Denver Nuggets: 34-17 (14-11 on the Road)
Miami Heat: 27-23 (17-8 at Home)
Season Series: Denver leads 1-0
The last time these two teams met on January 7, the Nuggets were to play their first game without Carmelo Anthony who suffered a broken hand two days before against the Indiana Pacers. The game between the Nuggets and Heat in Denver was broadcast on ESPN and Dick Vitale made his NBA commentating debut. Although some of the luster of a Melo vs. Wade matchup was not to be ... the Nuggets won 108-97 behind an inspired effort from JR Smith, Linas Kleiza, and Chauncey Billups (each scored 21 points).
The Nuggets however, will be coming into this game with a different mindset. The team is now 100% healthy, aside from the expected aches and pains of a long season, but mentally this team may be a bit wounded. I will be watching this game under a bit of a microscope with Denver coming off an absolutely embarrassing 44-point loss to the Nets. Billups has said the team washed away the loss and let's hope he's right.
Point Guard: Nuggets - Chauncey Billups. Heat - Mario Chalmers.
When Denver traded out of the 1st Round of the draft I was pretty disappointed because Chalmers was rumored to be on Denver's radar and indeed was on the board when Denver would have picked. Chalmers is averaging 10.1 ppg and 4.8 assists and is proving to be a more than capable starter in the league. He could have been groomed by Billups and taken over in Denver. But make no doubt, Billups is the better player right now averaging 18 ppg and 6.3 assists. Though Billups' assists have been down lately ... the Nuggets go as he goes.
Shooting Guard: Nuggets - Dahntay Jones. Heat - Dwayne Wade.
Wade is having an MVP season and is leading the NBA in scoring with 28.3 ppg and an astounding team leading 7.1 assists per game as well. Jones is a defensive minded player and will have his hands full with Wade. I too forgot how good Wade was until the show he put on in Denver by scoring a smooth 31 points.
Small Forward: Nuggets - Melo. Heat - Shawn Marion.
Marion is under trade speculation once again. May even be headed back to Phoenix. Marion is having a decent season averaging nearly a double-double with 12 ppg and 8.8 rpg. But Marion will be assigned to cover perhaps the best small forward in the game. Melo is averaging 26 ppg since returning to the lineup and more importantly he is averaging 5 assists per game (including a career high 11 versus the Thunder) and has really been getting his teammates involved. I expect Melo to come out fired up with his only matchup against MVP candidate Wade and after such a disappointing loss.
Power Forward: Nuggets - KMart. Heat - Udonis Haslem.
Haslem has been a solid role player for the Heat basically every season. He is also rumored in every deal involving the Heat, yet remains with the team year-after-year. This year Haslem averages nearly a double-double, but faces a tough matchup in Kenyon Martin. KMart's energy and vicious dunks make him a very valuable player for the Nuggets. But this season Martin has tried to prove he can shoot the ball from mid-range to mixed reviews. When he's attacking the rim with and without the ball he's at his best and I don't expect Haslem to contain him.
Center: Nuggets - Nene. Heat - Jamaal Magloire.
The Heat may want to bring an army to stop Nene. Nene is very dangerous if he catches the ball in the paint - virtually unstoppable in my opinion. Although he can be frustrated with lots of contact and I believe that is the book on him right now. Teams have been playing him very aggressively and fouling him instead of giving him easy looks. Nene needs to finish at the rim better and dunk the ball whenever he can. His touch around the rim is smooth, but again he can be affected with physical play that will interrupt his mental edge. I expect the veteran Magloire to follow suit and play Nene close, but that could lead to foul trouble. Magloire is almost a non-factor on offense (2.4 ppg).
Bench: The Heat throw shooters at you off the bench in Daequan Cook (who usually plays well versus Denver), Chris Quinn, and James Jones. And their big guys off the bench are former starter Joel Anthony (who is their Chris Anderson shot blocker type) and rookie sensation Michael Beasley. Beasley can score points in a hurry as he's the second leading scorer on the team averaging 13.3 ppg.
The Nuggets also feature some major offensive weapons off the bench in JR Smith and Linas Kleiza who average roughly 24 points between them, but on any given night can score 20+ individually ... often in spectacular fashion. The other two key reserves are Anthony Carter and Chris Anderson. Anderson has been averaging 9.6 ppg along with 3 blocks per game in his last five contests. The Birdman undoubtedly has been playing his best basketball of the season.
Well since I have the Nuggets as the heavy favorites on paper above I will also predict a Nuggets win tonight. Now check the game notes for a few reasons why.
- Denver has won 7 straight versus the Heat
- The Nuggets are 10-3 in their first game of back-to-backs
- The Nuggets have only followed a loss with another loss 4 times this season
Opposition's Views: Peninsula is Mightier