Tyler Herro's return to the court remains a waiting game as the Heat keep winning

MIAMI (AP) — Since breaking his hand in the first round of the NBA playoffs, Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro has been relegated to offering his teammates support in conspicuously gaudy outfits — topics of much conversation — from the sidelines.

The Heat would much rather have their 20-point scorer on the court. But, his return is still pending, and though Miami is holding out hope that Herro could play basketball again this season, he is running out of time and games.

The NBA Finals head to Miami on Wednesday with the series against the Denver Nuggets tied 1-1. Miami's Eric Spoelstra said Herro was to do a full-contact workout Tuesday, but the veteran coach remained noncommittal on the player's possible return. Herro hasn't yet been cleared to play.

“I don’t want to be Nostradamus right now. We’re taking it one day at a time,” Spoelstra said. "I know that sounds like a cliché. He did the practice with the group ... we'll meet with the training staff later on today and probably tomorrow, and we'll just continue this process. He has not been cleared yet, so that's where we are, but we’re encouraged by the work that he’s been doing.”

Herro was diving for a loose ball late in the second quarter of the Eastern Conference playoff opener against the Milwaukee Bucks when the injury to his right hand occurred. He re-entered the game, but was leaning forward in obvious pain in front of Miami's bench in the final minute of the first half.

“I feel like I had some things to prove this postseason," Herro said in April. "It was a tough moment. I still can’t believe it.”

He had surgery on April 21 for the fracture, with a four-to-six week recovery timetable, making a finals return possible.

“He’s another guy that provides so much shot-making, playmaking ability," forward Kevin Love said. “You saw in Game 1, we got cold from the 3-point line, didn’t shoot the ball particularly well from the field. He’s just one of those guys that provides so much firepower.”

Losing such a pivotal piece of their offense — their third-leading scorer behind Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo — seemed like a blow that would prematurely end the Heat's postseason run.

But they just keep winning.

They eliminated the top-seeded Bucks in five games, handled the New York Knicks in six, and recovered from blowing a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston to advance to the championship series for the second time in four seasons.

Players like Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent and Max Straus, have delivered in Herro’s absence.

Vincent is Miami’s third-leading postseason scorer with 13.9 points and 3.9 assists in 31.6 minutes. And Martin, undrafted out of college with a stint in the G League, was the breakout star of the conference finals with 19.3 points on 60% shooting, including a playoff career-high 26 points at Boston in Game 7.

“I'm so happy for the city of Miami," Butler said Wednesday. "This organization, they deserve to be in the finals. They deserve to win the finals and win a championship, and we will do everything in our power to make that happen.”


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New Suns coach Frank Vogel has blueprint in place for early success

PHOENIX (AP) — Frank Vogel led the Lakers to an NBA title in his first season in Los Angeles by finding a way to mesh the skills of stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

The veteran coach is now in a similar situation in the desert, where he takes over a Phoenix Suns team led by stars Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.

The blueprint is there. Vogel just needs to make the pieces fit.

“The first thing I can apply is direct belief,” Vogel said Tuesday during his introductory news conference. “Now because I’ve done it, I’ve been a part of it. If the talent is in place, that you can galvanize a group and take the league by storm.”

Vogel did just that with James and Davis, leading a team that went 37-45 the year before to the franchise's 17th NBA title in the Florida pandemic bubble.

Vogel's new team is already on the rise.

Monty Williams took over a team that won 19 games in 2018-19 and guided it to the NBA Finals within two years.

When two embarrassing playoff exits followed — Phoenix trailed by 30 at halftime in both home losses — new Suns owner Mat Ishbia and general manager James Jones decided a change was needed. The Suns fired Williams on May 13 after four successful seasons, hoping a change in message could get the franchise back near the pinnacle.

“I just felt we needed an injection of a different voice, a different energy. It’s really that simple,” Jones said. “And as we evaluated where we were and where we wanted to go, we just saw a gap and we needed to fill it.”

Vogel takes over a roster in flux.

Booker, one of the league's best scorers, will be back. So will Durant, a 13-time All-Star.

Point guard Chris Paul was the cog the Suns appeared to missing when he joined the franchise in 2020, leading Phoenix to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 in his first season.

The 38-year-old continued to be an effective floor leader in his 17th season, finishing fourth in the NBA in assists at 8.9 per game this season. Once the playoffs rolled around, Paul's body gave out for a second straight year, a strained groin knocking him out of the Suns' final four games.

The Suns also have to decide whether to stick with center Deandre Ayton or trade him.

The 24-year-old has dominated at times, disappeared others. Ayton faded in the playoffs this year for a second straight season, his averages dipping even before he suffered a rib contusion in Game 5 against Denver.

“He can be a big deterrent (defensively) and there’s still areas that he can grow offensively,” Vogel said. “I’m intent on really connecting with him and restoring him to an All-Star level player.”

Vogel has surrounded himself with proven assistants.

David Fizdale was an assistant under Vogel with the Lakers after serving as the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks. He will be joined by Kevin Young, one of the NBA's top assistants who was a finalist for the job Vogel eventually got.

Their biggest task will be to add a bit of grit to the glamour of Phoenix's two high-scoring star players.

Vogel is a defensive-minded coach with a successful track record that includes an NBA title and two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals as the Indiana Pacers' coach.

A dose of D could be just what the Suns need.

“The No. 1 habit that we develop all year is that we have to play harder and tougher and with more hustle than our opponents every night,” Vogel said. “Because if you develop that habit over 82 games, boy when you get to come playoff time, you know when every team’s trying to ratchet it up it’s already going to be there for us.”

Like in LA, Vogel is not facing an overhaul.

Booker and Durant are still two of the leagues best scorers and the franchise is two years removed from a trip to the NBA Finals. Add the right complementary players and the Suns could remain one of the Western Conference's best teams.

“We’re very close,” Vogel said. “A lot of things have to go our way. You need a lot of luck and you need some breaks along the way, but I feel like the foundation is in place. We've got to just make some moves around the edges.”


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NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Final set to take over South Florida for 4 nights

MIAMI (AP) — Four games, four nights, two titles at stake. South Florida is getting ready for an epic run of finals games.

Wednesday’s NBA Finals game in Miami between the Heat and Denver Nuggets starts a stretch of four consecutive days of either NBA or NHL title matchup contests in South Florida. The Florida Panthers are home for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, followed by Game 4 of Heat-Nuggets on Friday and Game 4 of Panthers-Golden Knights on Saturday.

There have been three consecutive days of home NBA or NHL title-round series in one building (or market, in this case) on two previous occasions — but never four in a row, until now.

On May 3, 1972, the New York Knicks had a home finals game at Madison Square Garden, followed by the New York Rangers the next night and the Knicks again on May 5. And on June 4, 2016, the San Jose Sharks had a home Stanley Cup Final game, with the Golden State Warriors playing the next night and the Sharks again on June 6.

The Sharks and Warriors had home buildings about 35 miles apart at that time, almost identical to the distance between the buildings that the Heat and Panthers call home.

There were instances of NBA and NHL final games on back-to-back nights in 1957 (Celtics and Bruins in Boston), 1974 (also Celtics and Bruins), 1980 (76ers and Flyers in Philadelphia), 1994 (Rangers and Knicks), 2003 (Nets and Devils in New Jersey). The Sharks and Warriors also had a back-to-back, a few days after their back-to-back-to-back, in 2016.

Even the Miami Marlins are getting in on the fun. They moved their start time for a Wednesday home game against the Kansas City Royals up 30 minutes, to 6:10 p.m. — or roughly 2 1/2 hours before the start of Heat-Nuggets.

“All eyes are on South Florida sports, and we want our fans to enjoy the fun in rooting on the Marlins followed by the Heat on Wednesday,” Marlins President of Business Operations Caroline O’Connor said.

If someone wanted to attend all four of those games as a fan, based on prices Tuesday, they could expect to pay at least $2,500 — and that’s for seats in both arenas about as far away from the playing surface as possible.


Playing back in Miami is a homecoming of sorts for Denver guard Bruce Brown, who spent two college seasons at the University of Miami under coach Jim Larrañaga.

“I could finally congratulate them for making it to the Final Four in person,” Brown said. “I loved my two years at Miami.”

The Hurricanes were 43-22 in Brown’s two seasons at the school in Coral Gables, a few miles from the arena where the Heat play. This season, Miami made the Final Four for the first time — a story that has been part of a huge year of basketball accomplishments in South Florida.

Florida Atlantic also made the men’s Final Four, Miami made the women’s Elite Eight, Nova Southeastern won the Division II men’s national championship, and teams from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties won eight of a possible 14 boys and girls state high school championships.

Brown got to see his old campus Tuesday; Nuggets veteran Jeff Green has a house in a neighborhood near Coral Gables — “all the way out in Narnia,” Nuggets guard Jamal Murray joked — and had the team over for dinner Tuesday night.

“We drove by UM,” Brown said. “It just brought back memories ... it's great to be back.”


— Heat guard Tyler Herro (broken hand) still isn't cleared to play. He was going through another contact workout Tuesday.

— Denver is 9-0 when giving up 109 points or fewer. The Nuggets are 4-4 when allowing more than 109.

— Nikola Jokic has scored at least 40 points four times in his playoff career. The Nuggets are 0-4 in those games, 0-3 this season.

— Bam Adebayo’s 47 points in his past two games tie for the second most he’s ever had in a two-game postseason span. He had 48 points (21, then 27) in Games 2 and 3 against Boston of the 2020 Eastern Conference finals.

— Heat coach Erik Spoelstra (109) is two victories from tying Doc Rivers (111) for No. 4 on the NBA’s all-time postseason win list. The only coaches ahead of them: Phil Jackson (229), Pat Riley (171) and Gregg Popovich (170).


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Game 3 awaits in the NBA Finals, with Heat loose and Nuggets facing adversity

MIAMI (AP) — Erik Spoelstra has preached about the value of adversity for months, not shying away from saying that it helped the Miami Heat get to these NBA Finals.

And now Denver is dealing with a little taste of it as well.

Game 3 of the NBA Finals is Wednesday night in Miami, the series between the eighth-seeded Heat and top-seeded Nuggets knotted at a game apiece. It got that way after Miami rallied to win Game 2 in Denver 111-108 on Sunday night, an outcome that prompted Nuggets coach Michael Malone to openly share frustrations — primarily over a lack of discipline on a lot of possessions.

“We had a really good film session this morning,” Malone said Tuesday. “I gave an opportunity for everybody on our team to speak and talk about what they saw on the film. It was a very honest conversation. Guys owned what they needed to own. We have to learn from Game 2 to use it to our advantage.”

In other words, Denver needs to do what Miami did coming out of Game 1.

The Heat faced significant deficits in both games in Denver — 24 points in Game 1 and 15 points in Game 2. And while there was a comeback try in the opener, getting within nine late, the Heat managed to erase the whole deficit and then some in Game 2.

“You’re in the finals,” said Spoelstra, seeking his third championship as coach of the Heat. “You’re going to be dealing with great players, great teams. You have to find a way to overcome it and make it difficult and do a lot of things that are tough.”

Wednesday’s winner obviously gets the upper hand with a 2-1 series lead, and history will tip in that team’s favor as well. When a finals is tied 1-1, the Game 3 winner has gone on to eventually claim the title 80% of the time (32 times in 40 past instances). And 2-1 series leaders, regardless of whether they won Game 3 or not, have taken the title 79% of the time (49 times in 62 past instances).

The Heat are in the finals for the second time in four seasons, but are playing their first finals game actually at home since 2014 — the 2020 appearance was in the bubble, with no fans in the buildings for most of that experience and only a few family members for the finals.

“No matter what, they are going to be behind you,” Heat guard Kyle Lowry said. “They are going to give you energy. You know, if the other team is on the run, they are going to give you a little boost. If you’re on a run, there’s going to be a crazy boost. The overall energy for your team and your group, it will give you a little bit of a lift — but it won’t win you the game, because you’ve still got to go out there and hoop.”

Hooping at the end of games hasn’t been an issue for Miami in this series. The Heat are outscoring Denver 66-45 in fourth quarters in this series, shooting 64% to the Nuggets’ 44% in the final period and holding a 33-9 edge in points off 3-pointers.

But the first three quarters, they’ve trended big-time toward Denver. The Nuggets have outscored Miami 167-138 in those periods, outshooting the Heat 53% to 39%. Miami has outscored Denver 57-48 on 3s in those quarters, but that’s nothing like the unmanageable margin the Nuggets have dealt with in final quarters.

“Just don’t get them wide-open looks,” said Denver’s Nikola Jokic, who is averaging 34 points, 10.5 rebounds and nine assists in his first two finals games. “Yes, we know they’re going to score. Yes, we know they have talented players. But we cannot give them open looks, and that was the main key.”

There wasn’t a lot of worry coming from either side Tuesday, when the teams had to go through the obligatory public workouts as part of the NBA media off-day slate. The Nuggets were loose, smiling a lot. The Heat were doing much of the same.

Moods will change by the end of Wednesday night. One of the teams — either the big pre-finals favorite Nuggets, or the eighth-seeded, nothing-to-lose Heat — is going to be two wins away from a title.

“When we’re working we still like to have fun and keep it loose,” Heat forward Kevin Love said. “It keeps us loose out there on the court starting the game and throughout 48 minutes. But it’s not without intention and the willingness to do whatever it takes.”


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Analysis: For Heat, the team's famed 'culture' all starts with Pat Riley

MIAMI (AP) — Maybe the best way to describe Heat Culture would be to consider two ways that Pat Riley has used to define what basically is the backbone of Miami’s franchise.

Answer 1: “It’s a shared philosophy with the goal of being great.”

Answer 2: “It’s our shared goals, shared vision, shared thoughts.”

The first answer was from 2000. The second answer came in 2020. The thinking barely deviated.

Times change. Rosters change. But Riley and the culture — a buzzword for the Heat, a punchline for some who disparage what the Heat have done — stay pretty much the same. Out of the last 52 NBA Finals, Riley has been part of 19 of them as either a player, coach or executive. That means, give or take, Riley finds his way to the finals about every three years.

Erik Spoelstra is the coach and makes the decisions, but it’s Riley — the team president seeking his 10th championship — who is still at the helm of the Heat ship. The Heat are tied with the Denver Nuggets at a game apiece in these NBA Finals, with Game 3 of the title series in Miami on Wednesday night.

“They’ve created a culture. It’s their way. It works,” Denver veteran Jeff Green said. “They established something that’s been beneficial to them, that’s gotten them to places over and over and over that a lot of teams haven’t. Much respect to them. Much respect to Spo, how he gives his guys confidence to go out there and produce no matter who’s on the floor, and obviously Pat is Pat. ... You’ve got to give respect where respect is due.”

Every team, every business, every organization has a culture. Few revere the term as closely as the Heat. Under Riley, it has been their trademark. No, really — the Heat are trying to trademark “Culture,” applying to do so in late May with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The Heat application lists a bunch of potential uses, and even makes mention of the possibility of using the word on jerseys.

“Culture” shirts have been big sellers in Miami for years. Culture has been a selling point for Riley for much longer.

“It’s not always easy,” Riley said in 2020; as per his usual postseason traditions since giving up coaching, he isn’t doing much in the way of interviews right now. “But I think you have to have an environment in which you create something in some way, shape or form where everybody can flourish.”

He’s been to the NBA Finals in each of the last six decades — the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s. He’s gone with long floppy hair and a mustache, gone with the gel-slicked look, is there now as dapper and distinguished as ever, even at 78 years old. He’s at practices, watching from the side. He’s at shootarounds, intently watching over everything with the Heat braintrust. Spoelstra uses him as a resource, and there are often suggestions from the man who the Heat call the Godfather. But Riley lets the former assistant that he tapped to replace him in 2008 be the one in charge on the floor.

“It’s something we believe in,” Spoelstra said. “It’s for us. It’s not for everybody.”

Those last three words — “not for everybody” — are another Heat credo of sorts.

Long gone are the days of marathon practices and Riley obsessing over player body-fat readings so much that he would have the calipers out for pop-quizzes of sorts. But there are absolute rules in Heatland, about showing up and working hard and doing it all the right way. It’s why so many of the contributors on this Heat roster started as undrafted players. Miami saw something in all of them, then asked if they were willing to do the work. Not everyone is. Those who say yes, though, tend to get a payoff.

“It's no secret,” said Heat point guard Gabe Vincent, one of the undrafted guys who flourished. “We work.”

The mission statement, from Day 1 of the Riley era in Miami in the mid-1990s, has been the same: That the Heat will be the “hardest-working, best conditioned, most professional, unselfish, toughest, meanest, nastiest team in the NBA.”

That really goes back to 1971, when then-Los Angeles Lakers coach Bill Sharman told Riley — then a four-year NBA veteran — that if he wanted to stay on the team he had to be the best-conditioned player on the roster. Riley took his words to heart. Sharman saw the work Riley did and kept him. Perhaps not coincidentally, that season ended up being the first where Riley went to the NBA Finals. Got his first ring that season, too.

And here he is again. Back in the NBA Finals. Still seeking more rings.

“Through it all, you see what got us to this point,” said Heat veteran Udonis Haslem, who has spent 20 years with Riley and the franchise and will retire after this season — but wants to stay with Riley as part of the front office. “For me, I think this team just embodies more so of what Heat culture is all about. We’re not for everybody. Doing the hard stuff. Just not for everybody. It’s kind of hard over here. We work hard.”

Riley wouldn’t have it any other way. And that’s why he loved something Jimmy Butler said in December, after a regular-season win in Boston. Butler was asked how he thought the rest of the season would go.

“Championship,” Butler said.

The Heat were 11-12 at the time. But Butler was thinking big, because that’s what Riley — “Coach Pat,” he often calls him out of respect — has wanted him to do from the moment he brought him to Miami.

The Culture dictates that be the only goal.


Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org


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Bucks make hiring of Adrian Griffin official, news conference set for Tuesday

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Adrian Griffin is getting his first head coaching job at the same place where he started out as an assistant.

The Milwaukee Bucks officially announced Monday they have hired Griffin to replace Mike Budenholzer, who was fired last month after a first-round playoff loss to the Miami Heat. Reports surfaced on April 29 that the Bucks were finalizing an agreement to make Griffin their next coach.

An introductory news conference is scheduled for Tuesday.

Griffin has spent the last five seasons as a Toronto Raptors assistant on a staff headed by Nick Nurse, who was fired after the season and has since been hired as the Philadelphia 76ers’ head coach.

Griffin’s coaching career began during a stint as a Bucks assistant on Scott Skiles’ staff from 2008-10.

“The Bucks are a championship organization and I’m thrilled to work with an established roster of high-character and talented players,” Griffin said in a statement released by the team. “I’m excited to be back in Milwaukee and I can’t wait to get started.”

The 48-year-old Griffin began his first Milwaukee coaching stint after ending a nine-year NBA playing career that included stops with the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets. Chicago Bulls and Seattle SuperSonics.

He also was an assistant with the Chicago Bulls (2010-15), Orlando Magic (2015-16) and Oklahoma City Thunder (2016-18) before joining Toronto’s staff.

“Adrian is a widely-respected coach and former player, who brings great leadership and experience to our team,” Bucks general manager Jon Horst said in a statement.

“His championship-level coaching pedigree, character, basketball acumen and ability to connect with and develop players makes him the ideal choice to lead our team. He has earned this opportunity.”

Griffin faces the challenge of replacing a coach who led the Bucks to their first title in half a century.

Budenholzer coached the Bucks to a league-best 271-120 regular-season record in his five seasons and coached the 2020-21 Bucks to an NBA championship, their first since 1971.

The Bucks made the coaching change because their post-season fortunes hadn’t matched their regular-season success for most of Budenholzer’s tenure.

Milwaukee had the NBA’s best regular-season record three of Budenholzer’s five seasons but didn’t make it beyond the Eastern Conference finals in any of those three years.

The Bucks blew a 2-0 lead and lost 4-2 in the 2019 Eastern Conference finals to the eventual NBA champion Raptors during Griffin’s first season in Toronto. The Bucks fell 4-1 to Miami in the second round of the 2020 playoffs in the Walt Disney World post-season bubble.

This year, the Bucks lost 4-1 to Miami in the first round after going 58-24 in the regular season. They were just the sixth No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 seed in the opening round, and the only No. 1 seed that failed to win more than one playoff game.


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Miami Heat are on a comeback run like few others in this year's NBA playoffs

MIAMI (AP) — The easiest way to explain what the Miami Heat are doing in the comeback department during these playoffs is simply to put up their numbers against the rest of the league.

When facing a deficit of at least 12 points this postseason:

— The Heat are 7-6.

— The rest of the NBA is 6-59. Combined.

“Biggest thing for us, we had the will and we had the belief,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “And we keep finding ways to win.”

Doesn’t matter the opponent, either. Milwaukee, New York, Boston and now Denver in the NBA Finals all have found themselves on the wrong end of a Heat rally.

Miami rallied from 15 points down to beat top-seeded Milwaukee in Game 4 and then from 16 down to win the clinching Game 5; from 12 down to win Game 1 over New York and from 14 down in Game 6 to eliminate the Knicks; erased a 13-point deficit in Game 1 at Boston and then a 12-point deficit to win Game 2 over the Celtics — and now, a 15-point comeback to win Game 2 of the NBA Finals over Denver.

Sunday night’s rally matched the fifth-largest in a finals game in the last 25 years. The Heat trailed the Nuggets 50-35 with 5 minutes left in the second quarter and outscored Denver 76-58 the rest of the way to even the series. The series now shifts to Miami, with both teams practicing there Tuesday before Game 3 on Wednesday night.

This improbable story — a team that trailed in the final minutes of an elimination game of the play-in tournament somehow getting to the NBA Finals — now has an even wackier plot twist. The eighth-seeded Heat have home-court advantage in the title series over Denver, the No. 1 seed out of the Western Conference.

“We’ve won on the road before,” Nuggets veteran Jeff Green said after Game 2 in Denver. “I think we understand what’s at stake. They did what they were supposed to do. They came in here, got a split. Now they’re going home, and I think we have to go in there worried about Game 3. We can’t worry about Game 4. We have to worry about Game 3.”

What Miami is doing is simultaneously historic and completely on brand for the Heat. There have been four teams in the last 25 years to have seven postseason wins after trailing by double digits in a game; Golden State did it last year on the way to the NBA title.

The other three teams on that list? The 2011 Heat, the 2012 Heat and now the 2023 Heat — all coached by Erik Spoelstra.

“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Spoelstra said. “We handled it the right way. … It steeled us and we developed some grit, which is what we all want. We want to be able to have that privilege of having adversity and being able to overcome it. You gain strength from that.”

The effect of all that adversity — like 44 games decided by five points or fewer, the Heat going 28-16 so far in those — is this: They just never think they’re out of a game. Sure, there’s the axiom that in the NBA every team eventually makes a run, and that’s largely true, but the Heat didn’t even raise the surrender flag in Game 1 when trailing by 21 points in the fourth quarter. They got the lead down to nine with 2:34 left.

And in Game 2, the comeback wasn’t in vain.

Down eight going into the fourth, Duncan Robinson and Gabe Vincent — two undrafted guards who were forged from the Heat player development program — scored Miami’s first 15 points of the final quarter. They gave Miami the lead, and the Heat didn’t give it away.

“We just needed to come out with a sense of urgency in that fourth,” Robinson said afterward. “It was kind of like a now or never sort of thing. Started with the defense, obviously, and we were able to do some things from there.”

What made the Game 2 comeback even more improbable — even for a team that is making rallies seem like an everyday thing in the playoffs — is that the Nuggets were 45-3 this season in games where they led by at least 15 points. And in games at home where they led by more than 10 points, they were 38-0.

The Comeback Heat weren’t deterred. Heat forward Jimmy Butler says it’s the “I don’t give a damn factor” that kicks in at those moments.

“I just think nobody cares on our team. We’re not worried about what anybody thinks,” Butler said. “We’re so focused in on what we do well and who we are as a group that at the end of the day, that’s what we fall back on. Make or miss shots, we’re going to be who we are because we’re not worried about anybody else. That’s how it’s been all year long, and that’s not going to change.”


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Heat dominate Nuggets in 4th quarter of NBA Finals again, and this time get the win

DENVER (AP) — It was a popular theme before the NBA Finals started — about how the Nuggets, an up-tempo team with fresh legs that could exploit the mile-high altitude in Denver, would have a good chance to wear down the Miami Heat.

The combined fourth-quarter score of the first two games: Heat 66, Nuggets 45.

In Game 2 on Sunday, the Heat outscored the Nuggets by 11 to turn an eight-point deficit into a 111-108 win and knot the series at 1.

And any thought that the Heat couldn't handle all the supposed disadvantages they faced coming into Denver after a seven-game conference final against the Celtics — out the window, just like Denver's home-court advantage in this series.

“That’s two fourth quarters, Game 1 and Game 2, where our defense has been nonexistent,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said in an unflinching critique of his team's performance in the loss.

Game 3 is Wednesday in Miami. By then, maybe Malone's message will have sunk in.

He gave an almost identical speech, honing in on the fourth quarter, after Denver's win in Game 1.

Hardly anyone seemed to care. Denver won that game by 11 — it felt like more — and the fact that Miami won the final quarter 30-20, or that Denver had its 24-point lead trimmed to nine for all of 23 seconds late in the game, felt more like garbage-time nitpicking than a major concern.

But issues from that fourth quarter bled into Sunday.

Much as in Game 1, the Nuggets were lost on defensive switching, allowing Miami dozens of open looks from 3-point range.

But in Game 1, the Heat shot 13 for 39 from behind the arc, their woes underscored by Max Strus, who went 0 for 9. In Game 2, Strus made four of his first six 3s and the Heat finished 17 for 35.

That included a flurry of three 3-pointers from Duncan Robinson and Gabe Vincent as part of a 15-2 run early in the fourth. It gave Miami a 90-85 lead it wouldn't relinquish after trailing by eight at the start of the period.

This marked the seventh time Miami has trailed by double digits in the postseason and come back to win, tying a record that has been kept by the league since 1998.

“We’ve got a lot of belief as a group,” Robinson said. “And to be honest, we liked the flow of the game and how it was going.”

The Heat shot 68.8% from the field during the fourth quarter after shooting 43.5% over the first three.

Over the final 12 minutes, Bam Adebayo made every shot he took (two field goals, three free throws), Robinson scored all of his 10 points and Jimmy Butler was money, making a 3-pointer and a three-point play on back-to-back possessions to help the Heat expand a three-point lead to seven.

“During the fourth quarter, our guys love to compete,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They love to put themselves out there in those moments of truth.”

The message the Heat hammered home in that fourth quarter — all of Game 2, really — was that the Nuggets, who came into the series heavily favored, are anything but inevitable champions, and that their best player, Nikola Jokic, cannot do this alone.

Jokic scored 41 points in this loss, and Denver dropped to 0-3 in this year's playoffs in games where Joker scores 40-plus. He's also not responsible for guarding the perimeter. The Heat shot 5 for 8 from 3 in the fourth.

In a sign of how dangerous Denver can be, the Nuggets trimmed their own 12-point deficit to three, and Jamal Murray had a decent look at a tying shot just before the buzzer. It rimmed out. The Heat players jumped off the bench and were practically bouncing off the court and into a victorious locker room.

The Nuggets — looking for answers. Neither they nor the thin air in Denver could wear down Miami.

“I think the altitude, too much is made of that,” Malone said. “They came out in the fourth quarter with a huge sense of desperation, and we didn't match that.”


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Robinson sparks rally with big 4th quarter, Heat beat Nuggets in Game 2 of NBA Finals

DENVER (AP) — Duncan Robinson flexed and then flashed his mean face after a cutting layup.

No disrespect meant. The Miami Heat forward was just having a little fun in the fourth quarter.

Because for the opening three, Robinson hadn’t taken a single shot. Turns out, he was simply saving his best for when his team needed him most.

Over a nearly two-minute spurt in the fourth quarter, Robinson scored all of his 10 points to spark a rally that sent the Heat to a 111-108 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Robinson's surge helped turn an 83-75 deficit into a 88-85 lead that Miami wouldn't relinquish in tying the series at one game apiece.

“I surprised myself with the fact that I pulled that one out,” Robinson said about his spur-of-the-moment pose. “Mostly just try to play with a certain level of joy. I feel like I play my best when I’m having fun.”

Robinson’s line through three quarters was nearly 7 minutes of play and a whole bunch of zeroes — zero shots, zero rebounds, zero assists. He did have one foul.

But in the fourth, he was 4 of 5, including two 3-pointers, to help the Heat do something no other team has done this postseason — beat the Nuggets at home.

“He can be one of those guys who just breaks a game open,” said Heat forward Kevin Love, who started Game 2, scoring six points and grabbing 10 rebounds, after not playing a minute in Game 1. “We’ve seen that from him throughout these playoffs. His consistency and confidence has been there.”

Robinson had a forgettable Game 1 when he went 1 for 6 from the floor. He just kept his cool and didn’t read too much into one poor shooting performance.

He had a streaky series against Boston in the Eastern Conference finals, too. In Game 3 of that series, he had 22, then two in Game 4 and 18 in Game 5.

That's been his season in a nutshell. He's been in and out of the rotation all season.

“He does a lot of things that people don’t know he has,” Love explained. "They see him as a shooter, but he is cutting to the hoop, he’s putting the ball on the floor, he’s hitting a drop pass to Bam (Adebayo) and he’s using his size to get to the rim on those cuts and put the ball down.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see. We needed all of those contributions tonight.”

Max Strus chipped in early, with four 3-pointers in the first quarter. This after going 0 for 10 in Game 1.

Robinson took it from there in the fourth.

“Just trying to play with a certain level of aggressiveness on offense, just to at least be out there and have my presence felt," Robinson said. “Obviously, it helps when the ball goes in, which you can’t always control. But just really about taking the right shots and just being aggressive.”


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Nuggets disappear in second half against Heat, suffer first home loss since March 30

DENVER (AP) — Erik Spoelstra bristled at the suggestion the Miami Heat somehow solved Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets by allowing the superstar to score at will while taking away his passing lanes and his penchant to elevate his teammates.

“Yeah, that’s ridiculous,” Spoelstra interjected after Miami's 111-108 win Sunday night sent the series back to Florida tied 1-1 with the home-court advantage suddenly in possession of the eighth-seeded Heat.

“That’s the untrained eye that says something like that,” the Miami coach added.

Maybe so, but the top-seeded Nuggets are 0-3 this postseason when Jokic scores 40 or more points. Their last loss in the playoffs was at Phoenix in Round 2 when he scored 53.

Jokic is averaging a triple-double in the playoffs. He had 41 points and 11 rebounds Sunday night but just four assists — a season low — as the Nuggets lost at home for the first time in 66 nights.

“This guy is an incredible player,” Spoelstra said. "You know, twice in two seasons he’s been the best player on this planet. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, make him a scorer.’ That’s not how they play. They have so many different actions that just get you compromised.

“We have to focus on what we do. We try to do things the hard way, and he requires you to do many things the hard way. He has our full respect.”

While Jokic was his dominant self save for his usual double-digit assists, his teammates disappeared after Denver built a 15-point lead in the first half and took an eight-point advantage into the fourth quarter.

Michael Porter Jr. scored five points and extended his shooting slump in the finals, where he's made just 3 of 17 shots from long range. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had as many points — 6 — as fouls and Jamal Murray's 18 points snapped his streak of six straight playoff games of 25 or more.

It was defensively where Denver seriously struggled in losing for the first time in 10 playoff games at Ball Arena. The Nuggets allowed 17 3-pointers, including four from Max Strus, who scored 14 points after his 0-for-10 goose egg in the opener.

“As I mentioned after Game 1, the fact that they got 16 wide-open 3s was concerning,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They didn’t make them. So, we got lucky in Game 1. Tonight, they made them.”

Jimmy Butler scored 21 after being held to 13 in Game 1. Reserve Duncan Robinson sparked Miami's 29-10 run to start the fourth quarter with 10 quick points and the Heat went 18 of 20 from the free throw line after getting to the line just once in the opener.

“We had a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding," Jokic said.

Along with so many missed chances.

“I told our guys if we would have won this game tonight, we would have stole one," Malone said.

They nearly pulled off the heist, too.

Murray's open 3-pointer hit the front of the iron, however, and Caleb Martin, replaced in the starting lineup by Kevin Love, corralled the rebound before the buzzer, handing the Nuggets their first loss in 10 home playoff games.

“It was a good look,” Murray said. “Just didn't go down.”

Every starter not named Jokic struggled.

“I don't think that's the biggest question,” Malone said. “Let’s talk about effort.”

It was nonexistent, Malone argued. "That to me is really, really perplexing, disappointing.”

“To me the wheels really fell off to start that fourth quarter. They were getting whatever they wanted, 3s, layups, and that allowed them once again to sit back in their zone offense, slow the game down, and we had a hard time getting stops, and then we had a hard time getting made baskets on the other end,” Malone said.

“Our defense has to be a hell of a lot better.”

Malone asked his players in the sullen locker room why they thought they lost.

“And they knew the answer,” Malone said. "Miami came in here and outworked us. ... If we’re going to try to go down there and regain control of this series and get home-court advantage back, we’re going to have to outwork Miami, which we didn’t do tonight, and our discipline is going to have to be off the charts.”

Denver came in with an NBA-best 43-7 home record, counting the playoffs.

Jokic had 28 of Denver's 51 points in the second half, forced for long stretches to shoulder the scoring load alone. And now that 40-point output appears to be a whammy.

“No, I don’t think it has anything to do with that,” Murray said 'It’s defense and discipline."

Both of which were lacking. So, instead of heading to South Florida halfway to the franchise's first NBA championship, the Nuggets are a shaken team that maybe is finding so much time — 10 days — between the conference championship and the NBA Finals was too much.

And they must realize that Jokic, for all his greatness, is no solo act.

“One thing I trust about him," Malone said. “is he’s going to make the right read time and time again.”

He just needs everyone else to do their part.


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The Miami Heat roar back in Game 2 to tie the Denver Nuggets in NBA Finals

DENVER (AP) — Staring down a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals, as the visitors in a hostile arena where no road team had prevailed in more than two months, the Miami Heat decided to do what they’ve done throughout the postseason.

They found a way. Against all odds. Again.

The Heat tied the NBA Finals and had to overcome a monster 41-point effort from Nikola Jokic to do it. Gabe Vincent scored 23 points, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo each had 21 and Heat beat the Denver Nuggets 111-108 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

“Our guys are competitors,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They love these kind of moments.”


They were down by as many as 15 points, down eight going into the fourth, and those numbers signified they were going to lose. Denver was 11-0 in these playoffs when leading by double digits at any point in a game, and 37-1 this season overall when leading by at least eight going into the fourth.

The Heat didn't care. They outscored Denver 17-5 in the first 3:17 of the fourth to take the lead for good, eventually went up by 12, then frittered most of it away and had to survive a 3-point try by Jamal Murray as time expired.

“This is the finals,” Adebayo said. “We gutted one out.”

Game 3 is Wednesday in Miami.

Max Strus scored 14 and Duncan Robinson had 10 — all of them in the fourth — for the Heat, who had a big early lead, then got down by as many as 15. They had no answers for Jokic, who was 16 of 28 from the floor, the last of those shots a 4-footer with 36 seconds left to get the Nuggets within three.

Denver elected not to foul on the ensuing Miami possession and it paid off. Butler missed a 3, and with a chance to tie, Murray missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“I just contested it," Butler said. "Pretty glad that he missed it.”

Denver lost at home for the first time since March 30, and for the first time in 10 home playoff games this year. And just as he did after a Game 1 win, Nuggets coach Michael Malone sounded the alarm after a Game 2 loss.

“Let’s talk about effort," Malone said. “I mean, this is the NBA Finals and we’re talking about effort. That’s a huge concern of mine. You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn't play well. We didn't play well. ... This is not the preseason. This is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals.”

Murray had 18 points and 10 assists for Denver, while Aaron Gordon had 12 points and Bruce Brown scored 11.

“They just played hard, and like I said, it was more discipline,” Murray said. “It’s defeating when you’re giving up mistake after mistake, and it’s not them beating you, you’re giving them open dunks or open shots. That’s tough to come back from.”

Strus, who was 0 for 10 in Game 1, had four 3-pointers in the first quarter of Game 2. Butler made a jumper with 4:56 left in the opening quarter to put Miami up 21-10, tying the second-biggest lead any opponent had built in Denver so far in these playoffs.

In a flash, it was gone — and then some.

The Nuggets outscored Miami 32-11 over the next 9 minutes, turning the double-digit deficit into a double-digit lead thanks to an absolute 3-point barrage.

In a 70-second span early in the second quarter, Denver got four 3s — more points than Miami got in that entire 9-minute stretch – and they came from four different players: Brown, then Jeff Green, then Murray, then Gordon.

Boom, boom, boom, and boom. Murray had five straight points to end the flurry, and Denver led 44-32 when it was over. It looked like everything was going Denver's way.

Miami insisted otherwise. And for the 44th time this season, the Heat won a game by five points or less. None of them was bigger than this one.

“When it comes down to the wire,” Vincent said, “we're strangely comfortable.”


Heat: Miami changed its starting lineup, with Kevin Love back in the opening five and Caleb Martin — who missed practice Saturday with an illness – coming off the bench. … The Heat got their 13th win of these playoffs, breaking a tie with the 1999 New York Knicks for the most ever by a No. 8 seed.

Nuggets: Jokic became the 14th different player in NBA history to score at least 41 in a finals loss. ... Denver hadn’t lost a game since May 7 — four weeks ago. … Nuggets legends Alex English, LaPhonso Ellis (who actually ended his NBA career with Miami) and David Thompson were among those in attendance.


Injured Heat guard Tyler Herro played 2-on-2 on Saturday as he continues his efforts to try to return from a broken hand at some point in these finals — but remained out. Herro got hurt in the first half of Game 1 of Round 1 at Milwaukee. His status for Game 3 is unclear.


Commissioner Adam Silver told NBA TV before the game that negotiations for the next media rights deal are now a priority since the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has been ratified — and how expansion talk will come after that.

Silver said he thinks the media deal negotiations will begin “in earnest probably this next spring.” And after that, plans to add franchises will be the next item on the to-do list.

“We don’t have anything specific in mind right now,” Silver said. “But I think it makes sense over time if you’re a successful organization to continue to grow. There’s no doubt there’s a lot of great cities we’re interested in having in the NBA.”


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Nuggets' 2-man game of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murral is setting new pick-and-roll standard in NBA

DENVER (AP) — Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra practically snickered when asked about neutralizing the effective two-man game played by Denver Nuggets teammates Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

“Yeah, where do you start? You have two guys that can score 50 in a playoff game. One guy is a triple-double machine that loves to get guys involved,” Spoelstra said.

“You go down the list of myriad of things you can do defensively, you have to check off some things that you don’t really want to do because of both their ability to score and Jokic’s ability to create something off-script."

Spoelstra knows what the Heat are up against; it's nothing new for Denver. The Nuggets' potent duo has been nearly unstoppable in powering Denver's 13-3 run through the playoffs, including a 104-93 win in Game 1.

A win Sunday night would make them just the second team this century to win its first 10 home games in a single postseason. The Nuggets' run to what they hope is their first NBA championship is being fueled by Jokic and Murray.

They're entering the pantheon of pick-and-roll royalty of standard-bearers John Stockton and Karl Malone. But the Nuggets do it with a different twist.

Whereas Malone set up almost all of the screens for Stockton when they were Utah Jazz teammates, Denver's version is ambidextrous, doubling the difficulty of deciphering much less defusing it.

“Three, four years ago, the No. 1 pick-and-roll combo in the entire NBA was Nikola and Jamal,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone recalled. "And most people would just assume that it was Nikola setting for Jamal. It was actually the opposite. It was Nikola handling and Jamal setting.

“The reason it was so effective, aside from the obvious — two really talented players — is that Jamal is big, strong, physical and not afraid of contact. Some guys like to slip out of every screen because they don’t want to make that contact, they don’t want to give themselves up," the coach added. "Jamal from early in his career here, he’s shown that he’s willing to go and set a screen on a big guy, small guy, doesn’t matter, because he’s tough.

“The second part of that is he also knows that if Nikola has the ball and he screens, his man has to help, which will give him separation. If you want to simplify the game of basketball, it comes down to separation."

Both Murray and Jokic are three-level scorers who can shoot 3-pointers, make midrange jump shots and drive to the basket. Their Game 1 performance put them in some elite company.

Heading into the series opener, only Michael Jordan in 1991 and Russell Westbrook in 2012 had at least 25 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in an NBA Finals debut. Jokic and Murray added their names to that list Thursday night — Murray had 26 points, 10 assists and six rebounds and Jokic extended his NBA record with his ninth triple-double in these playoffs, getting 27 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.

The only other pair of teammates to have 25 points and 10 assists in an NBA Finals game was Magic Johnson and James Worthy, who did it for the Los Angeles Lakers against Boston in Game 1 in 1987.

Murray and Jokic have been refining their on-court relationship since Murray's rookie season in 2016, a year after Jokic joined the Nuggets as the now-hard-to-fathom 41st overall draft pick. Murray was backing up Gary Harris and Jokic was coming off the bench behind Jusuf Nurkic.

“We would actually come into the game together, and we would run post-ups or just simple give-and-goes ... and I’d say then we kind of developed a chemistry," Murray said. "Soon we both started, we started playing off each other. We started to figure out where we like the ball, when we liked the ball, when I’m going to pass, when he’s going to pass, when he’s driving, when to relocate, where to relocate.”

Heat guard Kyle Lowry, who is in his 16th NBA season, is hard-pressed to come up with a better point guard/big man combo.

"Jamal and Jokic, they’re deadly because they both can score and pass the ball," said Lowry, noting he played against the San Antonio Spurs' “great combination” of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. “They’re big targets, and they have a great feel for each other.”

Nuggets guard Ish Smith has been on a record 13 teams in 13 NBA seasons and said he has never seen anything quite like Denver's duo. Smith said what makes Jokic and Murray so effective is both players are the antithesis of superstars who'd rather go 1-on-1 in isolation.

“It wouldn’t work if Nikola was selfish and, ‘I need the ball,’ and Jamal was a guy that was like, ‘I need the ball all the time,'" Smith said.

The Heat know they have to at least slow down the Nuggets.

“We have proven that we can win and overcome regardless of how the game is going,” Spoelstra said. “Ideal situation would be if it’s on our terms and we are controlling the tenor of the game, but we have also won games where we haven’t been able to do that for the entire game.”


AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed to this report.


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