Defending NBA champs latest challenge for Denver Nuggets

Miami Heat represent first test in four-game stretch against hot teams
by Aaron Lopez

They took some lumps during a three-game road trip to start the season.

They responded by going 4-1 during a stretch of five games in seven nights.

For their next trick, the Denver Nuggets will take on the defending NBA champion Miami Heat at Pepsi Center on Thursday. It marks the start of a four-game stretch against teams with a combined record of 24-8.

But as coach George Karl reminded his team during two days of practice, complaining and crying about the tough early season schedule won’t do any good.

“Just got to be ready to play,” Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson said Wednesday. “We’ve already had three back-to-backs and one was a double-overtime game. It’s a tough time in the season. It’s definitely a grind. But I felt like we responded (after) we went 0-3 on the first road trip, and we’re going to continue to do so.”

The Nuggets were winless after losing to the Heat in Miami on Nov. 3, but the three-point loss represented a turning point. Denver shot .516 from the field and turned 18 offensive rebounds into 30 second-chance points before Miami escaped on a four-point play by Ray Allen in the game’s final seconds.

“Hopefully we have the same effort, we’re making shots and we’re playing with the same intensity,” Denver swingman Andre Iguodala said. “Just a different outcome and we get a win.”

Beating the Heat has become an annual event at Pepsi Center.

The Nuggets have won 10 straight home games against Miami, the longest active streak against any opponent. Seven of the 10 games have been decided by at least 10 points, and Denver has an average margin of victory of 14.1 points.

Asked why the Nuggets have been so successful against the Heat, veteran point guard Andre Miller shrugged.

“I have no idea,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. We’d like to keep that home winning streak going.”

Like so many other NBA teams, the Heat face the challenge of slowing Denver’s fast-paced attack in the second of back-to-back games. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Nuggets are 37-6 at home against opponents in that situation.

“The energy of the game is we want to play fast,” Karl said. “(The Heat are) now in that mode that they’re not afraid to play fast. It’ll be interesting to see what they want to do tomorrow.”

In the first meeting, Miami held the Nuggets to six fast-break points and got a career-high 40 points on 15-of-22 shooting from forward Chris Bosh. While Bosh remains a priority, Denver will also focus on slowing his All-Star teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Entering Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, James led Miami in scoring (23.9 ppg), rebounding (10.0 rpg) and assists (6.1 apg).

“He’s such a versatile player, it’s really hard to key on one thing,” said Iguodala, who played with James on the U.S. Olympic team this past summer. “You have to play him honest. You try to stay underneath him and make the game hard for him.”

NOTES: Nuggets F Danilo Gallinari (ankle) was limited in practice Wednesday but he is listed as probable, as is teammate Wilson Chandler (hip) … Wade is winless in the eight games he’s played in Denver. He, Bosh and James have a combined record of 3-21 at Pepsi Center … Denver F Kenneth Faried has recorded four straight double-doubles and is averaging 16.5 points and 13.5 rebounds during that stretch.