Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Game 37: Heat @ Nuggets

(Boulder-CO) The first game the Nuggets play after learning they will be without Carmelo Anthony for an extended stretch makes writing a preview against the Heat a very difficult task. On one hand, Denver is 3-2 without their two-time All-Star in the line-up this year. On the other, Denver is 16-20 without Anthony in the lineup since his rookie season, compared to going 239-171 with him. And, this is the first time Carmelo has missed extended time with an injury with his previous longest absence stemming from the 15-game suspension he received for pimp slapping Mardy Collins.

It’s going to be interesting to see who George Karl gives the starting nod to without Anthony anchoring the offense. On the one hand, J.R. Smith is the best option for making up for Carmelo’s scoring void. On the other, Linas Kleiza has been a worthy candidate as of late for the start and his productivity always gets a shot in the arm when he plays a starter’s share of the minutes.

Ah, just another Nuggets conundrum.

When looking at the Heat, their success starts and ends with Dwayne Wade. Injury after injury has sidelined Wade after what seems like an eternity since he and Shaq hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy and he was seemingly on top of the basketball world. But since returning to a healthy state, Dwayne Wade has had a resurgence in his career that’s included leading Team USA to an Olympic Gold Medal and currently leading the NBA in scoring with a mark of 28.7 points per game.

And he has the Heat back on track too.

Miami has already passed last season’s dismal win total of 15 games with 18 wins so far in 2008-09 against just 15 losses. Much of this turnaround has to do with Wade, but he’s not the only reason why Miami is so much hotter this season. Rookies Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley have paid immediate dividends for Miami in supporting cast roles behind Wade. Beasley is averaging the second highest scoring average on the team at 13 points per game to fit nicely around 5.1 rebounds and Chalmers has also made an immediate impact with averages of ten points and 4.6 assists as Dwayne Wade’s backcourt running mate.

The Heat also still have the services of Shawn Marion and Udonis Haslem, but from there things get pretty thin. Marion and Haslem round out the Heat’s double-digit scorers, but only Daequan Cook has a scoring average even close to ten points (9.8) as the Heat bench has been their biggest weakness. As a result, Miami is in the bottom third of the league’s team scoring averages at 95.6 points per game as well as in the categories of free-throws made, attempted, and shooting percentage; which is surprising seeing as Wade has been a maniac in the box score this season.

For the Nuggets to win, even without Carmelo, the prescription stays the same as with him: Play as a team, win as a team. Play individualistically and lose.

To back up my prescription, let’s look at the three games that Denver has played without Anthony and since acquiring Chauncey Billups. They’ve managed to split a home and home-away with Portland on back-to-back nights and defeated the 76ers, and it comes as no surprise that in the one game they lost they were held to just 15 assists while losing the overall assist battle and shooting 30-70 from the field. In comparison to their win over the Trailblazers when Denver out passed the Blazers 23-22 in the assist column, the Nuggets’ shooting percentage was only marginally better at 33-72 but their defense was much stingier as they held Portland to just 89 points compared to 101 allowed in the loss. In the win over Philly, the same story is in the box score. The Nuggets won the assist battle, 23-22, on essentially the same 33-76 shooting, but once again it was a great defensive effort in the second half that fruited the Denver win. Meaning, when the ball is shared on offense the defensive end becomes more of an opportunity than a burden because guys know they have a good chance of getting rewarded back on the other end of the floor. It’s just simple team concept and without Carmelo the Nuggets are going to need to embrace that ideal for the next three weeks.

Against the Heat, we’re going to see just how strong the bond is that holds this team together.

Go Nuggets!

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