Miami Heat use rookies to beat Denver Nuggets

By Walter Villa, The Sports Xchange  |  March 15, 2016 at 2:12 AM
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MIAMI -- Perhaps this is the future for the Miami Heat.

Rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson combined to score 37 points as the Miami Heat defeated the Denver Nuggets 124-119 on Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Winslow, a 19-year-old first-round pick from Duke, had a career-high 20 points. Richardson, a 22-year-old second-rounder from Tennessee, had 17 points, three blocks and two steals. Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who is only 26, added 18 points and 10 rebounds.

All three of those players came in off the bench as Miami's reserves outscored their Denver counterparts 55-34.

"We've got some unique lineups," Winslow said. "We like to call it, 'The Bench Mob.' We come in with some young guys, and we use our youth and athleticism to our advantage."

There were 22 lead changes and 14 ties in a high-scoring and entertaining game. Miami shot 59.5 percent from the floor while Denver shot 52.7 percent.

But as good a night as this was for Miami (39-28) on the court, there was something that happened just off the floor that made the Heat family feel great.

Forward Chris Bosh, who sat out the end of last season due to blood clots and has been out since this year's All-Star Game due to an apparent recurrence of the problem, sat on the Heat bench for the first time since he disappeared from the lineup.

"It's awesome having him around -- I love Chris," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I love having him around. You guys know how I feel about CB.

"He always has an intuitive feel of what I'm thinking and what needs to be relayed. He is an example of leadership at all levels."

Since he's been out, Bosh has attended Heat home games but had spent his time in the locker room with Tyler Johnson, who is out with a shoulder injury.

But this was the first time Bosh sat on the bench, and he acted as an extra assistant coach.

"Even before the game, he was going through the scout edit with (Richardson)," Spoelstra said.

Denver (28-39) had its four-game win streak snapped despite 24 points and 11 rebounds from Kenneth Faried and 23 points and 10 assists from rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay.

Faried, who notched his 20th double-double of the season, made all 11 of his shots from the floor.

However, he played just 26 minutes despite not being in foul trouble. He played just three minutes in the fourth quarter and finished with only three personal fouls.

"He was phenomenal," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said of Faried. "My decision to take him out in the fourth quarter had nothing to do with how he was playing.

"These games, these atmospheres, Nikola Jokic has to play. It was a matter of letting (Jokic) learn from the experience."

The Nuggets received a boost when 6-foot-11 forward Joffrey Lauvergne returned from a badly bruised cheekbone, an injury he sustained Saturday against the Washington Wizards.

Lauvergne, who played with a mask, scored 10 points.

Another positive for Denver is the youth and potential of its starting lineup. Faried, 26, is the oldest player in a lineup that averages 22.0 years. JaKarr Sampson is 22. Mudiay turned 20 this month. Gary Harris and Jokic are 21.

But on this night at least, Denver's young players took a backseat to Miami's rookies, who combined to make 14-of-23 from the floor, including 5-of-6 on 3-pointers.

Winslow and Richardson were playing so well at the end of the game that Spoelstra left veteran starters Goran Dragic and Joe Johnson on the bench despite a close score.

Spoelstra said the inspired play from his rookies was a result of countless hours of work behind the scenes.

"They are fearless," Spoelstra said of his rookies. "Our program is not for everybody. You have to be the right individual and embrace the work, embrace the sweat. They thrive in that environment.

"Young players, you usually have to teach them work ethic. But they are very mature.

"This has been gradual. I think that is important to note. Improvement often happens not in a straight line. It's up and down.

"They are in here (for practice) all the time. Off days, they always come in. We've been working them hard, and it's great to see them rewarded."

NOTES: Heat SG Dwyane Wade, who returned after missing one game due to a bruised left thigh and scored 19 points, said it may take a while for him to regain his "explosion". ... Miami is hoping to get SG Tyler Johnson (shoulder) back in early April. ... Denver is hoping to get SF Danilo Gallinari (ankle) back by the end of March. ... Gallinari has been replaced in the starting lineup by 6-9 F JaKarr Sampson, a former St. John's standout who was named Big East Rookie of the Year in 2013 but was not picked in the 2014 NBA Draft. Sampson's claim to fame may be that he won a state title at LeBron James' alma mater, St. Vincent -St. Mary (Akron, Ohio). ... Denver on Monday signed 6-7 F Axel Toupane to a second straight 10-day contract. Toupane, a rookie from France, can guard anyone from point guards to power forwards.

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