Every year, the Miami Heat have the feel of a team that should be pretty good at the beginning of the season. Then, they seem to underwhelm through the season’s first few months before flipping a switch and mounting a playoff push by season’s end. The beginning of this year has been no different. Entering play Monday, Miami is just 25-29 on the season, which ties them with the Detroit Pistons for the eighth-best record in the Eastern Conference.
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Detroit currently holds the tiebreaker over Miami, so if the playoffs were to begin today, the Heat would be on the outside looking in. Obviously, we’re still waiting on Erik Spoelstra’s crew to find that switch and flip it with the playoffs just two months away. The Heat lost a closely contested battle last night at Golden State, and tonight they’ll face what may be the toughest test the NBA has to offer: the second half of a back-to-back in Denver.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, have lost some ground in their race at the top of the Western Conference. Denver has spent most of the season in first place, but they have now fallen three games behind the Warriors for the best record in the conference. The Nuggets enter tonight’s game on a rare three-game losing streak after losing three of four on their recent road trip. After a narrow win over the Timberwolves, the Nuggets were beaten by the Pistons, Nets, and 76ers to close out the road swing.
The following odds are courtesy of our live odds feed:
|2019 ATS Home||11-16-0||19-8-0|
|2019 ATS Away||17-10-0||10-18-0|
|2019 O/U Home||14-13-0||16-11-0|
|2019 O/U Away||13-14-0||11-16-1|
The Heat have a crowded roster, but things got a little less jam-packed at the trade deadline. Miami traded guards Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington to Phoenix, which should help Spoelstra run a tighter rotation moving forward.
The Heat played nine guys last night in Oakland, with every starter playing 20-plus minutes and two bench players doing the same. Goran Dragic is out for the foreseeable future, so Justise Winslow is handling the bulk of the point guard duties along with Josh Richardson. The Heat lost 120-118 last night against the Warriors, but they were competitive thanks in large part to red-hot shooting. Miami drilled 18 of their 43 attempts from 3-point range, which comes out to a cool 41.9 percent.
Richardson, Winslow, and Dion Waiters were the primary culprits. Richardson finished with a career-high 37 points, hitting eight of his 11 triples in the process. Waiters chimed in with 24 points of his own in a season-high 41 minutes, while Winslow canned four of his 9 threes to finish with 22 points. It was an unusual performance for a Miami team that ranks just 15th in the league in 3-point percentage on the season. It was also unusual to see the Warriors make just 36.1 percent of their threes on the other side.
Dwyane Wade logged 29 minutes off the bench, and we’ll see whether he plays tonight. Wade has sat the second halves of back-to-backs on occasion this season, but with the Heat fairly short-handed, he may have no choice but to play tonight. Richardson, Waiters, Winslow, and Rodney McGruder are really the only other healthy guards available to Spoelstra at the moment, and McGruder is just on the fringes of the rotation.
If the Heat are to hang with the Nuggets tonight, they’re going to have to deploy some big lineups. Paul Millsap is questionable for Denver. If he’s out again, Mike Malone may very well start two centers in Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee. Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo have essentially been splitting the center minutes for the Heat lately, but Whiteside may have to take on a bigger role tonight in order to deal with Jokic.
When these two teams met back in Miami (in a 103-99 Denver victory), Whiteside was limited to just 24 minutes as the starting center. Adebayo took the other 24, so it was split right down the middle. Jokic played a whopping 40 minutes for Denver, and he put up a 29-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist triple-double. Whiteside is bigger than Adebayo, and he stands the better chance at keeping Jokic away from the rim in this matchup tonight.
Needless to say, heading into Denver tonight to play a tough team at altitude just after playing a tough game last night against the defending champs is quite the tall order for the Heat.
The Nuggets haven’t done a whole lot of losing this season, so it was surprising to see them drop each of the last three games of their recent road swing. Denver is still very much in control of their own destiny in the Northwest Division, but they may have already lost too much ground to catch up to the Warriors for the No. 1 overall seed in the conference.
Jokic dominated this matchup against Miami earlier in the year, which is impressive considering the Heat rank in the top five defensively against centers on the year. Dominating isn’t anything new for Jokic, of course. The first-time All-Star has been putting up insane numbers all year long. In five games so far in February, the 23-year-old is averaging 22.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and, most impressively, 8.6 assists per game.
Jokic’s passing and playmaking is the main thing that sets him apart from most other centers. Jokic’s average of 7.7 assists on the season is among the league leaders for any position, not just centers. Russell Westbrook may have made triple-doubles look easy, but it’s not something other players do nearly as often. Westbrook has racked up 22 triple-doubles on the year, but Jokic ranks second in the league with 11 of his own already. He’s accomplished the feat 3 times in 5 games already this month.
Gary Harris has been battling an injury as of late, while Jamal Murray missed a recent stretch. Injuries are no fun but being short-handed has allowed Malone to get a look at some new players. As a result, Monte Morris and Malik Beasley have both emerged as viable rotation options this season with Harris and Murray having missed so much time. Beasley, who is averaging just 11.6 points in about 24 minutes per game on the season, is up to 20 points per game in nearly 34 minutes a night so far in February.
As mentioned above, the Heat are facing an incredibly difficult task tonight. Nearly winning at Oracle Arena was something of an accomplishment, but I think they’re going to find it difficult to have much stomach for the fight tonight. The Nuggets have had a few days off to rest in Denver since coming back from their road trip out East, while this will be Miami’s third game in the last 4 nights.
Playing at altitude against a motivated Denver team is problematic. There’s a reason the Nuggets are 23-4 at Pepsi Center this season. Playing in Denver is already difficult for any road team, but the other circumstances surrounding the Heat tonight means this game has blowout written all over it.
The 10 ½-point spread is a big one, but I don’t think it’s wide enough. I think the Nuggets roll here tonight, even if they wind up playing without both Harris and Millsap again. The Heat were already down a few guys to begin with. While they put forth a valiant effort last night, I’m not convinced we get the same thing again this evening.
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