Game Preview: Nuggets Look for First Quarter Energy Boost in Miami

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

MIAMI – Nuggets coach Michael Malone will pay keen attention to his team’s start in tonight’s game at Miami, the second on their seven-game road trip. And he’ll hope to see a high-energy effort, something the Nuggets weren’t able to muster in a loss to Memphis two nights ago.

“It’s going to be a hard-fought game,” Malone said. “If we’re not ready to fight from the jump ball, the same thing is going to happen.”

And the Nuggets want to get right back into the win column. At 38-32, they are ninth in the Western Conference playoff race, a game-and-a-half behind Minnesota for the eighth spot and just two games away from being as high as fifth. But they must start winning games more consistently to make a push into one of those spots a reality. How cruel is the NBA? If the Nuggets were in the Eastern Conference not only would they be in the seventh spot, but so far ahead of teams out of the playoff picture that they’d be talking about seeding, not what they need to do to just get in.

But that is life in the Western Conference, and the Nuggets have to navigate those waters. Malone said he addressed energy level concerns with his team.

“With 12 games to go, effort, fight, urgency, compete, cannot be words that we’re talking about,” Malone said. “It can be we struggled to make shots. It can be we didn’t play necessarily as smart as we need to play. It can be a question about the game plan, but not energy, not effort, not competitive fight. And I thought that’s what the biggest thing was.”

So, what problems do the Heat present? At 20-13 at home, they are good at the American Airlines Center, although the Nuggets did win there last season. They will not have Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside or Dion Waiters, who are all out with injuries.

But they do have a bevy of players who can have a significant impact on the game. All-Star guard Goran Dragic (17.6 ppg) leads the way. Guards Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington, forwards Josh Richardson and James Johnson, and center Kelly Olynyk all have the potential to score in bunches. Without Whiteside, the Heat does not have a ton of inside scoring, so the team spreads the court and plays a lot of small ball.

The Heat has made at least 10 3-pointers in seven of their last eight games, including 18 in a loss at Sacramento last week. Miami is 9-5 this season when making 14 or more 3-pointers.

But today’s game is as much about the Nuggets starting well and carrying that through the game as anything else. Malone lauded his team’s shootaround on Monday morning, saying “I thought our energy was better.”

“Right now, we can’t afford those missed opportunities,” Malone said. “We’re still finding ways to get better. One thing we always talk about as an organization is find ways to get better every day. With 12 games to go, it’s still important for us to find ways to get better every day.”

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.

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