MIAMI (AP) — Danilo Gallinari hasn’t played in a postseason game since 2012, and the odds aren’t great that will change this year.
He’s still fighting anyway.
Gallinari scored a game-high 29 points, Nikola Jokic and Wilson Chandler each added 19, and the desperate Denver Nuggets beat the Miami Heat 116-113 on Sunday night in a matchup of playoff hopefuls.
“We needed this one,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We’re still alive, man.”
Denver moved within two games of No. 8 Portland for the final spot in the Western Conference. Miami (37-40) held on to No. 8 in the East, even after a second straight home loss. The Heat are a game behind No. 7 Chicago (38-39 after winning in New Orleans) and hold the tiebreaker over No. 9 Indiana (37-40 after losing in double overtime at Cleveland).
“This is like our playoffs right now and it’s been like that for a while,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our guys are laying it all out there. We just haven’t been able to get the job done the last couple games.”
Goran Dragic scored 22 points for the Heat. Josh Richardson scored 17 and Hassan Whiteside had 16 points and 12 rebounds for Miami.
Denver survived some drama at the end. The Heat argued to referee Ron Garretson that Jokic traveled as he tried twice to inbound the ball after Tyler Johnson’s 3-pointer with 10.8 seconds left got Miami within 114-113.
Garretson wouldn’t hear it, waving Heat assistants and players back to the bench.
“We all would have liked to have seen that call, just to see what would happened,” Spoelstra said. “That doesn’t guarantee anything.”
Denver burned two timeouts before Jokic eventually got the ball in to Jamal Murray, who made two free throws. Richardson missed a 3-pointer as time expired.
“C’mon man, he walked. He walked,” said Whiteside, who was guarding the inbounds. “I don’t want to speak on it too much because the NBA loves fining people a lot of money, so I’m going to keep my money. But there’s a reason why y’all asked that.”
Gallinari hit two straight jumpers late in the fourth to push a one-point Denver lead out to six, and the Nuggets would hang on from there.
“Very good game, tough game `til the end,” Gallinari said. “Very emotional for everybody. A very good win.”
Nuggets: Darrell Arthur (left knee), Will Barton (left foot) and Jameer Nelson (right calf) were all sidelined. … Jokic had 10 rebounds and seven assists, and Mudiay added nine assists. … Denver went 16-14 against the East this season. … Roy Hibbert has been on three different rosters for Heat games this season — the Hornets, Bucks and Nuggets.
Heat: Miami is now 0-8 on Sundays. … Rodney McGruder became the eighth player to start 60 games as a rookie for Miami, the first since Mario Chalmers started all 82 in 2008-09. … Miami led for 52 seconds, never by more than a point. The Heat led Friday’s loss to the Knicks by 1:48, also never by more than a point. … The Heat D-League affiliate in Sioux Falls finished 29-21, but didn’t make the playoffs. All 65 previous D-League teams to win at least 58 percent of their games reached the postseason.
With his first rebound Sunday, Whiteside became the first Heat player to record 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a season. Add in his 150 blocks and 55 percent shooting (his current pace), and Whiteside could join Dwight Howard, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Artis Gilmore as the lone NBA players to have a year with those numbers.
Nuggets forward Mike Miller — a NBA champion with the Heat who greeted plenty of old friends pregame — played his college ball at Florida, and spent parts of his career in both Orlando and Miami. But he’s logged only 58 seconds of playing time in his last six trips back to the Sunshine State, didn’t play on Sunday and last scored in the state on Dec. 26, 2014.
Nuggets: Visit New Orleans on Tuesday, the fourth game on a five-game trip.
Heat: Visit Charlotte on Wednesday, starting a three-game, four-night swing.