Whiteside, Ellington power Heat past Nuggets
DENVER -- The Miami Heat have struggled at home, but the road has been kinder to them.
So has the return of Wayne Ellington.
Ellington 12 of his 22 points in the pivotal fourth quarter, Hassan Whiteside had 25 points and 16 rebounds, and the Miami Heat beat the Denver Nuggets 106-98 on Wednesday night.
Goran Dragic had 16 points and seven assists for the Heat, who outscored Denver 31-18 in the fourth quarter.
Ellington made his season debut in a loss to Boston on Monday, which dropped the Heat’s record there to 2-7. He was relatively quiet Wednesday until hitting 4 of 6 3-pointers in the fourth to lead a Miami comeback.
“It was great to see him have that kind of performance,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said of Ellington, who missed the first 16 games with a thigh bruise. “This is very similar to how he was playing in training camp.”
Whiteside had a double-double before halftime with 13 points and 13 rebounds and finished with four blocked shots for a shorthanded Miami team.
The Heat (6-12) were without starting shooting guard Dion Waiters, who is out with a torn thigh muscle, and Justise Winslow. Spoelstra said after the game forward Josh Richardson tweaked his ankle before the game and will likely be sent back to Miami for further evaluation.
Nikola Jokic had his second double-double in a row with 17 points and 14 rebounds for Denver (7-11). Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinarl scored 17 apiece for the Nuggets.
“They came in here ready to play and we weren‘t,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I thought Whiteside dominated us early and set the tone from the first quarter. Give them credit.”
Before the game Malone was praising his team’s improvement in taking care of the ball. Turnovers have been an issue this season but the Nuggets had cut them down of late, but they had 19 against Miami, including six in the fourth quarter.
Miami got a boost from guard Tyler Johnson, who returned after missing one game. Johnson had oral surgery Monday after he had an implant knocked out against Detroit last week. Johnson wore a mouth guard that was specially fitted for him.
He was hesitant to wear it but understands it is necessary.
“I can’t miss games because I‘m missing teeth,” said Johnson, who lost three teeth playing basketball. “My goal is to play all 82 and now I‘m going to have to change it up and wear the mouthpiece.”
He finished with 18 points and seven assists to help the Heat improve to 4-5 on the road.
The Heat built an 11-point lead in the second quarter and held it until late in the third when their shooting went cold. Miami missed eight straight shots during a 12-0 run by the Nuggets that gave them a 78-71 lead.
Ellington hit two of his five 3-pointers during an 11-0 run that gave the Heat a 92-84 lead with 5:28 left. His fourth 3-pointer of the fourth put Miami ahead 101-91 with 2:25 left.
“We know basketball is a game of runs. They had their turn and it was ours now,” said Ellington, who turned 29 on Tuesday. “We wanted to dig in in the fourth quarter, we knew they were going to make a run at us. We sustained that run and we made a run ourselves.”
Rookie Jamal Murray hit two 3-pointers to get Denver within five. The Nuggets had a chance to get closer but Whiteside blocked Murray’s layup in the final minute.
“That was the best communication we had all season, especially on defense,” Whiteside said. “We had guys in the right spot, communicating with each other.”
NOTES: Miami G Dion Waiters was diagnosed with a torn right pectineus muscle and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. Waiters was left back in Miami with what was thought to be a strain, but an MRI revealed the tear of the muscle, which is located in the front part of the upper and inner thigh. ... Nuggets G Will Barton missed his second consecutive game because of left ankle soreness and third in a row overall. Barton missed nine games earlier this month with a sprained ankle but returned Nov. 20 against Utah. He sat out one game for personal reasons. ... Heat F Justise Winslow (left wrist soreness) stayed in Miami for conditioning and rehab. ... Nuggets F Darrell Arthur was inactive because of illness.