Despite a tough loss against the emerging LA Clippers last night, the Miami Heat are still rolling. They’ve won 20 of their last 22 games, including 13 out of 14 road contests – clearly still playing like the best in the league. Under normal circumstances, the Denver Nuggets catch their first meeting against them at a pretty favorable time – Miami played a late west coast game last night and travel to Denver with Lebron James questionable due to a sprained ankle.
We all know these are not normal circumstances, but from a purely numbers standpoint the game looks like an intriguing offensive showdown. Miami is 2nd in Offensive Efficiency and Denver is tied for fourth. The Nuggets lead the league in free throw rate with Miami coming in second. Miami is 7th in eFG% with Denver in 9th. The teams are tied for second in True Shooting percentage at 56.8, trailing only the 57.3 TS% of Boston.
Where the teams differ greatly of course is defense and pace. Miami owns the second best defense in the league, but they’re solidly first in effective field goal percentage allowed. They play at a slower pace and are built to stop fast breaking teams trying to beat them at their own game. They don’t allow threes and suffocate you with a methodical half court defense knowing they’re gonna get more foul shots and transition buckets than you by relying on D.
It’ll be interesting to see how Denver defends with Kenyon Martin back and looking as spry as he has all season last game. Him and Arron Afflalo can take some of the defensive workload off of Melo. The Heat are not a deep team, and with Lebron out are going to rely exclusively on Dwyane Wade to create offense. Mike Miller stands to get playing time if Lebron can’t go, but he hasn’t gotten into the rotation since returning from injury and Miami’s not sure how he fits in. If the Nuggets have a chance, they have to do it with smart shot selection and transition defense. If Melo and crew fall into their familiar habits of jogging back on defense while jawing at the officials, this won’t be close. They also need to attack Miami’s bench