The Denver Nuggets (34-20) were rolling before they ran into a skid in their last two games with a pair of second-half letdowns in their last two games heading into tonight’s matchup with the Miami Heat (28-26). The Nuggets had ripped off eight straight wins as they were pushing up the Western Conference standings. Meanwhile, since the trade deadline and getting relatively healthy, the Heat are 6-3 with the eighth-best net rating in the NBA despite prized acquisition Victor Oladipo only playing in four of the team’s nine games. 

Denver is 8-2 in their last 10 games with those two losses coming in their last two games against the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors where they were outscored 31-8 in the final quarter against Boston before getting blasted by 21 points in the third quarter of the loss to Golden State that was eventually overshadowed by the knee injury sustained by Jamal Murray in the final minute of the game that cost him the remainder of his season. 

Miami is in the middle of a crowded Eastern Conference that has five teams within 2.0 games of each other in fourth through eighth place. They’re likely looking to lock up the fourth seed to earn the right to host their first playoff series and avoid the play-in tournament for the lower-end seeds. Getting into the fourth seed would give them ability to avoid the Brooklyn Nets until the Eastern Conference Finals if the Nets were to fall into the second seed.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (31-18, 15-9 home) vs Miami Heat (28-26, 13-13 away)

When: 8:00 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 on Zoom. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Hot Hot Hoops

Expected Starting Lineups:

MIA: PG Kendrick Nunn, SG Duncan Robinson, SF Jimmy Butler, PF Trevor Ariza, C Bam Adebayo

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

Injuries: KZ Okpala, Victor Oladipo, Gabe Vincent, Shaquille Harrison, Jamal Murray

Three Things to Watch

Jokic vs Adebayo

There aren’t many bigs in the NBA that can match Jokic’s combination of size and agility, but Adebayo is one of them. Per 36 minutes, Adebayo is averaging 20.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 56.5 percent from the floor. With Murray out for an extended time, Jokic is going to have to step up his game even more on both ends, especially on offense. Is he going to be able to handle that increased load against a capable center?

Who replaces Murray?

You can’t just replace a borderline all-star guard that was averaging over 21 points per game while shooting 47.7 percent from the floor and over 40 percent from 3-point range. However, with him sidelined until next season, someone has to step up, and that hasn’t exactly been an easy feat with the struggles we’ve seen from the bench. Monte Morris seems like the likely candidate, but Facundo Campazzo got the nod on Sunday in Murray’s absence. Does Morris stay with the bench to run that unit, or will Malone go with the better player to try to minimize the drop off?

Play together, You’re not all heros

When Denver is playing at their best, everyone is getting involved on offense. As a team, they’re in the 48th percentile for isolation production, and only three of the players on the roster rank better than the 50th percentile. With Murray out, you can’t play hero ball. The offense will flow through Jokic, and they will need to get everyone involved with movement because it’s a lot harder to guard four moving players with one guy standing still rather than one guy moving and four guys standing still.