The Miami HEAT host the Denver Nuggets Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT defeated the Nuggets 106-98 in their last meeting on November 30. Tip-off is set for 6:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 5:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What stuck out to you about Miami’s loss to New York?
Couper Moorhead: This was a bit of a strange game in that it didn’t appear as though Miami was playing poorly, it was more than they were shooting poorly and the Knicks were not. There were certainly pockets, as Erik Spoelstra referred to them as, of mental lapses which led to some open Knicks shots, but as the game went along Miami tightened up and the Knicks hit some very tough shots. In the fourth quarter alone the HEAT held New York to an offensive rating of 92.3, which would be far and away the lowest rating in the league. Had Miami played to its normal level defensively throughout the evening they would have been able to absorb their own cold stretch late, but that’s not what happened. Disappointing as this loss was, it wasn’t all that different from most Miami games of late.
Joe Beguiristain: The main thing that stuck out to me was how sharp the Knicks were offensively from the very beginning. Thanks in large part to Kristaps Porziņģis, New York shot 51.2 percent in the first half and took a four-point lead entering halftime. Luckily enough, Goran Dragić did his best to combat the Knicks with 16 first-half points. While the HEAT’s defense improved considerably in the second half due to Hassan Whiteside and James Johnson, New York had already gotten into a nice rhythm. As a result, the Knicks hit some difficult, contested shots in the fourth quarter (mainly Justin Holiday) to stay ahead and ultimately claim the victory. In short, it was valiant effort by Miami, but the team just couldn’t get enough stops.
2: How are the Nuggets different from the last time Miami played them?
Couper: Through the first month of the season (Miami played Denver on November 30) the Nuggets were scoring 101.9 points per 100 possessions, good for 20th in the league. Since then they’ve scored 112.2 points per 100, good for the No. 3 offense in the entire league.
Why such a drastic difference, some of it is getting healthy, like Miami, but the bulk of it has been rotation changes. Early on Denver was starting Jusuf Nurkic (now in Portland) and Emmanuel Mudiay. A little while after playing Miami, Nikola Jokic was moved into the starting lineup along with Jameer Nelson, Nurkic was eventually traded and Mudiay has been entirely out of the rotation at times. For good reason, too, since Denver has an offensive rating of 115.4 with Jokic on the court. Denver’s defense has still left something to be desired, but at least in the time since they played Miami they’ve found their offensive identity – that’s been enough to keep them in the race for the No. 8 spot in the West.
Joe: Like Coup mentioned above, that last matchup with the Nuggets came very early into the season, as Jusuf Nurkić and Emmanuel Mudiay were starting at that time. Of late, Denver has rolled with veteran Jameer Nelson at point guard (who is out Sunday after straining his calf Friday against Charlotte) and do-it-all center Nikola Jokić in the starting lineup. Since Nelson is unable to play, Jamal Murray will get the start. Although Nelson has played quite well, Murray has proven to be a solid contributor in his rookie campaign. The 20-year-old can run the pick-and-roll and also hit spot-up threes when playing off the ball.
Jokić, meanwhile, can simply do it all. The Serbian creates for his teammates supremely well (4.8 assists per game), does damage in the pick-and-roll (1.13 points per possession as the roll man) and knocks down threes at a 34.2 percent clip. Oh, and he’s coming off a 26-point, 13-rebound, 10-assist triple-double against the Hornets on Friday night. What else do you need?
3: What is the playoff situation right now and how will tonight’s game affect it?
Couper: There is a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots with Chicago at No. 7, Miami at No. 8 and Indiana at No. 9. In other words, Miami still controls its own destiny, but that could change in one night should they lose and Indiana wins.
Also of note is that Miami is two games back of Atlanta for the No. 6 seed and two games up on Charlotte. The Hawks could continue losing or Charlotte could make a major run (including beating Miami this week) but as far as the most likely scenarios go this is currently a three-team race for the final two spots. If Miami does make the postseason, their most likely opponents are either Cleveland or Boston.
Joe: Because of tiebreakers, the HEAT are No. 8 in the East despite having the same record as the Pacers and Bulls. With its win on Saturday over the Hawks, Chicago jumped up from No. 9 to No. 7, which pushed Indiana out of the playoffs for the time being. That just goes to show you how much can change in 24 hours.
In terms of who’s ahead of Miami, the fifth-seed Bucks have started to create some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack, as they are now three games up on the Bulls, HEAT and Pacers. Sixth-seed Atlanta, on the other hand, has been trending downwards recently.
At the end of the day though, it’s all about what the HEAT can control. After practice on Saturday, James Johnson and Tyler Johnson echoed that sentiment and stated that they really don’t scoreboard watch the teams around them too much. With Miami trying to reach a common goal together, that makes perfect sense.
- The HEAT have won two of three and are 37-39.
- The Nuggets have dropped five of seven and enter the contest at 35-40.
- Goran Dragić leads Miami in points (20.1), assists (5.9) and steals (1.2) per game.
- Danilo Gallinari leads Denver in scoring at 17.6 points per contest.
- HEAT Offense: 104.8 (17)
- HEAT Defense: 104.0 (5)
- Nuggets Offense: 110.0 (5)
- Nuggets Defense: 111.0 (29)