The Denver Nuggets have been in a bit of a funk over the last week and it couldn’t be at the worst time as the Nuggets host the highly talented Miami Heat on Friday.
And to make matters worst is the Heat are eager to get a victory after dropping their last two games in overtime. They lost to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, 111-106, and then followed that up by losing 96-89 to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.
As talented as the Heat have been, they haven’t been a powerhouse on the road. In seven road games the Heat have played three overtime games, losing two, and have only won two other games by two points or more. Their only big wins on the road have been their opening victory over the Dallas Mavericks (105-94) and defeating the lowly New Jersey Nets 101-90.
The Heat (106.4 points) and the Nuggets (103.6) are one and two in the NBA in scoring, but don’t be surprised if this contest turns into a defensive battle. Both teams are among the worst at turning the ball over (Miami turns the ball over on average 17.9 times a game, while the Nuggets average 16.1), but ironically they are both the best at forcing turnovers (The Heat for 19.5 a game; the Nuggets 18.2). Both teams also shoot a lot of free throws, Miami attempts 29.2 a game – while Denver averages 27.3.
But are the Nuggets good enough to deal the Heat their third loss? Obviously they need to find answers for Miami’s Big Three. But who defends LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh?
Most likely, Danilo Gallinari will draw the task of defending James for most of the game. He has the ideal size and ability to give James trouble (or just slow him down), but what may be a concern is Gallinari getting into foul trouble. James leads the NBA in free throw attempts with 103, which is nearly twice as many as Gallinari draws (57). Two quick fouls on Gallinari in the game could take the Italian star out of his game. Arguably Gallinari has been the Nuggets best player over the last two weeks.
Last season, Gallinari, who is averaging a career best 17.2 points this season, averaged nearly 19.3 points in the three games against James, who in turn averaged 24.7 points.
James has developed his game a little bit this season, relying less on the 3-point shot and playing more inside the arc, where his size and speed is deadly combo. Off the ball, James has been very successful cutting the basket and with the ball he has developed a nice repertoire of moves.
Arron Afflalo will probably start the game defending Wade, but just like Gallinari there is a fear of foul trouble. Wade, like James, is a master at drawing fouls. And like James, Wade has developed his game more inside the arc. Neither James nor Wade have hit a trey this season, but if the Nuggets defend like they did on Wednesday that might change.
Afflalo (who scored 14 points) nearly outscored Wade (16) last time the Heat played at the Pepsi Center. Last time the two matched up, Afflalo aggravated his left hamstring which hampered him at the end of last season.
Corey Brewer may have to defend both James and Wade off the bench, while Rudy Fernandez and Andre Miller may also see time defending Wade.
Chris Bosh and Nene will battle it out in the post and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bosh struggle in the paint thanks to the Nuggets size. Bosh, who isn’t shy about shooting outside jumpers, does a lot of his damage from the outside where he lures the opposing big man out of the paint – making space for Wade and James.
Al Harrington should do well defending Bosh despite Bosh’s length.
Joel Anthony and Timofey Mozgov will battle it out to start the game and Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem will also see time off the bench.
Ty Lawson is hoping to play on Friday, if so he’ll mainly see time against Mario Chalmers and may see a lot of post ups. Don’t be surprised if the Heat decide to see how healthy Lawson is early on.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- GET OUT AND RUN: The Nuggets are great on the fast break, and it helps that the Heat turn the ball over a lot. On the break they are smart too, with wings like Brewer and Gallinari filling lanes and Miller, Lawson and Fernandez throwing timely and smart passes.
- ATTACK THE BASKET: Last thing the Nuggets want to do is getting in a shooting contest with the Heat, who are ninth in the NBA shooting the trey (.355 percent). Denver is at its best when they are breaking down the defense, attacking the basket, finding open teammates and getting to the free throw line. More than anything they have to get to the basket.
- BE THE MORE AGGRESSIVE TEAM: Everybody knows who the three best players on the floor are, but don’t tell Gallinari or Lawson that. Both tend to play better in big games and Gallinari thrives in matching up with top players in the NBA. Nene (usually) plays well against Bosh and can back the much smaller big man into the paint.
- DON’T LET THE OFFICIALS GET YOU OUT OF YOUR GAME: Last game, Nene had six turnovers and started to get frustrated with his play and the officials lack of consistent calls. Friday night there will be some questionable calls, but if Nuggets keep their cool they should find themselves on top at the end.
Topics: Al Harrington, Andre Miller, Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Andersen, Chris Bosh, Corey Brewer, Dallas Mavericks, Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets, Dwyane Wade, George Karl, Golden State Warriors, Joel Anthony, LeBron James, Los Angeles Clippers, Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, Nene, New Jersey Nets, Rudy Fernandez, Timofey Mozgov, Ty Lawson, Udonis Haslem