The Miami HEAT host the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What went wrong in Atlanta?
Couper Moorhead: Nobody could get the ball through the rim. The defense was far from perfect in the second half, especially with the Hawks scoring 41 in the third quarter, but apart from a few breakdowns the Hawks were hitting a lot of tough, contested two-pointers. Nothing to ignore, but only part of the main issue in that all those shots falling for the Hawks meant the HEAT were consistently trying to mount a comeback with their half-court offense, which isn’t their strong suit.
Disconnected and disjointed was the way of the evening offensively, and there wasn’t much rhyme or reason behind it. We can say Atlanta plays fast and that gets Miami out of rhythm, but this was Atlanta’s second-slowest game of the season. We can say Atlanta played strong defense, but it wasn’t anything Miami hadn’t seen before. We can even say Miami took bad shots, but even in shooting 5-of-34 from three their shot quality, which we can measure, was much higher than their usual. The shots just didn’t fall, and that may have led to a wrench being tossed into what needs to be a finely-tuned system. Just as we should when the team shoots abnormally well, there’s no reason to put too much weight on such a poor evening. You just take the results, make sure there’s no lasting impact, and move on.
Joe Beguiristain: It was just a tough game all the way around, as the HEAT couldn’t get anything going on either end of the floor. There were spurts, mainly thanks to Dwyane Wade and Derrick Jones Jr. in the second quarter and Bam Adebayo early in the fourth, but they were too few and far between.
From start to finish, the Hawks were the aggressor and got to the basket effectively. In fact, five Atlanta players reached double-figures in scoring and the team tallied 64 points in the paint. That’s obviously not a winning formula for Miami, nor is it indicative of what the team is capable of. For most of the season, the HEAT have had a Top 10 defense, so Sunday night was most likely an outlier.
2: What has changed for Denver this season that has them atop the West standings?
Couper: They play defense. This team has always been able to score. Denver was the No. 23 defense last season. Now they’re in the Top 10. That’s it. That’s the difference. Look no further.
Now, it may be a defense primed for a little regression given that Denver allows the fifth-most shots at the rim and the most corner threes in the league while enjoying the fourth-best defensive three-point percentage – typically tough to sustain – but they’ve also had the least lineup consistency in the league, by rotation minutes lost. It may not be the strongest defensive profile around, but it’s also still a bit of a mystery as far as whether its real or not. Even if there is some regression on that end, the offense, with depth, shooting, versatility and one of the highest assist rates in the league, is absolutely for real.
We might not know fully how good the Nuggets are, but we know they’re good. And weirdly, considering the franchise’s history, they’re one of the slower teams in the league.
Joe: In addition to being much better on the defensive end like Coup mentioned above, Denver has also lowered its turnovers and upped its assist percentage from a year ago. Of course, it certainly helps matters when three of your highest-used players in Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.98 or above. And while Jokić has been a remarkable facilitator over the years, he’s upped the ante with a career-high 7.4 dimes per contest and already has nine double-digit assist games to his credit this season. Oh yeah, he also has three triple-doubles on the year, including a 35-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist performance against the Suns on Oct. 20 that made him the second player in NBA history to record a 35-plus point triple-double while shooting 100 percent from the field (11-of-11).
Personnel-wise, not much has changed at all for the Nuggets, but second-year man Monte Morris has certainly taken advantage of his opportunity with Will Barton out of the lineup due to injury. And although Morris’ minutes have gone down a bit with Harris back in the fray, he’s coming off a 21-point, five-assist effort against the Rockets on Monday night.
Simply put, this is one of the deepest, most talented teams you’ll find in the league. And here’s proof of that: only one player on the Nuggets has a negative net rating. One.
3: How can Miami stop the Nuggets offense?
Couper: Denver is starting to get some of its rotation players back in Paul Millsap and Gary Harris, though Will Barton hasn’t played since October and they’ll be on a back-to-back traveling from Texas so some players might be held out. By all accounts, Nikola Jokić should be playing however, and he’s the center of the problem, literally. Jokić is one of the weirdest players in the league to gameplan for – we mean that as a compliment – because he can do just about everything and he does it all with his own pace and rhythm. It’s tough to get him out of sorts because he’s so adept at adapting, and like most of the league the HEAT haven’t often found a great, consistent solution for him.
What we know is that Denver is at its best when the ball is moving and finding shooters and cutters. If you can take away those passing lanes, both at the point of the pass and the spot of a potential reception, with your activity, you might be able to confine them to one or two-man scoring actions. The Nuggets can play that game, too, but it might lead to a rhythm more in Miami’s favor.
Joe: Well, if you read anything I wrote above, you’ll know that it’ll be a tall task.
With highly-capable passers and shooters all across Denver’s roster, the HEAT will have to be as disciplined as they’ve been all season. But even though the Nuggets have guys that can get hot from downtown, they’re right around league average in three-point attempts and percentage on those looks. As such, perhaps Miami could have some success with its zone defense from time to time, especially since Jokić likes to post-up.
No matter how you slice it though, the onus will be on guys like James Johnson, Jones Jr. and Adebayo among others to stop a talented Denver frontcourt.
We’ll see how it all plays out.
INJURY UPDATE: Gary Harris (Left Hamstring Tightness) is questionable.
- The HEAT have won five of their last seven against the Nuggets.
- Miami is 19-19 on the year, while Denver enters the contest at 26-12 thanks to winning five of its last six.
- Kelly Olynyk leads the HEAT with a 17.8 net rating over the past five games.
- Nikola Jokić leads the Nuggets in points (18.9), rebounds (10.1), assists (7.4) and steals (1.5) per contest.
- HEAT Offense: 106.5 (22)
- HEAT Defense: 105.8 (6)
- Nuggets Offense: 112.0 (7)
- Nuggets Defense: 106.9 (9)