68857_nuggets_heat_basketball_medium_mediumI probably should have titled this Game Preview: “Nuggets vs. Dwyane Wade (8:30pm MDT)”…

In team sports, it always seems easier to avenge a recent bad loss than replicate an easy win. We (unfortunately) witnessed how the Nuggets were unable to replicate an easy win by losing at home to the Timberwolves just days after whipping them in Minneapolis. So let’s hope the theory holds true on the good side; that the Nuggets learn from their loss at Miami a few weeks ago, make the necessary adjustments and beat the Heat at Pepsi Center tonight.

In Miami on November 6th, the Heat dealt the Nuggets their first loss of the young season thanks to a balanced effort (and perhaps some late night South Beach action by a few Nuggets players the night before the game…I’m just guessing).  By the game's end five Heat players had scored in double digits, while the Nuggets sluggishly eeked their way to a mere 38 halftime points and only 88 total.  Prior to that game, the Nuggets were averaging almost 54 points per game by halftime.  Throughout that game, most of the Nuggets looked like they were stuck in mud as they were slow on their defensive rotations and – before making a too little/too late run at the very end – shot poorly from the start (hence the South Beach partying inference again).

Tonight it’s the Heat’s turn to be sluggish and get caught off guard. But this is a dangerous team and they’ll have had almost two days in Denver to acclimate to the altitude before tipoff. The Heat kicked off their four-game Western Conference road trip by winning impressively at Portland on Tuesday night, overcoming a 20-rebound/four-block night from Trail Blazers center Greg Oden. In that game, three Heat players – Dwyane Wade, Michael Beasley and Quentin “Traded Four Times in One Month” Richardson – each scored at least 20 points and shot 50% or better. With the Nuggets playing at a frenetic up-and-down pace lately, don’t be surprised if three Heat players go for 20 again.

Of all the Nuggets home opponents this season, I'd argue that only two were meaningful – the Jazz and the Lakers.  Count the Heat as meaningful opponent number three and frankly, I'm glad.  The Nuggets need to start getting tested by better teams and the fans deserve to see better competition for their high ticket prices.

Sizing up the Heat…

Heat Stiffs

Daequan Cook: Now a three-year vet, Cook’s minutes are down to an all-time low and he’s shooting horrifically from the field at 29%.

Joel Anthony: At 6’9″ and 245 pounds, you’d think Anthony could make more than 42.4% of his shots and grab more than the 2.4 rebounds he gets per night. You’d think…but then you’d realize he’s a Stiff.

Shavlik Randolph: Deserves a permanent spot on the Stiff List for three reasons. 1) His name is Shavlik. 2) He went to Duke. 3) His name is Shavlik, he went to Duke and yet had the audacity to comment on gays in the NBA when the news broke of former NBA player John Amaechi coming out of the closet. Said Randolph at the time: “As long as you don’t bring your gayness on me I’m fine.” Real classy, Shavlik.

Heat Non-Stiffs

-Dwyane Wade: Having another MVP-caliber season, Wade is again single-handily carrying the Heat back to the playoffs. While Wade probably doesn’t deserve to win the overall MVP, he’s unquestionably the most valuable player to his team. The Heat would be Nets-worthy without him.

Mario Chalmers: 10 ppg and almost a handful of assists per night isn’t too shabby for a former second round pick making less than $800,000 a year. Like we’re seeing with Ty Lawson in Denver this season, Chalmers is further proof that leading a winning team in college transfers to success in the NBA.

-Jermaine O'Neal: If you can forget for a moment that he's making $23 million this season (!), the 14-year veteran (!) is actually having a decent season.  Relatively healthy for the first time in years, O'Neal is shooting a career high 56.1%, averaging a respectable 14.5 ppg to go along with 8.2 rpg.

-The Heat in the 2010 free agent sweepstakes: Including O'Neal's $23 million, the Heat will be shedding themselves of $51 million worth of payroll at season's end.  If they can convince Wade to stay, Miami will be a major player in the free agent market being that they one of the NBA's more attractive destinations geographically.

Opposing View: Peninsula is Mightier

Photo courtesy of AP: Wilfredo Lee