It's been a dream start to the longest homestand of the season for the Denver Nuggets, while the Miami Heat's longest road trip has turned sour.
Erik Spoelstra's club can still salvage a split with wins in the last two, and that begins Friday night in Denver with the Nuggets coming off a win over the NBA's best team.
Denver (15-24) became the third team to beat Golden State with Wednesday's 112-110 victory. It was also its third win in four games since dropping six straight, and the success has come with a limited amount of offensive execution. The Nuggets shot 42.5 percent against Golden State while hitting 5 of 22 from 3-point range, and they've been limited to 39.2 percent in their last four. It was the worst opponent shooting percentage in a Warriors' regular-season loss since the Los Angeles Clippers shot 39.1 percent on Dec. 25, 2014.
Unsurprisingly, they've all been tight games with Denver tipping the scale by holding teams to 39.9 percent and with a 49.5-40.5 rebounding advantage. That includes a 13.3-8.8 edge on the offensive glass.
Against the Warriors, Danilo Gallinari led the Nuggets with 28 points, but his defense against Steph Curry in the game's closing seconds was just as noteworthy.
“Gallo has proven this year he can guard most players on the floor,” said coach Michael Malone, whose team is two wins into an eight-game homestand. “And he did a great job. He got into a stance, forced a deflection, was first to the floor and comes out with the loose ball. Those are winning plays. Those are what separate teams, and we had enough winning plays tonight where we were able to withstand the furious comeback that they made.”
Gallinari has strung together three of his top six scoring efforts of the season, and the forward is averaging 26.2 points in six games since returning from an ankle injury.
Regardless of who Denver just beat, Miami (22-17) figures to be relieved with its next opponent after stops in Golden State and Los Angeles. Wednesday's 104-90 loss to the Clippers was the fourth on a six-game trip that began with a win in Phoenix and a loss in Utah.
The Heat committed a season-high 24 turnovers with seven from Dwyane Wade, who's averaging exactly 4 in his last five games after entering that span at 2.27 per contest. That probably has something to do with point guard Goran Dragic missing the game with a strained calf, and he'll miss the rest of the trip after being sent back to Miami.
“I was trying to make things happen, but I had too many turnovers,” Wade said. “I was just trying to be aggressive, especially in transition. We had some opportunities, but they did a good job of getting back, gambling at certain times, and we did some lazy passing.”
On the three-game skid, Wade has averaged 14.7 points on 31.9 percent shooting, while Chris Bosh has been held to 13 points per game while shooting 34.6 percent – with a 0-for-9 mark from 3-point range – in the last two.
They've averaged 17.3 turnovers on the skid, and Spoelstra attributed those individual efforts and their 92 points per game to not taking care of the ball.
“That's the No. 1 thing because that flattens us out,” he said. “Everybody gets out of rhythm. Not able to execute with detail, and you naturally get discouraged on that. We all have to develop a better mental toughness in those situations. We're the same team. We're the same team that won the first game on this trip.”
Gerald Green has at least stepped up, scoring a team-high 19 against the Clippers. The reserve guard is averaging 17 points and shooting 51 percent in his last four games.