The Denver Nuggets will look to avoid a "Super Bowl hangover" after their improbable 112-110 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night; tonight they face the Miami Heat in game-three of an eight game home stand. The Heat kicked off their road trip with a win over the Phoenix Suns, but have since lost three straight in their tour of the West Coast.
Their most recent contest concluded with a 104-90 loss to a Los Angeles Clippers team playing without DeAndre Jordan or Blake Griffin. As the Nuggets hit their highest point of the season in a win against the NBA's best, the Heat have hit a lull after a great start to the year and currently sit in sixth place in the competitive Eastern Conference.
Heat: Hassan Whiteside - Probable (Rt Knee Tendinitis), Goran Dragic - Out (Strained Lt Calf),
Chris Anderson - Out (Sore Lt Knee), Josh McRoberts - Out (Bruised Rt Knee)
Battle of the Bigs
NBA fans will miss an opportunity to see talented, young bigs Hassan Whiteside and Jusuf Nurkic battle with Nurkic listed as out with left knee soreness -- despite initial reports indicating an ankle injury in Wednesday night's game. The two issues with Nurkic could be separate ones as Nurkic's left knee is his surgically repaired one.
Whiteside is more of an athletic vertical player than the Mack Truck that is Jusuf Nurkic, so it would have been interesting to see who gained the upper hand. Whiteside is one of the best shot blockers in the league, so the Nuggets will have to improve their ability to finish around the rim if they want to have any offensive success in the paint. The Nuggets continued to attack the paint on Wednesday despite 11 blocked shots by the Warriors and limited success inside, but that aggressiveness led to a significant advantage from the free throw line that proved to be the difference.
The Nuggets weathered a brutal early schedule and now get to enjoy an eight game homestand in a month that features more mid-tier teams than top-level NBA challenges. The Heat on the other hand face the Nuggets as the fourth game on a five game road trip that ends up in Oklahoma City.
After a brief, single game stop back in South Beach against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Heat go back on the road for a five game road trip along the East Coast. They host the Hawks before starting off February with three more on the road against Houston, Dallas and Charlotte before a more balanced schedule comes back into play. The Heat will be hungry for a win in the midst of a three game losing streak, but with a matchup against the Thunder on the horizon, the Nuggets have a chance to steal another win against a team that may overlook them.
Another Test for Gary
Gary Harris played excellent defense against the world's best basketball player, Stephen Curry, on Wendesday before Curry erupted for 20 points in the fourth quarter. Dwyane Wade will provide a different challenge for Harris, but avoiding fouls while keeping the future hall-of-famer in check will be an interesting battle to watch. If Harris can limit Wade's effectiveness on offense and stays as aggressive as he was against the Warriors on offense, he could be the reason the Nuggets pick up their third win in as many games on this season-long homestand.
Nuggets of Interest
Can the Nuggets have any success inside with Hassan Whiteside patrolling the paint? Can they get him into foul trouble?
Will Luol Deng be able to limit Danilo Gallinari, who is playing at an All-Star caliber level since returning from his most recent injury?
Will Emmanuel Mudiay be a difference maker after a relatively quiet game against the Warriors?
Can the Nuggets take advantage of the Heat's propensity for turnovers?
Will the Nuggets upset over the Warriors lead to a lackluster follow up effort, or will they use the momentum and confidence gained to propel them through the homestand?
I wouldn't be surprised to see the Heat jump out to an early lead as they're likely sick of losing and the Nuggets may still be basking in the glow of their most recent win. If Gary Harris and Gallo continue their aggressive styles on offense though, they can likely pick up enough fouls on Whiteside and the rest of the Heat to be able to get back to what allowed them to be successful on Wednesday night in the first place.
Miami has some great veteran players on their roster, but the young Nuggets have been gaining confidence throughout the season and I expect they'll be able to overcome an early deficit to pull out a victory late and send the Heat to their fourth consecutive road loss.