The Denver Nuggets played their best game of the season on Wednesday, dispatching the Toronto Raptors 129-111. For the first time this year, the Nuggets looked like the offensive juggernaut that they were last season. Despite Toronto putting up 111, the Nuggets also played excellent defense until the final four minutes of the game. Now, coming off that big performance, Denver will look to follow it up with another against the Miami Heat.

The days of the “Heatles” are long gone in Miami as Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh have all moved on. In their place is a group of young players and vets that are certainly talented but also definitely don’t bring the description of championship contenders with them. Hassan Whiteside anchors the Heat at center as their star player and he’s got good help in the form of Goran Dragic and the resurgent Dion Waiters. The Heat bench is fairly talented as well, coupling exciting prospects like Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow with proven vets such as Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Johnson.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (4-4) vs Miami Heat (3-4)

When: 7:00 PM MDT

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude Radio AM950

Rival Blog: Hot Hot Hoops

Position Nuggets Heat Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Goran Dragic Heat
SG Gary Harris Dion Waiters Nuggets
SF Wilson Chandler Josh Richardson Nuggets
PF Paul Millsap James Johnson Nuggets
C Nikola Jokic Hassan Whiteside Even
Bench Emmanuel Mudiay, Will Barton, Malik Beasley, Mason Plumlee, Kenneth Faried Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk, Okaro White Even

Injured players: Juancho Hernangomez – out (illness), Rodney McGruder – out (knee)

Key Matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Hassan Whiteside

As if there was any question what the key matchup is tonight. The main thing to focus on will be Jokic asserting himself from mid-range out to the three point line and then how he defends against a much stronger and more athletic center. Whiteside has dominated the Nuggets in the past, including once recording 11 blocks on his way to a triple double. On top of that, Denver has historically struggled with elite rim protectors in general, shying away from the rim in favor of contested pull ups. Jokic HAS to draw Whiteside away from the rim and he can do that by making Whiteside pay for sagging off of him. On defense it’s going to be a battle for the Joker, it won’t be as much about keeping Whiteside off the scoreboard as it is about keeping him off the offensive glass. The Heat aren’t going to draw up a ton of plays for Hassan so limiting his putbacks will be the best way to stop him from scoring and rebounding. Also, if you can get him into foul trouble early, it will go a long way.

Key thing to watch for: Can Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray keep it up?

Just as rumors started to swirl about the Nuggets possibly trading for Eric Bledsoe, Murray and Mudiay kicked it into another gear. Murray has been fantastic, recording 20 or more points in three straight games and doing it at an ultra-efficient rate. Meanwhile, Mudiay also has looked improved. He’s been giving the Nuggets a spark off the bench when he enters in the 2nd quarter and on more than one occasion has kept the game from getting away from Denver in that period. He’s not been as efficient as Murray, but he’s still given the Nuggets excellent minutes off the bench. Dragic, Waiters and Tyler Johnson aren’t what you would call defensive stalwarts (though Johnson is decent on that end) so there’s no reason for why Mudiay and Murray can’t keep up their good play. They’ll need to not shy away from Whiteside though as their driving to the lane is not only key to the Nuggets offense, but also may be the best way to get Whiteside to pick up some early fouls.

Opening thought: Nuggets need to continue to find playing time for Kenneth Faried

If you just looked at plus/minus from the Raptors game you’d think that Faried was awful but that stat got dragged down by the last four minutes where the Nuggets were coasting. Fact of the matter is Faried has shown he can give this team valuable minutes in the rotation. Despite his desire to be a starter, he’s finally in the role that suits him best which is energy guy off the bench. Coach Malone has rightly shyed away from playing him beside Mason Plumlee, but when next to either Jokic or Paul Millsap, Faried has been good to outstanding. There’s no doubt that playing fast pace and getting up and down the court for easy buckets in transition is a major part of what can make the Nuggets so effective at home and no player does that better than Faried. Here’s hoping he gets minutes in the teens tonight.

Prediction: Nuggets 106 – Heat 102