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Preview: Nuggets return home to face the Heat

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The Nuggets limp home with a three-game losing streak after a long road trip that has the team longing for the All-Star break.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

After a road trip that started before the Super Bowl, the Nuggets are finally returning to the Pepsi Center tonight to play the Miami Heat, about one month after they beat them on the road in Florida.

Look, I’m as tired of any of you about talking about the Nuggets road struggles. Was it that long of a road trip? Not if you ask Philadelphia or San Antonio. They didn’t even have to play too many good teams - they went 1-2 against teams under .500 (Minnesota, Detroit, Brooklyn). They gave up 121 points per game, getting blown out by 26 to the Pistons. They let Detroit and Brooklyn set season highs in 3-pointers and assists, while watching JJ Redick have his best game of the season.

At some point, there aren’t any excuses left. The Nuggets perimeter defense has been terrible. While it’s likely due to a combination of fatigue, the absence of Gary Harris and Paul Millsap, and bad luck, if the Nuggets don’t improve, they’re going to have a short stay in the playoffs. They need to survive these next two games, get rest and healthy over the break, and have a statement win over the Mavericks when they return.

First order of business? Taking care of Miami tonight.

The Basics

Who: Miami Heat (25-29) at Denver Nuggets (37-18)

When: 7:00 PM MT

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado (we back!)

How to watch: Altitude

Rival blog: Hot Hot Hoops

Lineups

Heat vs Nuggets

POS MIA DEN EDGE
POS MIA DEN EDGE
PG Justise Winslow Jamal Murray Nuggets
SG Dion Waiters Malik Beasley Even
SF Josh Richardson Will Barton Heat
PF Kelly Olynyk Mason Plumlee Even
C Hassan Whiteside Nikola Jokic Nuggets
BENCH Dwyane Wade, Rodney McGruder, James Johnson, Bam Adebayo, Derrick Jones Jr. Monte Morris, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles, Jarred Vanderbilt Heat

Injuries: Nuggets - Michael Porter Jr. (out), Isaiah Thomas (questionable), Gary Harris (out), Paul Millsap (out); Heat - no reported injuries

Three things to watch

Turn this ship around. Did you catch the Marcus Morris quotes this weekend about the Celtics not having fun while playing basketball? I think that’s been part of the problem for the Nuggets. Between the injuries, losses, and inconsistent rotations, it’s been a tough go lately. When the offense is popping, the game is fun for the players and fans. They’re getting stops on defense, getting out into transition, and going on runs. Here’s hoping they have some of that tonight.

Communication on defense. Lately, it’s been really bad.

“How bad?” This bad.

I get it - JJ Redick was torching the Nuggets all game, and he’s an elite shooter. But with Plumlee and Beasley both jumping over to cover him, that left the lane wide open for Simmons to drive the paint for an easy dunk. That’s a play where he scores 10 times out to 10. I don’t know who was responsible for the breakdown, whether it was supposed to be a switch or not, but plays like this, especially in the final two minutes, is a back-breaker. With no Millsap, they have to do more preparation before the game to be able to communicate better. They can’t just show up and expect to win.

Make Miami work. The Heat are on the second night of a back-to-back, with a loss to the Golden State Warriors last night. They were robbed on a missed double-dribble call involving Kevin Durant, which wound up costing them the game, but they could be really dragging by the end of the third quarter. The Nuggets need to make the Heat work in their halfcourt to get shots, make them defend for a full 24 seconds, and try to take advantage of the altitude.

Prediction

Denver 105 - Miami 104