Preview: Denver Nuggets return home to face Miami Heat

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

In the NBA, everything can change at a sudden moment.

Late in the fourth quarter of the Denver Nuggets’ loss to the Golden State Warriors Monday night, Jamal Murray drove to the rim and unfortunately suffered a non-contact injury, which has been confirmed to be a torn left ACL.

MORE: Takeaways from loss to Warriors

Denver must now bounce back from both a two-game losing streak and head into the stretch run of this 2020-21 season without their leading guard and one of the team’s emotional leaders.

The first step of this journey begins at Ball Arena Wednesday, as the Nuggets (34-20) host the Miami Heat.

Miami continues to recover from a slow start to the season which was mainly a result of injuries and key absences for some of the team’s best players. Defense has been Miami’s calling card this season, ranking sixth in defensive rating per Cleaning the Glass (compared to just 22nd on the offensive end of the floor).

Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, Will Barton III, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić

TUNE-IN: 8 p.m. MT, Altitude 2 and 92.5FM

Key matchup: Nikola Jokić vs. Bam Adebayo

Adebayo continues to ascend on the list of best big men in the NBA.

The 23-year-old is averaging career-highs in points (19.1) and assists (5.3) per game, all while contributing 9.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. A larger offensive role has benefitted Adebayo and Miami this season, while the 14th overall pick in the 2017 draft continues to be an anchor for the Heat defense.

Adebayo has had some success defending Jokić in the past, holding the Serbian big man to 45.5 percent shooting from the field when the two directly matched up in two games during the 2019-20 season.

In Denver’s 109-82 victory in Miami back on Jan. 27, Jokić shot an even 50 percent when defended by Adebayo. Without Murray, look for Denver to rely even more on Jokić’s scoring and playmaking to lead the offense.

Take care of the ball

It’s no secret that turnovers have plagued the Nuggets as of late and if that continues Wednesday, they will be in trouble against Miami.

Denver has committed at least 17 turnovers in three of its past four games, including 19 in Monday’s loss to Golden State. As a result of these recent performances, the Nuggets have slipped back to around league average in turnover percentage this season at 13.8 percent.

For Miami, forcing turnovers has been a key driving force for its defense this season, ranking second in opponent turnover percentage at 15.7 percent (the league average is 14 percent). If Denver continues to struggle to value each possession, the Heat will pounce and capitalize on any mistakes to generate easy offense, something that Miami’s 22nd-ranked offense will certainly rely on.

Limit 3-point attempts and shots at the rim

Miami’s offense has some interesting numbers from this 2020-21 season. On the one hand, the Heat prioritize shots from beyond the arc, attempting 40.1 percent of total shot attempts from downtown, which is the sixth-highest frequency in the league. However, Miami has only shot 35.1 percent on those shots, which ranks 27th in the league.

However, Miami thrives around the rim, leading the league at 68.5 percent from within four feet of the basket. Yet the Heat rank just 18th in the frequency of shot attempts coming from that area of the floor at 32.1 percent of total shot attempts.

Denver has done an effective job in limiting shot attempts around the rim, but when teams have gotten to the basket, they’ve converted at a 68.4 percent clip, which is the highest in the league. Yet teams have shot slightly worse than league average from beyond the arc against the Nuggets this season, but Denver has been vulnerable when it comes to giving up attempts from downtown.

If Miami can catch fire from deep or get to the rim with ease, Denver’s defense will be in trouble Wednesday.

All numbers as of April 12.

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