Denver Nuggets games this week:

Tuesday, 11/5: Nuggets vs Miami Heat (5-1)

In what secretly might be Denver’s toughest game of the week, the Miami Heat come to town fresh off blazing the Houston Rockets on Sunday. Jimmy Butler is back and playing his brand of versatile basketball, and the rest of the Heat are finding ways to contribute. Bam Adebayo is coming into his own as a starter, while rookies Kendrick Dunn, Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and Chris Silva are filling the rotation masterfully. Expect the Heat to be a major challenge on Tuesday.

Friday, 11/8: Nuggets vs Philadelphia 76ers (5-0)

The only undefeated team left in the league, the Sixers have been absolutely legit thus far. Save for a two game suspension for Joel Embiid for fighting Karl-Anthony Towns, the Sixers have done everything right. Embiid will be off his suspension at that point and ready to do battle with Nikola Jokic, so expect another tough matchup. Jamal Murray will also be defended by a mixture of Josh Richardson, Ben Simmons, and Matisse Thybulle, so this will be a gut check game for him.

Saturday, 11/2: Nuggets @ Minnesota Timberwolves (4-1)

The easiest game of the week is a Sunday road game against a top 10 NBA player at 1:30 in the afternoon. That’s how brutal the week is. Karl-Anthony Towns is legit, and the supporting cast around him has (mostly) found ways to be productive. This is a signature Jokic vs Towns matchup that will likely be decided by the supporting cast because Jokic will allow them to decide it. He doesn’t go at these individual matchups head-on anymore and will instead look to get others going. If Will Barton is back healthy, this feels like a game where Denver’s starting wings go off.

Injury Report: Will Barton in a walking boot

Barton sat out Denver’s two game road trip last week against the New Orleans Pelicans and Orlando Magic, and Denver’s offense suffered for it. This allowed Michael Porter Jr. the opportunity to see his first minutes, but the best thing for Denver would be to get Barton healthy and back into the starting unit.

Other players remain healthy or haven’t seen a change in their health status.

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Nuggets bet of the week: Team Points UNDER vs Philadelphia

The Sixers have what I believe to be the strongest defense in the NBA, and they are strongest where Denver needs weaknesses to be effective offensively. Joel Embiid has a claim as the best defender in the NBA, and Al Horford is one of the smartest big man defenders in the league. Both will match up with Nikola Jokic for most, if not all of his minutes. In addition, Jamal Murray will be challenged by Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, and Matisse Thybulle, all of which are lengthy, highly athletic and intelligent defenders.

If Denver’s stars are weakened, the role players have yet to prove they can shoulder the load offensively and score on their own. I don’t trust Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Jerami Grant, and Torrey Craig to generate good looks consistently, and all will need to be out there to match up with Philly’s size offensively. This just isn’t a good matchup for Denver’s offense unless they rain hellfire from three-point territory.

Nuggets DFS play of the week: Jamal Murray vs Miami Heat

Right now, Jamal Murray is on a roll as a steady scorer, averaging 18.5 points per game and trending in the right direction with his efficiency. The assist numbers have fluctuated rapidly, but I would put that more on Denver’s poor shooting efficiency around him rather than due to his play. Denver’s offense rarely sets him up for high assist numbers, but I expect him to go for another strong scoring performance against Miami. He will be matched up with rookie Kendrick Dunn and veteran Goran Dragic, both players against which he should hold a matchup advantage.

Spotlight on: Floor Spacing

To begin the season, the Nuggets are averaging a three-point efficiency of 34.1%, good for 16th in the league. Remove an outlier performance against the Portland Trail Blazers in the season opener, and that number drops to 29.5%, which would rank 27th in the NBA. Denver’s offense is based around the two-man game of Murray and Jokic, while dribble handoffs with Gary Harris are mixed in. The only way this offense is optimized and not reduced to contested midrange attempts is if the floor is well spaced at the small forward and power forward positions. Thus far, that has not been accomplished. Millsap is shooting a sterling 41.2%, but on less than three attempts per game, the opposing defenses will live with that tally. Torrey Craig is down to 15.4% from distance (2 of 13) but more importantly, teams don’t respect his jumper. Here’s a sequence against the New Orleans Pelicans in which Brandon Ingram just doesn’t care about him at all.

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Already shading the paint, Ingram sees the pick and roll action developing between Harris and Jokic and starts moving into the restricted area.

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Jokic receives the bounce pass and immediately flings the ball into the corner, recognizing Ingram’s rotation and knowing Craig is wide open. The pass is right on the money.

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This shot was a miss, and the resulting possession was a wide open three in semi-transition for the Pelicans.

These are the misses that kill the Nuggets, that kill Nikola Jokic’s love of the beautiful passing game. Blaming Craig only is ludicrous though, as the Nuggets as a whole have shot under 33% on wide open threes this season, down from 37% as a team last year. This just happened to be the first shot I came across that represented the scenario well.

Jerami Grant in particular has been a letdown on open threes to start the year, and the Nuggets must be able to count on his floor spacing when the playoffs come. Thus far, he’s shooting 21% from three-point territory. That has to change real quick if the Nuggets are going to return to prominence offensively.