Reserves lead charge as Nuggets manhandle Miami
Missing the ringleader of its Big Three, Miami was no match for Denver’s Magnificent Nine.
Even with the services of LeBron James, the Heat would have been hard-pressed to keep pace with a Nuggets team that shared the ball, defended the interior and manhandled Miami in front of a sellout crowd Thursday night at the Pepsi Center.
J.R. Smith hit eight three-pointers to lead seven Nuggets in double figures, while fellow supersub Ty Lawson provided another huge spark off the bench in Denver’s 130-102 win that snuffed Heatle-mania in Miami’s lone visit to Colorado this season.
Two days after pummeling Phoenix by 34 points, the Nuggets took the suspense out of one of the most anticipated matchups of the season. They raced out to a 17-point halftime advantage and led the Southeast Division-leading Heat by as many as 32 in the third quarter.
“It was fun,” Smith said. “Everybody got out there and played together. Fortunately everybody’s hitting right now. Earlier in the season, we couldn’t say that. Now, everybody’s getting in a groove.”
The Nuggets dismantled Miami’s zone defense by making 15 three-pointers and finished with a season-high 31 assists. They were clicking so well at halftime that Karl didn’t even bother nitpicking.
“Coach told us, ‘You guys are doing nothing wrong,’ ” Denver forward Melvin Ely said. “That’s the shortest speech we’ve had all year.”
Ely was another catalyst off the bench as the Nuggets reserves accounted for half of Denver’s points.
“Our bench was amazing,” forward Carmelo Anthony said. “Ty (13 points), J.R. (28 points, seven rebounds) and Melvin Ely (10 points, six rebounds) came in with some big numbers.”
Anthony wasn’t bad, either. He scored 21 points in less than 30 minutes as his good friend James could only watch while sitting out with a sprained left ankle.
“We always want to see the best matchup out there and the best competition out there. That’s what the fans wanted to see,” Anthony said. “It was sad that he couldn’t play, but health is more important than anything.”
In a sequel to their rout of the Suns, the Nuggets put together a monster second quarter behind the speed and energy of Lawson, Smith and Ely. The three combined for 18 points during a 20-8 run that turned a one-point lead into a mismatch.
“Melvin and Ty were really pivotal to the energy of the game in the second quarter,” Karl said. “Melvin’s offensive rebounds and points and Ty’s speed and ability to get into the open court brought the energy and enthusiasm of the game to our side to the point where I don’t think Miami ever got it back.”
Ely, who was out of basketball last season, figures to get more playing time while filling in for reserve forward-center Chris Andersen. Andersen is expected to miss a week to rest his lower back and surgically repaired right knee.
“You always have to be ready,” Ely said. “I’m just happy I was (against Miami). It was a fun game to be a part of and I’m just happy I got to participate.”
The Nuggets (22-16) continue to show resolve in the face of trade speculation that prompted several national writers to spend much of the week in Denver.
Separating truth from fiction regarding Anthony’s future is a daily challenge for Nuggets fans, players and coaches, and the weight of the rumors seemed to take its toll during a three-game losing streak.
After a disappointing home loss to New Orleans, Anthony had a pep talk with his teammates.
“I just made a statement (saying) despite all the stuff that’s going on, let’s just focus on winning basketball games right now,” he said. “Ever since then, we’ve had two 30-point wins.”
The past two games certainly have shown Denver’s potential should Anthony stick around – a possibility that Karl refuses to dismiss.
“Let’s don’t get messed up on what-ifs,” Karl said. “I still think there’s a window of, ‘What if we’re all together? What if we become a really good team?’ Until that isn’t the existence, I’ve got to keep the guys playing every game in the mentality of get better, get smarter and do our jobs. And our job is to win.”
That certainly wasn't a problem Thursday against the Heat.