The Denver Nuggets head into sunny Miami to take on the Heat with dampened spirits. A week ago they were sitting in the 8th seed, prepping for a contest with the New Orleans Pelicans before their all important showdown with the Portland Trail Blazers later that week. Today, they are losers of three straight (starting with that Pelicans game), 2.5 games out of the eighth seed and staring at a final seven game stretch that in all practicality they would have to sweep in order to make one think they have a chance of still getting into the postseason.
So, if that epic run is to happen it begins tonight in Miami. The Heat are likewise locked in a tight race for the final playoff spot, currently tied with the Indiana Pacers for eighth in the Eastern Conference. The Heat are led by their force in the paint in Hassan Whiteside and their dynamic and versatile back court of Dion Waiters and Goran Dragic, luckly for the Nuggets though, Waiters is a no go tonight. They’ve surrounded those guys with a smattering of players that in all honesty has somewhat over performed this season, nonetheless Miami has put together an impressive season after a terrible start that made them look like an early candidate to chase the number one seed in the draft. Now with the playoffs right in front of them, beating the Heat on their home court will be no easy task for Denver.
Who: Denver Nuggets (35-40) at Miami Heat (37-39)
When: 4:00PM MDT
Where: AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami FL
How to watch/listen: Altitude 2 and Altitude Radio KKSE AM950
Rival blog: Hot Hot Hoops
|PG||Jamal Murrary||Goran Dragic||Heat|
|SG||Gary Harris||Rodney McGruder||Nuggets|
|SF||Danilo Gallinari||Josh Richardson||Nuggets|
|PF||Kenneth Faried||Luke Babbitt||Nuggets|
|C||Nikola Jokic||Hassan Whiteside||Even|
|Bench||Emmanuel Mudiay, Juancho Hernangomez, Mason Plumlee, Wilson Chandler||Josh Johnson, Willie Reed, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington||Nuggets|
*Please note, gratuitous assumptions were made when determining the Nuggets starters
Injured players: Jameer Nelson - questionable (calf), Will Barton - questionable (foot), Mason Plumlee - questionable (abdomen), Darrell Arthur - questionable (knee), Dion Waiters - out (ankle), Josh McRoberts - out (foot), Justise Winslow - out (shoulder), Chris Bosh - out (calf)
Key match up: Nikola Jokic vs Hassan Whiteside
It’s another premier battle down low for the Nuggets as this time they have to face a guy who has dominated them on the regular. Last time these two teams played Whiteside put up 25 points, 16 rebounds and 4 blocks. Two games before that he put up 19, 17 and 11. In fact, Whiteside has been so dominating that the Nuggets haven’t beaten Miami since December 10, 2014 back when Hassan wasn’t getting any minutes and still trying to catch hold in the league (he played 6 minutes that night). If the Nuggets are going to get a W tonight, they have to find a way to shut him down. Problem is, as good as Jokic has been, lengthy uber athletic centers give the Joker fits (see: Gobert, Rudy). Nonetheless Denver needs the very best out of the big Serbian tonight to secure a crucial win.
Key thing to watch for: minutes for the pups
The Nuggets are technically still in the playoff race, but the outlook is bleak. They also have veterans nursing injuries that are of the general “rest is the best medicine” type. I figure coach is probably going all hands on deck this game which likely means heavy minutes for Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Nelson (if he can go), but if the energy isn’t there like we’ve seen in the past don’t be surprised if coach has a tight leas and goes to the young guys early. Also something to keep an eye on, Emmanuel Mudiay got no minutes when Nelson went down on Friday, if Nelson is a no go tonight then not playing Mudiay would be a large statement indeed. You can pass off Friday as not making that big of an adjustment on the fly, but if Nelson is out and Mudiay plays little to no minutes it could be a harbinger of things to come.
Opening thought: losses I can take, no effort I cannot
I’ve said before this closing stretch is going to be very revealing about the roster and who wants to actually be here long term. Against Charlotte Gallo, Faried and Nelson all played pretty solid, Chandler did not. However, I didn’t think any performance, good or not, was all that related to energy, save for Faried who seems to be still bringing it as hard as ever on that front. With each game that passes that makes the Nuggets chances for the post season less and less likely those who fail to show up become more and more revealing. I’m watching again tonight to see who still has the want to and those that don’t have it might as well pack up their locker now.