Wednesday, October 4, 2023

NBA Preview: Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets

The Miami Heat got a little older when they brought in 35-year-old Kyle Lowry this season, but the early returns have been pretty good.

Lowry, who helped Toronto win the NBA title in 2019, has averaged 11.3 points and 7.5 assists for the Heat (7-2), and his leadership has been invaluable to the fast start. Now Miami will put its record to the test when it begins a five-game Western Conference road trip in Denver on Monday night.

The Heat are coming off a big 118-115 home win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, one fueled by Lowry’s triple-double (20 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) despite Lowry dealing with an ankle injury suffered Thursday. He has helped take pressure off teammate and friend Jimmy Butler.

The pair has put team above individual accolades, and it has worked out well for Miami.

“Probably the bottom line with them, particularly where they are right now in their careers, it’s just about winning,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They read situations. A great feel and an IQ, intuition on what’s necessary for the team.”

Lowry isn’t shooting often — the most shots he has taken is 11 — and has concentrated on getting his teammates involved.

“When Jimmy was first with us, he was doing a lot of playmaking and getting other guys going and giving them confidence, and I think you’re seeing something very similar with Kyle,” Spoelstra said. “And that’s a big credit to Kyle playing unselfishly, getting off the ball, getting the ball to them in spots where they can be really confident and comfortable.”

The Heat might be catching the Nuggets (5-4) at a good time. Denver squeaked by Houston on Saturday and could be without forward Michael Porter Jr.

Porter left Saturday’s game with lower back soreness in the first quarter and didn’t return. The Nuggets didn’t practice Sunday, so there was no update on his status, but head coach Michael Malone sounded more hopeful than certain of his availability after Saturday’s game.

Porter has struggled with his shot, especially from long range, along with the rest of the Denver team. The Nuggets are shooting just 29.1 percent from 3-point range, an average that got a boost when Aaron Gordon hit two in the final minutes Saturday to complete a rally.

The Nuggets haven’t compensated for that poor shooting with more free throws, which could help.

“On nights when you’re not shooting it well, and there have been quite a few this year to be honest, we have to find a way to attack the basket, get to the free throw line,” Malone said after the 95-94 win over the Rockets.

If Porter can’t play Monday then it will be up to someone from the struggling bench unit to step into the starting lineup. That could mean JaMychal Green, Jeff Green or P.J. Dozier gets the nod, but any move may further hamper the reserve unit.

Denver’s high expectations for this season have taken a backseat to grinding out wins like Saturday.

“Everyone is just locked in and doing whatever we have to do to get a win,” Will Barton said. “Whatever it takes, whether it’s offense or defense.”

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