12 shooting. Kendrick Nunn finished with 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Bam Adebayo finished with six points on 2-of-9 shooting. Tyler Herro finished with two points on 1-of-4 shooting.

A lot of the shots the Heat was getting were contested, too.

“They played well defensively,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Nuggets. “This is a good defensive team, as well. They’re well-schooled, well-drilled and our spacing hurt us. ... Our attention to detail offensively and our spacing was poor. So we weren’t able to get into any coherent actions to force them to have to make some decisions defensively.”

Miami’s offense was off to a strong start this season, with the Heat entering the night ranked 11th in offensive rating. But Tuesday’s performance was one Miami will quickly want to forget.

2. The Heat’s usually strong defense was off, too.

Miami entered the game with the league’s fourth-best defensive rating, but it turned out to be a bad night for the Heat on that end of the court. Denver scored a season-high 109 points while shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 9 of 23 on threes.

“We just didn’t guard the way we’re capable of,” Butler said. “Like I always say, like we always say, when we guard the way we’re supposed to guard, we’ll have a chance of winning the game. I don’t feel like we did that. I don’t know how many points they had in the paint [56], but I figure it was a lot. I think that’s what we got to fix. Easily correctable. We talk about it all the time, so our next effort will be much better.”

Before Tuesday’s game, the Heat was holding its opponents to 42 percent shooting from the field and an NBA-best 26.6 percent shooting from three-point range.

Denver came into the contest somewhat struggling offensively. The Nuggets, which finished last season ranked seventh in offensive rating, entered Tuesday ranked 21st in the category.

But Denver’s performance against Miami will certainly help that number. Jamal Murray led the Nuggets with 21 points.

“They had us on our heels the entire game,” Spoelstra said. “They were the aggressors. We weren’t able to impose our will for any long stretches of the game defensively, and you could see that early on with 30 in the paint and they were doing it in so many different ways that it just didn’t look like our basketball team.”

3. The Heat met a team with better ball movement Tuesday.

Ball movement has been a staple of the Heat’s offense to start the season. But Denver out-passed Miami, with the Nuggets finishing with 35 assists to the Heat’s 23.

Miami entered averaging the third-most assists per game at 27. Denver entered ranked 24th in this area, averaging 21.2 assists per game.

Tuesday was just that kind of night for the Heat.

4. With the Heat’s roster nearly at full health (only rookie KZ Okpala was out with an injury) for the first time of the young season, the rotation used against the Nuggets is worth noting.

With almost every option at Spoelstra’s disposal, he used a 10-man rotation for most of the game Tuesday.

The starting lineup: Winslow, Nunn, Butler, Meyers Leonard and Adebayo. The five players used off the bench: Goran Dragic, Derrick Jones Jr., Kelly Olynyk, Herro and Duncan Robinson.

James Johnson and Chris Silva only entered the game midway through the fourth quarter when the Nuggets were already in control.

The only active Heat player who did not play was Udonis Haslem.

This comes after Johnson looked sharp in his season debut, finishing Sunday’s win over the Rockets with 17 points, four rebounds and three assists. This comes with Tuesday counting as the fourth NBA day on Silva’s 45-day two-way contract clock.

When the Heat is fully healthy, there will be tough decisions for Spoelstra. He was faced with those type of decisions Tuesday for the first time this season.

5. There was another twist in the Dion Waiters situation, with the guard listed as one of the Heat’s three inactive players for Tuesday’s game.

With the Heat’s roster nearly at full health, Waiters joined Okpala (left Achillies strain) and two-way contract guard Daryl Macon as Miami’s inactive players. NBA teams can have up to 13 active players each game. Winslow and Jones returned from injury against the Nuggets, forcing Spoelstra to pick one healthy player to be inactive. Waiters was the choice over other candidates, like Haslem and Silva.

“We have a full slot of players tonight. Dion will not be active,” Spoelstra said during his session with the media 90 minutes before Tuesday’s game. “He will work out. I met with him. He and I talked, and things are a little bit fluid right now because we have everybody available right now, which is a good thing. And we’ll continue to work it out.”

Waiters, 27, was on the active roster in Sunday’s win over the Rockets for the first time since serving his one-game suspension in the Oct. 23 season opener for “conduct detrimental to the team.” But Waiters was not on the team’s bench Sunday despite being active, as he was instead working out in the arena during the game.

Waiters participated in the Heat’s evening practice in Denver on Monday and also in Tuesday morning’s shootaround.

Waiters is in the third season of a four-year, $52 million contract he signed with the Heat in the summer of 2017. He has a $1.1 million bonus in his contract for appearing in at least 70 of Miami’s 82 games this season, but he has already missed the first seven games of the season.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.
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