HEAT 102 - Nuggets 130 Recap

January 14 – We aren’t going to learn a ton from this one.

No lessons from a 102-130 loss to the Denver Nuggets. No useful tidbits to glean from an opponent hitting 15-of-31 from downtown. No moral victories as the step-slow Miami HEAT were beaten in every facet the rules of basketball allow.

No excuses, either, despite the absence of LeBron James – out with an ankle injury – or the HEAT’s arrival in Denver in the wee hours of the morning, on the second night of a back-to-back.

“It’s part of the NBA season,” Dwyane Wade said. “Some nights you’re just going to struggle and you’re not going to have it.”

Whereas the HEAT have struggled in the first quarter of recent games, the opening period Thursday night was refreshingly normal. Wade and Chris Bosh picked up the scoring slack with James out, scoring 13 as Miami found itself down 23-26 after Mario Chalmers beat the buzzer with a pullup three with a second remaining.

But, having had little to no practice time to correct the defensive problems of past weeks, the lanes in the middle were all too inviting. Six of Denver’s first 11 buckets were either dunks or layups, and with the HEAT slow to react to the Nuggets’ movement, even a switch to zone defense had little effect, inside or out.

“We didn’t have a lot of pop to our step, nor our spirit,” Erik Spoelstra said. “It didn’t look like we had a lot of energy out there.”

No energy meant ineffective adjustments. Denver continued to punish the HEAT for their reaction time, and after a 7-0 run early in the second quarter, the game quickly became a formality, punctuated by J.R. Smith’s 28 points on eight three pointers.

But just as quickly as the game got out of hand, it should soon drift into the anonymity of January circumstance, an example of extreme end of the spectrum just as a 96-70 win over Orlando in October was at the other.

“We’ve grown, certainly, as a team,” Spoelstra said. We’re one of the most improved teams from the first week of the season. We’ve gone through enough that its built some toughness and resiliency. The next 20 games or so should be about finding that next level.

“I think we’ll respond to these two games. I think that competitive nature will come out. But we also have to understand the type of slippage we’ve had the past 10 games or so.”

Understand the feeling of a game like this – where the Nuggets scored 132 points per 100 possessions – and appreciate that the HEAT are the rare team which experiences them infrequently. The sting is sharper because of this, and possibly, as we’ll see in the coming month, more effective.