Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets Preview
Two teams that have played contrary to their preseason expectations during the early part of the season will clash on Tuesday night.
The Miami Heat (5-1) will travel to Denver to play the Nuggets (4-2). The Heat have exceeded my expectations so far this season, they come into this game with momentum after dismantling the Houston Rockets 129-100 on Sunday. Eric Spoelstra’s team has a top 10 offense in the league and the no. 3 defense. The defensive numbers are not surprising but the offensive numbers are an interesting “can this last?” case study. They dropped 46 in the first quarter of their game against the Rockets, posted an effective field goal percentage of 63 percent and an offensive rating of 119.5. All of that while playing at the same pace as the Rockets (107.9). I have a suspicion this offense is the real deal.
The Denver Nuggets come into the matchup tied with three other teams for the fourth spot in the Western Conference. Out of the four teams with a 4-2 record in the West, the Nuggets have exhibited the most red flags. Despite being considered by many (myself included) as one of the top contenders in the conference due to the lack of turnover on the roster, Denver is playing like a middling team. Their previous game was a win against the Orlando Magic, but a 91-87 win doesn’t inspire any hope for a team ranked no. 19 in offense, no. 25 in points per game and no. 14 in defense.
The Heat’s defense is tailor-made to stifle the by-committee offense of the Nuggets. A lot will ride on Nikola Jokic and the backcourt tonight.
Time: 9 PM ET
Arena: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
Channel: FSSUN, ALT2
Heat: Derrick Jones (O), KZ Okpala (O), Justice Winslow (Q)
Nuggets: Will Barton (Q), Bol Bol (O)
Miami Heat Starting Lineup
Miami took a huge lead early against the Rockets on Sunday. It was 46-14 after the first quarter, one of the biggest first-quarter margins in NBA History. Jimmy Butler filled up the boxscore; in only 27 minutes of game action, he posted 18 points, seven rebounds, nine assists, four steals and a block. Duncan Robinson scored 23 on 7-for-11 from the 3-point line and Myers Leonard scored 21 on an efficient 9-for-11 night.
“We came in with a game plan and a mindset that we were going to take away what they’re good at, be disciplined and execute. That’s what we did,” said Leonard.
On the season, the Heat have looked to their bench for production, and they’ve delivered. The bench is no. 5 in the league at 46.7 points per game led by Goran Dragic and his 16.2 points. The early-season breakout player for the Heat, Kendrick Nunn, has not slowed down since Butler’s return. Eric Spoelstra made it clear Nunn would keep his starting position and the guard has responded by keeping steady with his production–19.5 points per game on 48 percent from the field.
Butler has struggled with his shooting numbers (only 39 percent from the field) but his impact has been felt immediately. Miami’s offensive rating shoots up to 113.9 with Butler on the court which would be no. 1 in the league and their defensive rating is 82.8 with him on the court, per NBA.com advanced stats. To put it frankly the Miami Heat have played like the best overall basketball team with Jimmy Buckets on the hardwood.
Denver Nuggets Starting Lineup
The Nuggets starters got off to a rough start on Saturday against the Orlando Magic. The score was 26-17 after the first quarter and despite the win, the Nuggets only shot 37 percent from the field.
“If you’re going to be a good team, you respond…So we got back to defending and playing with great energy and sharing the ball,” said Denver coach Michael Malone.
The Nuggets have looked slow. In particular, Nikola Jokic has looked slow. The Serbian star spent the summer playing for his country’s national team in the FIBA World Cup and I think the added workload has caught up to him. His numbers are not terrible by any stretch; he’s averaging 15.8 points per game, 10.5 rebounds and six assists per game. The problem? His shooting. He’s shooting only 28 percent on 3s and has an effective field goal percentage of 52 percent which at this point would be the lowest of his career. I’m willing to bet Jokic will play his way into shape and we will see his numbers creep up to that 20 and 10 range on efficient shooting. The issue is the Nuggets can’t afford to continue struggling as they have.
Jokic isn’t the only culprit for the early season struggles; their starting backcourt of Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are shooting 42 percent from the field. They need to be more efficient and play with more energy.
Key Player Matchups
Will Barton/ Torey Craig vs. Jimmy Butler
Will Barton is day-to-day with a toe injury so if he still isn’t fit to go Torey Craig will start. No matter who gets the nod in this matchup Jimmy Butler is one of the most intense 3-and-D guys in the league. He can lock up his matchup while draining shots and getting to the free-throw line on the other end. He’s worked himself into the offense at a slow pace; his usage rate is only slightly higher than it was last year (23.7%) but his impact on defense is what has really resonated. Through three games Butler has a defensive rating of 88 per 100 possessions, per Basketball-Reference. He’ll be a tough assignment on both ends of the floor.
Nikola Jokic vs Bam Adebayo
As I mentioned before Nikola Jokic has been sluggish this season. On the other side, Bam Adebayo has displayed energizer bunny-levels of intensity. The Nuggets run a lot of their offense with Jokic on the perimeter where Adebayo excels at pressuring big men and guards alike. Jokic is going to have to snap out of his early-season malaise or Adebayo, who plays hard every second he’s on the court is going to put up huge numbers.
Jamal Murray vs. Kendrick Nunn
Kendrick Nunn has been crowned Rookie of the Year during early-season overreaction discussions. I’m not here to dispute or agree with the coronation, but what I will say is that Nunn isn’t a fad. He’s legitimately really good. He’s a physical defender who forces guards off balance as they run off pick-and-rolls (something Jamal Murray does a lot). Murray is getting his points (18.5 per game) but his field goal percentage (42 percent) is the second-lowest of his career and his effective field goal percentage (48 percent) is tied for the lowest of his career. I have no doubt Murray will find his stroke as the season wears on–he tends to start every season in a similar fashion, but the Nuggets need him to hit shots tonight to have a chance in this matchup.
For your daily fantasy news, Jamal Murray is a solid pickup. His minutes have been consistent to start the season and his points/rebounds/assist numbers have been nearly identical to last year. He’s available for $6.5k on FanDuel and his projected fantasy points are set at 33.24. Nikola Jokic is more expensive at a salary of $9.2k but you can count on high counting stats since Jokic nearly averages a triple-double. His fantasy points are set at 41.3.
For the Heat, Jimmy Butler is available for $9.5k on FanDuel with expected points at 34.3. Butler is a near-lock for defensive stats, and as he becomes more comfortable expect his shooting numbers to get better. Justice Winslow is a good pickup for the price ($6.4k) he is one of Miami’s primary ballhandlers and he rebounds well. His expected fantasy points are set at 24.9.
Bet on Matchup
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