It was touch and go for a while but the Denver Nuggets seem to be figuring things out. Nikola Jokic is nearly averaging a triple-double and playing at an MVP level. Jamal Murray looks injured but is still showing flashes of his bubble-self (when he isn’t getting ejected for advertently or inadvertently socking guys between the legs). Michael Porter Jr. is back and draining threes unabashed. Gary Harris can shoot the ball again. Monte Morris and JaMychal Green are leading what has turned into a pretty lethal bench unit when it wants to be. All this, and the Nuggets are winners of nine of twelve and are riding a four game win streak into tonight’s matchup against the Miami Heat.

The Heat were the Eastern Conference darlings of the bubble after a gutsy run to the NBA Finals before falling to the Lakers. They were posed to make another serious run in 2021 but so far covid and injuries have said otherwise. Jimmy Butler got hurt on Christmas Day and missed a few games, then came back but has been out since January 10 for Covid health & safety protocols and has already been listed as out for tonight’s affair. The Heat have lost six of its last eight contests dating back to then without their star. As such, the Nuggets should be able to buckle down and extend their win streak.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (10-7) at Miami Heat (6-10)

When: 5:30 p.m. MST

Where: American Airlines Arena

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless its the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up on Zoom. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Hot Hot Hoops

Position Nuggets Heat
PG Jamal Murray Goran Dragic
SG Gary Harris Duncan Robinson
SF Will Barton Kz Okpala
PF Paul Millsap Kelly Olynk
C Nikola Jokic Bam Adebayo
Bench Monte Morris, Michael Porter Jr., JaMychal Green Kendrick Nunn, Andre Iguodala, Gabe Vincent

Injury Report: PJ Dozier – out (hamstring), Greg Whittington – out (knee); Jimmy Butler – out (ankle), Moe Harkless – out (thigh), Meyers Leonard – out (shoulder), Goran Dragic – questionable (groin), Tyler Herro – questionable (neck), Avery Bradley – questionable (health & safety)

Three things to watch

Nikola Jokic vs. Bam Adebayo The last time the Nuggets were in South Beach, Nikola Jokic put up a monster triple-double and hit a game winner over Adebayo. Of course, that was two years ago and Adebayo still hadn’t fully broken out to the All-Star he is today. We all know Jokic is putting up absurd numbers this year, but Bam is as well. He’s averaging 20.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 0.9 blocks and is well on his way to another All-Star appearance. With Butler sidelined, the premiere matchup tonight belongs at center.

Gary Harris Three-Ballin’ Look, things started out real bad for Gary when he was 4-for-29 from three during the first eight games. Since then, though, he’s been 18-for-36 and boy has it opened up Denver’s offense. The Nuggets are 6-1 in the last seven games Harris has played in, during which he’s shooting that 50% clip from beyond the arc. Seeing Harris punish opposing teams for leaving him open when they double Jokic has been a wonderful sight.

YEAH MIKE It’s been nice having Michael Porter Jr. back. Realllll nice. MPJ put up his second 30 point game of the season on Monday to seal the win in Dallas, but he’s also been huge on the glass for a bench unit that desperately needed it. His defense hasn’t been bad, either. I’m not gonna debate whether or not he should be starting – as Malone said, it’s about who finishes and if he’s going to drop bombs in the fourth quarter like he did in Dallas then he’ll continue in that role.