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Heat come up short again against Nuggets as skid hits four with 100-88 loss

MIAMI — This was a night the Miami Heat looked the part.

Able to stand most of the night toe to toe with the defending NBA champs.

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Going blow for blow for over 40 minutes.

Showing there is something possible beyond what mostly has been the mundane this season.

Bam Adebayo stood up to Nikola Jokic. The Heat’s defense dug in after an uneven start. Terry Rozier created when creating was needed.

But, in the end, a fourth straight loss, this time falling 100-88 Wednesday night to the Denver Nuggets at Kaseya Center.

Despite a markedly stronger showing than in Sunday’s stunning loss to the visiting Washington Wizards, it was a matter of the competition proving too tough to tame, as was the case when the Heat fell 4-1 to the Nuggets in last season’s NBA Finals.

“When they want to put on the jets, they’ve been able to leave teams behind in the dust, and that’s what they did tonight,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It felt like they flipped a switch.”

Ultimately, closing time proved to be the Nuggets’ time, just as it was all too often last June.

“They’re the reigning champs for a reason,” Heat forward Caleb Martin said.

For the Heat, there simply was not a breakout performance when one was needed. Adebayo closed with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Otherwise, there were 15 points from Jimmy Butler, 14 from Terry Rozier and 11 Duncan Robinson, with those four the only four to score in double figures for Spoelstra’s team.

Michael Porter Jr. led the Nuggets with 25 points, with Aaron Gordon adding 16 and Jokic going for 12 points, 14 rebounds and six assists.

Five Degrees of Heat from Wednesday night’s game:

1. Closing time: The Nuggets led 29-19 at the end of the first period, 50-44 at halftime and 72-71 going into the fourth, after the Heat briefly took the lead in the third.

The Heat got within one early in the fourth, before the Nuggets went up 85-80, forcing a Heat timeout with 6:29 to play, only to see Porter follow with a 20-footer to extend Denver’s lead to 87-80.

And then, with 3:38 to play, a Reggie Jackson 3-pointer made it 94-84, effectively putting it away.

The Heat shot 7 of 21 in the fourth, including 1 of 8 on 3-pointers, scoring 17 in the period.

“They had their burst and we stayed where we were,” Spoelstra said, “and that basically was the game.”

2. Big muscle: Adebayo consistently held his ground defensively while also attacking the boards.

Then, with 5:59 left in the third period, unguarded at the top of the arc, he converted his second 3-pointer of the season and 10th of his career.

After an uneven start that had him 1 of 5 from the field and 0 for 2 on free throws, Adebayo made four of his next five shots.

He closed 7 of 15 from the field, 2 for 4 from the line – and frustrated about another loss.

“We’ve just got to learn,” he said, “that when we’re not making shots to still get stops.”

Jokic closed 5 of 8 from the field.

“Nobody will go toe to toe, minute for minute, against Jokic other than Bam,” Spoelstra said.

3. Quite different: While the Heat opened for the eighth consecutive game with a lineup of Adebayo, Butler, Rozier, Robinson and Nikola Jovic, this hardly was anything similar to last season’s NBA Finals against the Nuggets.

At one point in the opening period, the Heat fielded a lineup of Thomas Bryant, Patty Mills, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Rozier and Caleb Martin. Four of the five weren’t even with the Heat in last season’s championship series, with Martin the exception.

Bryant was with the Nuggets for that series, with this his first meeting against Denver after being suspended by the NBA for the Feb. 29 matchup at Ball Arena. He had one of his better Heat performances in the reunion, closing with nine points and six rebounds.

4. Rotation renovation: After playing Jovic as his backup center in Sunday’s loss to the Wizards, Spoelstra went back to Bryant in that assignment.

But Spoelstra also stayed with Patty Mills ahead of Delon Wright, who was held out for the sixth consecutive game.

Haywood Highsmith played as 10th man, as the Heat continued to play in the injury absences of Tyler Herro and Kevin Love.

Without Herro and Love, it made the margin for error all the more thin.

“A lot of it,” Martin said, “I think came down to 50-50 plays, things we’re more than capable of getting done.”

5. Early pace: Nuggets coach Michael Malone lamented pregame his team scoring only nine fastbreak points when his team beat the Heat on Feb. 29 in Denver. This time, the Nuggets, averaging over 20 fastbreak points since the All-Star break, had nine fastbreak points within the first 7:44, fueled by three early Heat turnovers.

The points were part of a 15-0 Denver run.

The Heat, though, regained the pace from there, with the Nuggets without a fastbreak point the rest of the way.