The Denver Nuggets (5-4) have started the season at about the same clip as they did a season ago. They’re in the thick of the Western Conference race that is tight for about two thirds of the teams out west. Tonight, they match up with a Miami Heat (7-2) squad that has been one of the best in basketball thus far. This will be the second game for the Nuggets in their five-game homestand that started last Saturday. 

Outside of reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, this Nuggets’ team has struggled mightily with inconsistency. Michael Porter Jr. is in the worst shooting slump of his life, and he is currently dealing with a back injury that leaves him day-to-day. Will Barton and Aaron Gordon have shown some flashes alongside Jokic, but the team’s second unit has been bringing next-to-nothing to the table on a nightly basis.

For Miami, they’ve lost just two games this season, and both of those losses came in their only two games where they failed to score 100 or more points. Early Sixth Man of the Year candidate Tyler Herro has been lighting up the scoreboard off of the bench, and the Heat’s starting unit is one of the most difficult groups to match up with on both ends of the floor. 

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (5-4, 3-1 home) vs Miami Heat (7-2, 3-1 away)

When: 7:00 p.m. MST

Where: Ball Arena

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

Rival Blog: Hot Hot Hoops

Expected Starting Lineups:

MIA: PG Kyle Lowry, SG Duncan Robinson, SF Jimmy Butler, PF P.J. Tucker, C 

Bam Adebayo

DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Michael Porter Jr., C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Vlatko Čančar (hip), Michael Porter Jr. (back), KZ Okpala (ankle), Max Strus (knee)

Three Things to Watch

Bench vs Bench

The Nuggets’ bench has been a flat-out disaster through the team’s first nine games. There is no consistent offensive presence. No one can knock down an open jumpshot, and they’re not stifling teams on the defensive end to make up for that lack of offensive production. Now, they meet up with Herro, who’s averaging 21.3 points per game, and the rest of this Heat bench. They have to slow Herro down early, because he has the potential to take over a game at any time when he gets hot. 

Jokic vs Bam

Bam Adebayo remains one of the best two-way centers in the NBA, and his matchups with Jokic are always going to be fun and entertaining to watch because of it. He has the defensive chops to at least make Jokic work, and he’s athletic enough to cause problems for him on the offensive end of the floor. Jokic has been dragging Denver to these early wins, and he’ll need to win his individual matchup with Adebayo to keep Denver’s hopes alive.

Don’t Get Beaten by 3-Point Shots

Denver’s 3-point defense is bad. Somehow, every game they manage to lose, their opponents have their best 3-point shooting game of the season while also shooting a high volume. This Heat team ranks just 25th in 3-point attempts this season, but they’re seventh in 3-point percentage. Players like Herro and Duncan Robinson are the types that can shoot 10 shots a piece and put up 30 points without even trying. With the way Denver is shooting from outside, they can’t turn this game into a high-scoring shootout if they want to have a chance at winning.