Heat square off with Nuggets in Finals rematch

When the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets last met eight months ago, Denver clinched the league championship with a 4-1 victory in the NBA Finals.

According to Miami star Jimmy Butler, that history will be largely irrelevant when the teams square off in Denver on Thursday.

“They’re a really good team,” Butler said. “We realize what happened in the Finals against them. We’ve got to let that go. We’re trying to make it there again, as are they.”

After losing seven in a row late last month, Miami has returned to form in recent weeks. The Heat has won nine of 11 and the past five in a row, including a 106-96 road victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday.

Butler led Miami with 22 points, nine assists and four steals, while Terry Rozier added 19 points. Rozier made an immediate impact in his return after missing four games due to a sprained right knee.

Miami acquired Rozier in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 23, and the veteran point guard has recorded 60 assists in his first 11 games with his new team. Rozier figures to become more assertive as a scorer as he settles in with the Heat.

“We want him to continue to be aggressive, shoot the shots you work on,” Butler said. “We need him to shoot those shots. We need him to get up as many attempts as possible. When he sees a couple go in, he’s very, very ignitable, can catch fire.”

Miami could use a scoring boost from Rozier against Denver, which has won four straight following a 117-96 home victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.

Jamal Murray scored 32 points and Nikola Jokic recorded his 19th triple-double of the season with 14 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists to help Denver improve to 23-5 at home.

Miami is very familiar with Jokic, who was named Finals MVP after averaging 30.2 points, 14 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.4 blocks in last season’s championship series.

Jokic has posted a triple-double in four straight games for the fourth time in his career, though he has never reached five in a row. His 124 career triple-doubles are the fourth most in NBA regular-season history.

The Nuggets lost three straight heading into the All-Star break, but the team has regained its focus on the top seed in the Western Conference with four straight dominant victories. Third-place Denver is two games back of the Minnesota Timberwolves and a 1 1/2 games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“We knew coming back from All-Star break, we got our break. We were looking forward to the break probably a little too early,” Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. said. “But we got that, so we know there’s no breaks now. It’s go time.”

Denver coach Michael Malone is exercising caution with Murray, who is playing through shin splints. He shot 13-for-15 from the field, including 5-for-6 from 3-point range, in 33 minutes on Wednesday.

“I’m sure it’s very painful,” Malone said, “and the more he plays — and Jamal is gonna be a guy who is going to play upwards 35, 36 minutes a night. We just have to try to limit his load as much as possible — shootarounds, practices, whatever we’re doing — to make sure that game days are holy and he can be available for as many of them as possible.”