TV: FOX Sports Sun
TIME: Coverage begins at 8:30 p.m.
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DENVER — A visit by the Miami Heat used to come with a lot of fanfare when the Big Three were on the roster and leading the club to four straight NBA Finals appearances.
On Friday, when the Heat descend on Denver to face the Nuggets, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are in Cleveland and Chris Bosh is gone, so the biggest news is that Hassan Whiteside will play. And that is good news for a Miami team that has been up and down in the first seven games of the season.
“Oh, man, it always feels good to get our heart back, man,” Heat forward James Johnson told the Miami Herald of Whiteside’s return Wednesday in a 97-91 win over the visiting Chicago Bulls.
Whiteside is emerging as the face of the franchise, and he proved it with 13 points and 14 rebounds in 26 minutes against Chicago. Whiteside missed the previous five games with a left knee bone bruise but came back with authority.
Even with those strong numbers, he is still working his way back. He acknowledged he was fatigued Wednesday.
“A little bit, a little bit toward the end,” Whiteside said. “But I expected that to come, because I’ve just been running in the pool, so it’s hard to duplicate an actual NBA game.”
Things don’t get any easier for the Heat (3-4). A game at altitude is tough enough when fully healthy, but the thin air can be harder for a player trying to get his stamina back. And Miami will need Whiteside to help battle Denver’s strong frontcourt that had a good showing in a 129-111 win over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.
Forward Paul Millsap had a season-high 20 points and center Nikola Jokic flirted with a triple-double with 16 rebounds, 10 assists and eight points. The Nuggets (4-4) posted a season-high point total, and their offense has been clicking after an uneven start to the season.
Since scoring 93 points in a loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Oct. 25, the Nuggets are averaging 117 points per game and are 3-1 in that stretch.
“Slowly but surely it’s coming back to us,” Denver guard Gary Harris said of the offense. “We know how to play and we know what works for us and what doesn’t, and we’ll continue to play to our strengths.”
The Nuggets are in the midst of a six-game homestand, their longest of the season, and they want to establish home-court dominance that wasn’t there last season. They finished 22-19 at Pepsi Center in 2016-17, a mark that cost them a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
One of the things they concentrated on was playing better defensively, and outside Toronto’s 40-point fourth quarter when the game was long decided, the Nuggets’ defense was solid against the Raptors.
“Last year, I don’t think we played good defense, but this year our defense is getting a lot better,” Jokic said. “We want to play defense this year. Everyone is out there playing really aggressive on defense.”
If Denver can keep scoring and shoring up its defense, it will have a successful homestand and get Miami’s six-game trip off to a rough start.