Miami HEAT at Denver Nuggets Game Preview

Photo Credit: Matthew Stockman

The Miami HEAT face the Denver Nuggets Monday night at Pepsi Center. Tip-off is set for 9:00 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: How were the HEAT almost able to pull out an impressive victory in Oakland?

Couper Moorhead: Considering the opponent, the HEAT played their best offensive game of the season, primarily because they shot 18-of-43 from deep. Incredibly, all 18 of those threes came from just three players in Josh Richardson (8-of-11 from three, 37 points), Dion Waiters (six threes) and Justise Winslow (four threes). It’s not like they were all wide-open threes, either, though some were. After an early lull the Warriors’ defense eventually kicked into high gear and the HEAT were forced into one tough shot after another, whether it was a deep three off the dribble or a pull-up mid-ranger or a shot against traffic in the paint. Miami just kept making shots, going toe-to-toe with a Warriors team that had its own offensive mojo working throughout. Miami made some timely plays on the defensive end, particularly a Wade block on Kevin Durant and a Richardson steal during crunch time, but ultimately this was about Miami keeping pace with possibly the best offense of all time. They didn’t get the one or two bounces they needed in the end, but it remains impressive to see the team hit such a lofty level against a more-than-worthy opponent.

Joe Beguiristain: Early on, the HEAT got good looks from deep similar to their first half against Sacramento on Friday and defended the Warriors quite well. As a result, Miami led by as many as 19 points before the break. And while Golden State made its expected surge in the third quarter thanks to some tough shots from Kevin Durant, the HEAT were never fazed and continued to stay in it.

Of course, Josh Richardson played a huge role in that with a career-high 37 points (11 in the fourth) and eight made triples on the night. Then again, Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow also contributed from deep, while Dwyane Wade facilitated very well and led the team with nine assists (four in the final period).

The result wasn’t what Miami wanted, but the bottom line is the team put forth a valiant effort and gave itself a chance to win the game at the buzzer. Outside of a victory, that’s all you can ask for.

Nikola Jokić2: What did we learn about this matchup the last time these teams met?

Couper: The four-point loss to Denver was almost the complete opposite of the Warriors game, despite it being similarly close. With Denver on a tough back-to-back – the sort Miami will be on Monday night – and the HEAT not hitting their three balls, it was a grind-it-out defensive affair, with only a masterclass triple-double from Nikola Jokić pushing the Nuggets over the top. The details may not matter too much other than this: entering that game, the Nuggets were still a Top 10 defense but they had a profile on that end, allowing a ton of shots at the rim and open threes, which didn’t suggest as much long-term sustainability as you might have expected. Since then, in a game when the Nuggets struggled with the HEAT’s ability to find big guys rolling to the rim off screens, they’ve dropped to No. 15 on defense. Some of that is due in part to Denver suffering more lost time due to injuries than almost every team in the league, but for as well as they are playing they do have weaknesses against size and athleticism in the middle of the floor if you can get to it.

Joe: We learned that Nikola Jokić is pretty good.

Seriously though, we saw just how important Jokić is to Denver’s success. Above all else, the Serbian’s ability to create for others and hit tough, contested looks from all over the floor proved to be the difference in that last matchup on Jan. 8.

Outside of that, though, we didn’t really learn too much other than what Coup mentioned above about the Nuggets’ defense. However, this matchup could be different in more ways than one since Paul Millsap is questionable with right ankle soreness and Will Barton is back in the starting lineup. If Head Coach Michael Malone opts to do what he’s done the past three games with Millsap out, then he’ll roll with Mason Plumlee in the first five. The 28-year-old Plumlee has certainly taken advantage of some more playing time, as he’s averaging 16.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.3 steals and a block on 70 percent shooting over his last three.

We’ll see how the former Duke Blue Devil affects this matchup on Monday night.

3: Speaking of back-to-backs, what will Miami need to do to counter the dreaded Denver back-to-back?

Couper: Nobody likes playing back-to-backs in Denver, and this has been true for decades, because of the elevation. But what the HEAT need to do, other than passing their big men open in the paint as we mentioned, is what they would have had to do regardless of whether they played the night before or not. They’ll want to keep the game slow and deliberate. Oddly enough that’s the style Denver has been playing all season, but when they do run they’re one of the most deadly open-court teams in the league. Unless Miami can turn the Nuggets over, they’ll want to keep this in the half-court. It’s a more winnable game than the situation and records may suggest, but the HEAT need to stick to their formula to give themselves a good chance.

Joe: No matter how you look at it, this will be tough.

That said, the HEAT have the mental fortitude required to give themselves a fighting chance. In addition to competing hard on the defensive end like it did against Golden State, Miami has to keep the ball moving offensively. No team gives up more corner threes than Denver does, so those opportunities will be there for the taking.

And while this back-to-back can be looked at as a negative, it’s good that the HEAT are fresh off an impressive outing on Sunday. Perhaps they can carry over some of that momentum into yet another tough environment.

Time will tell.

HEAT at Nuggets Head To Head

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT are 25-29, while the Nuggets enter the contest at 37-18.
  • Josh Richardson is averaging 21.6 points per game on 54.9 percent shooting in five games in the month of February.
  • Nikola Jokić leads Denver in points (20.4), rebounds (10.5), assists (7.7) and steals (1.4) per contest.

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 106.2 (22)
  • HEAT Defense: 106.7 (7)
  • Nuggets Offense: 113.6 (3)
  • Nuggets Defense: 108.8 (15)

For live in-game updates of Monday night’s contest, follow @MiamiHEAT, @CoupNBA and @JoeBeguiristain on Twitter.

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