MIAMI (AP) — What Miami rookie Josh Richardson is doing on game nights now was born in part from what he and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went through in private on an off day back in December.
Before he could leave the gym, Richardson needed to make 70 out of 100 jumpers with some sprints between shots. He needed four tries to get it done, after making 64, 65 and 69 in his first three attempts.
"I shagged balls for him for about an hour and a half before he hit that number," Spoelstra said. "But it was an important thing for him mentally. You can get there — you just have to put in the time."
The payoff is coming now. Fellow rookie Justise Winslow scored 20 points, Richardson added 17 and the Heat held off the Denver Nuggets 124-119 on Monday night, moving within a half-game of idle Boston for third in the Eastern Conference.
"Off the court, we’re still rookies," Richardson said, noting that he and Winslow still has to carry veterans’ luggage. "But on the court, we’re basketball players."
Dwyane Wade scored 19 points and Joe Johnson added 18 for the Heat. Hassan Whiteside finished with another double-double off the bench, scoring 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and adding 10 rebounds.
"We won tonight, but shootouts, that’s not our identity," Winslow said. "It took us a while to wake up, but we got the stops we needed to do and came out with the (win)."
Kenneth Faried matched the best single-game shooting effort in the NBA this season, going 11 for 11 and finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Emmanuel Mudiay had 23 points and 10 assists for Denver, which had its four-game winning streak snapped.
Faried’s 11 for 11 matched Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter for the best night from the floor this season.
"I just played basketball," Faried said. "Just trying to get a `W.’ We lost, so it’s tough."
Gary Harris finished with 18 for Denver.
"Give Miami credit, first and foremost," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. "I think Spo does a great job … but any time you allow a team to score 124 and shoot 60 percent from the field, it’s going to make for a long night."
The Nuggets had a chance to tie the game with 4:15 left after a Heat turnover, but Richardson snuffed that out. He chased down D.J. Augustin to get a block at the rim, Winslow grabbed the rebound and the ball found its way back to Richardson — who set up Johnson for a 3-pointer that gave the Heat a much-needed bit of breathing room.
Richardson and Winslow each played the entire fourth quarter.
"I couldn’t take them off the floor," Spoelstra said.
Nuggets: Denver signed forward Axel Toupane to a second 10-day contract. … The Nuggets were bidding for their first five-game winning streak since Jan. 3-14, 2015. … Faried’s previous best for makes in a game without a miss was a 7-for-7 effort on Nov. 23, 2013, against Dallas.
Heat: Luol Deng scored 17 for Miami. … Wade is now 24 points shy of 20,000 for his career. … The Heat reached 100 points for the eighth consecutive game. … Winslow’s previous high for points was 15, reached against Indiana on Feb. 22.
Chris Bosh was back with the Heat on Monday night, his first time visibly around the club since he was sidelined by a blood clot in his leg last month. Bosh sat near the end of the Heat bench. He’s been at home games throughout his absence, but only watching from the team-only areas until now. There’s no known timetable for Bosh’s return to play.
Mike Miller is going to have three homecomings in a five-game road trip. Denver’s last East Coast jaunt of the season takes the Nuggets to Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte and Cleveland — and Miller has called three of those cities home. He was drafted by Orlando, became a champion in Miami and spent last season in Cleveland. Miller, by the way, is on pace to be the first player in NBA history to play at least 40 games and shoot zero free throws in a season.