The Denver Nuggets are hosting the Miami Heat tonight at the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver for the second game of a six-game home-stand. After demolishing the Toronto Raptors to the tune of a 129-111 blowout – in a game where the Nuggets were leading by as many as 36 points – the Nuggets are now looking to continue building positive momentum against the visiting Heat.

When taking a look at the strengths of Miami’s roster it is hard not to immediately start with center Hassan Whiteside. While still worried about what the long, shot blocking center will bring to the table Nuggets head coach Michael Malone is concerned about much more.

“They are obviously a different team with (Whiteside) defensively. Rebounding, the fact that in their pick and rolls with him rolling to the basket you have you have to account for him being the lob threat that he is, but it does not take away from the things that they do well,” Malone explained at shootaround before taking on the Heat. “They are the number one team in the NBA in drives per game. Whether it is  (Goran) Dragic, (Dion) Waiters, Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, or (Josh) Richardson they have very aggressive-minded and attack-mode players.”

What Miami does well is: beat teams with their physical play and live in their opponents paint. All of which has more to do with the perimeter players than anyone else including Whiteside … who just so happens to be their most talented player and their double-double machine. Malone understands what Whiteside brings to the table but also understands that he benefits greatly from the style of play that Miami uses.

This leaves Denver to focus on limiting the penetration from the wings and guards on Miami’s roster, which is easier said than done. Not only do the Heat’s perimeter players play downhill and aggressively but they are very good at using that style of play to open up great looks for their teammates.

Malone referenced guard Wayne Ellington, who was able to put up 22 points on 5-9 shooting from three-point distance to go with four steals, two rebounds, and two assists back on November 30th of last year when the Heat visited Denver. He is one of the few volume three-point shooters on the Heat roster and he can get hot in a hurry when shooting from downtown.

“In their wins, they are shooting 39 percent from three-point line,” Malone said. “Can we guard the three? Can we not allow Wayne Ellington to come into the game and get hot like he did last year and hurt us from downtown?”

Limiting Miami’s ability to score in the paint is the path to victory for the Nuggets. The Heat are shooting just 33 percent from three-point distance this year as a team but they are among the leagues’ leaders in terms of getting into the paint. Slowing down the Heat’s assault on the paint is the biggest worry for Malone and the Nuggets.

“We talked about it this morning,” Malone ruminated. “Can we keep them out of our paint? Whether that is in transition, but more in the half court and in one-on-one containment. We went through a bunch of their plays but I said, ‘more important than all of their plays is going to be one-on-one defense. Can you guard your man? Can you keep them out of your paint? On pick and rolls can you send them into our coverage and not allow them to reject and drive away from the help and live in our paint?’ That is going to be so important. Can we close out and understand in our closeouts who we are closing out to and shrink the floor behind them.”

The Nuggets’ guards, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris in particular, are going to be relied upon on to defend the back-court combinations that the Heat will use against Denver, mostly consisting of Waiters, Dragic, Tyler Johnson and Richardson. Nikola Jokic and the rest of the Nuggets front-court will also be needed to play aggressively in pick and rolls but also controlled. A team like the Heat who are dominant in the paint just need a tiny amount of room to exploit a defense and if the Nuggets over-rotates or is a step slow then Miami will be able to impose their style of play.

“That is going to be the key to the game,” Malone said. “Can we guard our paint? They are third in the NBA in paint points per game at 49.1. So can we keep the guards out of the paint?”

The Nuggets know what they need to do to come away with a victory over the Heat at the Pepsi Center. If they control the paint on both offense and defense, there is not much keeping Denver from their third victory at home of the year and climb above .500 for the first time this season.

“That is priority number one, by far, is defend the paint,” Malone said the morning before taking on the Heat. “Again, they are number three in total paint points per game, number one in drives per games, and number one in points off of those drives. They have a roster full of attack-minded players and we have to be able to guard them.”