After missing four straight games, Nikola Jokic was finally back in the lineup for the Denver Nuggets on Monday night. Denver was on a six-game losing streak heading into its game against the Heat and Jokic came back in pure MVP form. He finished the night with 24 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in a 120-111 win for Denver.
“Lets be honest, this whole team is kind of built around Nikola,” head coach Michael Malone said. “He’s the focal point and centerpiece of our offense and the same can be said for our defense. So while he was out we struggled… so to have him back was a confidence booster for our guys.”
The Nuggets played with a different level of intensity than what has been seen from them the last few games. Malone’s message for his guys was to bring the energy on the defensive end of the ball and they responded by holding Miami to just 23 points in the first quarter.
They made the Heat work for every sho and free throws were also the difference maker. Denver attacked the paint and got to the line 10 times while Miami only attempted two. The Nuggets took a 32-23 lead in the first quarter.
The Heat went on a 9-3 run to open the second quarter and cut the deficit to three. The Nuggets called a timeout and took back the momentum of the game. Bones Hyland went insane from long range scoring 13 points. Jeff Green got in on the scoring action and added seven but the best part was Denver’s defense. Miami went over five minutes without scoring as the Nuggets went on a 15-3 run. Monte Morris hit a triple to give Denver a 50-35 lead. The bleeding didn’t stop there. Jokic scored eight straight points to give the Nuggets a 63-43 lead at the half.
“It was good energy especially after six straight losses and we played good today and that’s the most important thing,” Jokic said. “We had seven players in double figures… so everybody shared the ball. Everybody touched it.”
Denver held Miami to 35 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent shooting from long range in the first half. That changed in the third quarter. Bam Adebayo wouldn’t miss. He scored 15 of his 19 points in the quarter but despite the Nuggets getting a little lackadaisical on the defensive end, their shots kept falling. Facu Campazzo hit a pair of threes and Aaron Gordon knocked down a few big buckets down the stretch. The Heat shot 68 percent in the third but were only able to shave three points off their deficit. Nuggets took a 95-78 lead.
Michael Malone didn’t like what he was seeing from his guys within the first minute of the fourth quarter. He called a timeout to regroup. Denver responded with a 12-5 run and it was just too much for Miami to overcome. Hyland kept going off from long range and finished the night with 19 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the field and 5-for-8 from downtown.
“It felt good,” Hyland said of this win. “Going back into the locker room and you’re seeing smiles on faces and you know that energy we had when we first started the season. We were on that losing streak where everybody just got down because we just wanted to win so bad so to come back in the locker room with everybody smiling it felt good.”
Hyland missed two straight games prior to Monday’s game after suffering an ankle injury two minutes into Denver’s game against the Suns. He felt good to play in the Nuggets last game but the medical staff advised him to wait.
“It was killing me on the inside because I actually wanted to come back last game but they told me no and I was warming up,” he said. “I thought I was good but they told me no. I was really frustrated but they know what’s best for me.”
The rookie was all smiles knowing that he was given the green light to play against the Heat. He knew that this was a must-win game for the Nuggets and he played a major role in that.
Denver has six more road games and face the Magic on Wednesday. The Nuggets are currently in ninth place in the Western Conference and with Jokic back they hope to improve that record.
Denver has suffered setback after setback. If being without Jamal Murray wasn’t enough, it was announced Monday morning that Michael Porter Jr would be out indefinitely. He is scheduled for back surgery on Wednesday. PJ Dozier has also been ruled out for the season with an ACL injury.
Miami was also missing key players. Jimmy Butler was out with a tailbone injury and Tyler Herro had an illness unrelated to COVID-19. Victor Oladipo has been out for the season and Markieff Morris hasn’t played since the Heat played the Nuggets back on Nov. 8. He suffered a neck injury after getting into a scuffle with Jokic.