The Denver Nuggets hit the road feeling pretty good after an extended 5-2 homestand, but the five-game trip will test them in ways the softer home schedule did not. The Miami Heat are the first challenge on the menu, and while Miami could be without both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade that’s not a huge comfort to the Nuggets. Denver has already lost to Miami once this season when Wade was out. Denver has lost four of five in Miami, so Wade or no Wade the Nuggets have to figure out a way to pull out a victory.

Sans Wade the Heat have been relying on Joe Johnson to fill in on the stat sheet and help Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside carry the load, and he’s played admirably. After close losses to the Bucks and Raptors in the last week, though, the Heat are hoping the Nuggets are an easy mark before Charlotte and Cleveland come to town. In other words, consider this a trap game for the home team.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (28-38) at Miami Heat (38-28)
When: 5:30 PM MT
Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami FL
Where to watch: Altitude
Rival Blog:
Hot Hot Hoops

Miami Heat Denver Nuggets
PG Goran Dragic Emmanuel Mudiay Heat
SG Justise Winslow Gary Harris Even
SF Luol Deng JaKarr Sampson Heat
PF Joe Johnson Kenneth Faried Nuggets
C Amar’e Stoudemire Nikola Jokic Nuggets

Hassan Whiteside, Gerald Green, Josh Richardson, Udonis Haslem

Will Barton, D.J. Augustin, Axel Toupane, Darrell Arthur, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mike Miller, Jusuf Nurkic Nuggets

Injured players: Danilo Gallinari – ankle (out), Wilson Chandler – hip (out), Joffrey Lauvergne – face (questionable), Chris Bosh – blood clots (out), Dwyane Wade – thigh (questionable).

Three Thoughts:

Next hero, step up. The Denver Nuggets are taking everything in stride now, with a new player stepping up each game. Just on the homestand Mudiay scored a career-high 30 points, Faried had a 25/20 game, and the bench scored 75 points against the Wizards. The Nuggets are on a season-high four game winning streak and were some questionable calls from making the homestand a 6-1 affair. The Nuggets are playing for each other rather than worrying about individual stats and accolades, and that makes them dangerous. A team is easier to beat if they have a single strategy for victory. The Nuggets can go inside to their young bigs or heat up from outside with their wings. Every game is still a learning experience for one of the youngest starting units in the league, but team cohesion is as strong as it’s been since the George Karl era.

Dictate terms. The Heat had an eight-man rotation for their overtime loss to the Raptors, which makes it hard for them to field matchup-specific lineups. They had three players log 40+ minutes, so what you see from them to start a game is what you get (at least once Whiteside gets on the court). The Heat are gonna do what they do, because they don’t have the personnel to change much. In their last matchup the Heat had a block party against Denver, with Whiteside logging a monster triple-double to help the Heat overcome an 18-point deficit. This time Denver needs to set the tone and find the right matchup to take advantage of Miami’s weaknesses and keep the lead down the stretch.

Nurkic is back. This doesn’t really have anything specifically to do with the Heat game, except that I’d love to see another game from Jusuf that went like his last game. No one from the Wizards could slow Nurkic down as he steamrolled his way to 17 points, 4 rebounds and a couple of blocks in just 18 minutes. Getting Nurkic and Jokic plenty of minutes down the stretch run of this season is one of the most important things coach Michael Malone can do for the Nuggets, and I hope to see at least one of those two men in there for the entire game tonight.

Prediction: The Nuggets overcome what is sure to be a Joe Johnson outburst and Hassan Whiteside’s windmill blocks and win 101-96.