Heat vs. Nuggets preview: Nuggets must overcome LeBron James to end losing streak

Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

The Denver Nuggets attempt to salvage a regular season that has fallen off the rails when the defending NBA champions invade Pepsi Center on Monday night.

Game 30: 2013-14 NBA Season
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23-7 (9-5 on road)
Series 0-0
14-15 (7-6 at home)
December 30th, 2013
Pepsi Center - Denver, CO
7:00 PM MT
Altitude / 950 AM

Mario Chalmers PG Ty Lawson
Dwyane Wade
SG Jordan Hamilton
Shane Battier SF Wilson Chandler
LeBron James
PF J.J. Hickson
Chris Bosh
C Timofey Mozgov
Notes
Hot Hot Hoops Blogs You're Here!
LeBron James (groin) is day to day, Chris Andersen (sore back), Ray Allen (knee), Greg Oden (knee) are out. Injuries Danilo Gallinari (knee) is out, JaVale McGee (leg fracture) is out, Kenneth Faried (ankle) is probable, Darrell Arthur (thigh contusion) is a game-time decision.
LeBron James turns 29 on Monday. 29!! Stat The Nuggets haven't lost six straight games since 2004.

As I write this, the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat are probably debating whether or not key players such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen should bother making the Heat's road trip to Denver for Monday's contest against the Nuggets. After besting the mighty Trail Blazers on Saturday night sans James, Allen and Andersen, you can't blame the Heat from thinking a few extra days of rest might do their players good. Moreover, regardless of the Heat's outcome at Denver on Monday, the defending champs are all but assured of a worst case scenario second seed in the Leastern Conference by season's end and they might even benefit from having their supporting cast play substantive minutes.

This, alas, summarizes the present pathetic state of the NBA at large and the Nuggets specifically. Just a season ago, playing at Denver was a key test for an elite team to see how they stacked up against the NBA's best. Today, the Nuggets are one of (by my counting) 21 "also ran" franchises in the NBA that have virtually no shot at competing for an NBA title. A team that can beaten by another's reserves.

But while the Nuggets might provide an afterthought for the Heat, the Heat present a golden opportunity for the Nuggets to shake a six-game losing streak. With or without James in the Miami lineup, Miami is the two-time defending NBA Champions, a team that our Nuggets lost two close games to a season ago. So a victory Monday could go a long way for the Nuggets to regain some confidence.

To James's credit, he hates missing games, meaning he'll have to be pretty concerned about that strained groin if he's not to make the trip to Denver. And should James play - and should the Nuggets best the Heat with James in the lineup - this could be exactly the victory that Denver needs to get their 2013-14 season back on track. Because while winning at Minnesota and at Dallas were nice road wins, truth be told the Nuggets haven't beaten any of those nine championship contending teams yet.

And until they do, the Nuggets will remain relegated to "also ran" status.

Three things to look for in this game ...

1) Containing Chris Bosh. The oft-ridiculed (around here at least) Bosh hasn't shot less than 50% since December 8th and his emphatic 37-point performance at Portland was punctuated with one of the best game-ending three-pointers of the season. Hopefully the Nuggets can deploy Timofey Mozgov's superior size against the shorter Bosh to keep the Heat's All-Star center in check.

2) Don't make it easy for Miami. The Heat are the NBA's leaders in field goal percentage and are the lone NBA team to make more than 50% of their field goal attempts. Conversely, the Heat are a middle-of-the-road free throw shooting team. Point being, with the Heat being good enough as-is, the Nuggets need to make their collective shooting lives miserable on Monday night and use their fouls early and often.

3) Keeping Ty Lawson's turnovers under 4. During the Nuggets current six-game losing streak, starting point guard Ty Lawson has turned the ball over at least 4 times per game with one exception. Lawson must protect the ball better if the Nuggets are to have any prayer against the Heat.

Scouting the Heat ...

Heat Non-Stiffs

-LeBron James: James has scored in double figures in 524 games, the fifth-longest streak in NBA history.

-Dwyane Wade: Don't count the 31 year old Wade out yet. Listed at 6'4", Wade has blocked more shots in NBA history than any player listed at 6'4" or under.

-Chris Andersen: Since being amnestied by the Nuggets, Birdman - an all-time fan favorite in Denver - has thrived in Miami, serving a similar role to the one he served in Denver during the Nuggets' magical 2009 Western Conference Finals run. Sadly, Birdman isn't expected to play on Monday night because the Nuggets faithful would have undoubtedly given him a long standing ovation.

Heat Stiffs

-Unless you count Greg Oden and Joel Anthony in the "Stiff" column, the Heat possess none. Even former draft bust Michael Beasley has been ably productive for Miami this season.

Final Thought ...

Not only do the Heat present a great opportunity for the Nuggets to build some much needed confidence, but the remainder of the week (home games against the lowly 76ers and Grizzlies) sets up nicely for Denver. This week could show Denver fans what these Nuggets are truly made of.

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