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
When LeBron James and Chris Bosh agreed to join forces with Dwyane Wade in Miami one of the big questions, aside from how many games over 72 they would win, was whether or not having LeBron and Wade on the same team with a third all-star in tow was good for the NBA.
It certainly spurred record amounts of interest in the league during the offseason and gave everyone from hardcore NBA fanatics to grandmothers who did not realize Michael Jordan had retired pegged the Heat and LeBron in particular as public enemy numero uno.
A month into the season the Heat are an uninspiring 10-8. LeBron and Wade are struggling with how to work together and at this point are not the unstoppable duo nearly everyone envisioned them to be. Erik Spoelstra is on the hot seat. Chris Bosh is looking like an overpaid role player.
With Miami failing to meet even the most pessimistic projections heading into the season I think we need to ask the big question once again. Are the Heat good for the NBA?
ESPN.com recently ran a feature where Chad Ford and John Hollinger ranked the potential for future success of all 30 NBA teams (Insider required). Every team was ranked based on five important characteristics, players (weighted 40%), management (weighted 20%), money (weighted 20%), market (weighted 10%), and draft (weighted 10%).
As a Nuggets fan and observer I believe they forgot one very crucial category, luck.
Whether you call it luck or intangibles, mojo or fortune it comes down to the fact some teams seem to have things go their way a little more often than others. Look at the teams that have dominated the NBA over the previous two decades. Chicago, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Boston had at least one tremendously lucky break that has paved the way for their success.
Between the Nuggets expected third quarter swoon and the performance of Dwyane Wade Superstar this game provided some shaky moments, but thanks to the way Denver started and closed this game it ended up being a safe victory. It was Denver’s eighth straight win against the Heat.
I think we all knew that Denver would come out of the gate strong after the loss that was purged from memory in New Jersey and they certainly did not disappoint. Denver played hounding defense and their movement without the ball and passing was arguably the best we had seen all season. They connected on a couple of back door dunks in the first quarter for Kenyon, one came off of an inbounds play.
Another key to their offensive success was they were able to penetrate at will the entire first half. Chauncey, Melo and Kenyon were driving to the rim and either finishing or finding an open teammate for an easy basket. Miami closed off the lane pretty well in the third quarter which as we have seen time after time Denver started settling for jumpers.
In my mind the key player for the Nuggets in the fourth quarter was Anthony Carter. Dahntay Jones played poor defense on Wade. On the very first possession of the game he lost track of him and did it again later in the first quarter. He fell for Wade’s shot fakes, overreacted to his jab steps as on more than one occasion he jumped way out of the play and opened up a huge driving lane on a minimal jab step by Wade and he gambled for steals. Against a player like Wade it is all about position. The defender must staying in front of him, stay on the floor for his shot fakes and take advantage of the help from teammates to push him back into you off of screens. Carter did all those things and the result was a five point fourth quarter by Dwyane.
If there was an area of the Nuggets defense that you could point to, other than Carter’s spirited D on Wade, that lead to their impressive fourth quarter performance it was the bigs willingness to step out and help defend the screen and roll. In the third quarter they were content to hang back and the result was a rash of open shots that lead to Miami’s comeback. In the fourth they hedged very well on the screen, sealed off the lane and recovered very well.
After the Heat cut the lead to four with ten minutes left Chauncey drilled a three and Michael Beasley hit short push shot to draw the Heat within five at the 9:17 mark. After that bucket by Beasley, Miami only scored eight points the rest of the game. Three points came on a Wade three pointer with Carter right in his face, Wade made a layup off of a lucky bounce on a loose ball and Beasley made a three in garbage time with 1:20 left in the game.
It was not all good news though as Chris “Birdman” Andersen was taken out by Shawn Marion on a fast break dunk attempt with 1:42 left in the third quarter. He landed hard on his left side and has bruised his hip and wrist. Birdman stayed in the game to make the free throw, but left 20 seconds later, went o the locker room and did not return. I seriously doubt he will be available against the Magic, which is a bummer knowing Dwight Howard is probably going to get Nene into foul trouble as he did in the first meeting, but hopefully he will be ready to play following the All-Star break.
All in all they responded very well to the humiliation they suffered in New Jersey. They got out fast, weathered the storm and won going away. Melo, Chauncey and Kenyon all logged long hard minutes and they will have their work cut out for them tomorrow in Orlando. All I know is a 4-1 road trip heading into the break would be awfully nice, no matter how ugly the one loss was.
Additional Game 52 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 86.1
Defensive Efficiency: 95.2
Offensive Efficiency: 115.0
Featured Blog: Peninsula is Mightier
Carmelo Anthony has had some pretty good regular season success against his friends LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. This season he lost his upper hand with James as the Nuggets were swept, and completely embarrassed in Denver, by Cleveland. Hopefully Melo can continue his success against Wade and the Miami Heat tonight.
The Nuggets have won three games in a row at Miami, including an overtime thriller last season, seven in a row overall and eight of the last nine between the two teams.
In their first meeting this season the Nuggets were playing their first game without Carmelo Anthony after he fractured his hand. The Nuggets came out with impressive defensive intensity in the first half and they largely held Wade in check. The second half was completely different as Wade heated up and the offense went into chucker mode.
Miami traditionally doubles Melo, which would open up opportunities for the other Nuggets on offense. However, this is the first time the two teams have played with Erik Spoelstra as coach of the Heat and Melo active. It will be interesting to see if he conjures up a similar scheme as his former mentor Pat Riley.
Defensively Denver will have to use their man with zone principles scheme to keep Wade out of the lane and force him to shoot jumpers. Tonight Wade will equal the number of games he has played in the past two seasons as he takes the floor for the 51st time. Wade is having a incredible season, but surprisingly he is shooting a career worst 73.9% from the free throw line including a startlingly low 71.3% at home. He is also taking twice as many three pointers as he ever has before averaging three attempts a game this season even though he only hits on 28.3% of them. That increase in three point shooting almost solely accounts for his slight drop in shooting percentage this season.
Denver, and more specifically Anthony Carter, must do a better job in transition as Chalmers and Wade are capable of pushing the pace and getting to the rim. Miami is a relatively slow paced team, but they will run when the opportunity presents itself.
The Nuggets will also have to make sure that they contain Wade’s supporting cast. There is no Heat player that averages as much as half of Wade’s 28.3 points per game, but they have five other players who average double figures (Beasley, Marion, Haslem, Chalmers and Cook). Any one of those guys can go off. In the first meeting between these two teams this season it was Marion who had a big night on offense with 25, but Beasley, Chalmers and Haslem (Cook did not play) were all held right around their averages and the result was an 11 point win for the Nuggets. Generally the Heat need three of their five secondary scorers to put up above average games in order to pull out a victory.
As far as any recent streaks Miami is 5-1 in their last six home games since a loss to the Boston Celtics almost three weeks ago and the Nuggets are 2-1 on their current five game road trip heading into the All-Star break.
The Nuggets are clearly the better team, but it is not easy to beat a decent team, especially one with a great player, over and over again. As a fan one thing we have going in our favor is the fact that the Nuggets are coming off a 44 point embarrassment with two days to sit and stew about it and I think we can expect as good of an effort as we have seen all season.
Previous Matchup: Game 37 – Den 108 Mia 97
Featured Blog: Peninsula is Mightier
The Denver Nuggets 108-97 win against the Miami Heat was a good first step to staying afloat while the Carmelo Anthony is out. I have always liked the definition of a team being where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The sum of the parts of the Denver Nuggets is pretty high and there were a few times tonight where the whole was much greater than the sum of the parts, but if they want to beat the teams that are coming up on the schedule they are going to have to play better and with more consistency than they did tonight.
Just as you would expect Denver came out with focus and energy and the first thing that stood out to me was a much better effort on defense than we had witnessed over the past three weeks. In the first quarter they did a great job of swarming Wade when he was coming off screens and equally as important they rotated and recovered. Wade finished the first quarter with only two points and one assist. The Nuggets finished the first quarter up 27-21 and it should have been much more, but they turned the ball over seven times.
Wade adjusted to the Nuggets defense and found some cracks here and there. When he was walled off from the lane he did a great job of getting his midrange jumper to fall. He did find some driving lanes on a few occasions resulting in some nifty dunks and those images get seared in our minds, an opponent driving through our undefended lane. We tend to remember those plays instead of the plays where the Nuggets anticipate the play and make a perfect rotation or where they force the Heat into a bad shot before the shot clock goes off. Those open layups and dunks stick in our craw and we get down on the defense. After all Wade did end up with 31 points.
Even so, I thought the Nuggets defense was pretty solid for most of the night.
Offensively, Denver was great in the first half. They played with great movement and shared the ball consistently. They knew they needed to work together to keep the offense running at a high level and they did. The bad news is after their initial success in the first half they really devolved in the second.
I thought Chauncey was a big part of the problem. He tried to take the game over early in the third and took some bad shots. With the point guard playing a me first style the rest of the Nuggets followed suit. There were several occasions in the second half where someone had the ball on the wing and everyone just stood outside the three point line and watched. That happens when players do not expect to get the ball. If you know the player with the ball is going to take the shot, why would you waste the energy to cut? If you figured the player with the ball is going to drive, you stay out of his way.
Chauncey should have been making sure that the ball kept moving. As I said a couple of days ago, when was the last time you saw Billups directing the offense and demanding something? He did it frequently early on when he joined the Nuggets. He needs to get that aspect of his leadership back.
Nevertheless, it was a good first step. J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza really stepped up on the offensive end and the team worked hard on defense. Even though the Heat made a couple of runs it never felt to me like the Nuggets were in trouble. If Denver plays they way they did in the first quarter, they will win a majority of games while Melo is healing. If they play the way they did in the second half, the road will get bumpy.
Additional Game 37 Nuggets
Mind Blowing Game Stats
Pace Factor – 93.7
Defensive Efficiency – 103.6 – Their best defensive efficiency since December 15th. They did allow Miami to shoot 48.1%, but the entire team hit the boards to help make up for missing Melo’s 7.3 caroms a game and they only allowed Miami to collect five offensive boards. Denver has collected over 85% of their opponents missed shots the last two games.
Offensive Efficiency – 115.3 – Believe it or not it is their lowest offensive efficiency of the five game winning streak and a 115 is pretty good.
Featured Blog: Peninsula is Mightier
The Miami Heat are in town tonight and The Nuggets will be playing their first game since Carmelo Anthony broke his hand. Linas Kleiza will step into Melo’s starting role and I think you can count on seeing Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter and J.R. Smith on the court down the stretch.
The Heat bring a couple of conundrums. One is how to stop Deyane Wade and the other is apart from Wade, who to you focus on? They have five other players, Michael Beasley, Shawn Marion, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers and Daequan Cook, all averaging between 9.8 and 13.0 points per game. Any one of them, other than Haslem, could put up 25 points if they get hot.
I think the Nuggets will bring a great deal of energy to the game tonight because they know the task at hand will be more difficult without Carmelo. I heard an interview with George Karl this morning talking about how they have focused on getting back to playing stout defense in practice. We can only hope that is indeed the case.
The Nuggets have won six straight overall against the Heat and six straight against them at home. Lete’s hope that trend continues. The Heat are good, but this is one of the more winnable games on the slate of the matchups we know Melo will miss.
Update: Cook is out for tonights’ game.