The Dallas Mavericks (16-33) finish up a tough home-road back to back tonight, heading to Denver to face the Nuggets (25-23). This comes on the heels of the Mavericks’ second matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers within a week, losing at home 107-93 Friday night.
The Mavericks and Nuggets have split the season series so far, with the home team winning both times. This meeting finds the two squads slumping, with the Mavericks winners of three of their last ten games, and Denver going 4-6 in the same stretch.
It was announced Thursday that Devin Harris would be out through the weekend (concussion protocol), in addition to the injury report usual suspects (Nerlens Noel, Seth Curry, and Dorian Finney-Smith).
For Denver, they are still without their star summer signing, forward Paul Millsap, who is eyeing a return around the All-Star break. It is unclear whether shunned big man Kenneth Faried will be available to play. He has recently dealt with an ankle issue, but he’s also playing the lowest minutes of his career and is all but out of the Nuggets rotation. “The Manimal” averages nearly a double-double for his career against the Mavericks and appeared in this season’s first matchup, notching 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Here are three things to watch for in tonight’s game.
DSJ has Denver’s number
Dennis Smith Jr. has averaged 22.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and four assists against Denver this season—his second-best point average against a team he’s faced at least twice (he’s averaging 23 points in two games against San Antonio).
DSJ has taken it to Denver. The last matchup was on its way to a blowout, but Smith came roaring back late and nearly dragged the team to a W. Oh, and there's this:
Dennis Smith Jr blows by Gary Harris then throws down a dunk that Jokic wanted nothing to do with! pic.twitter.com/oOdadXczMH— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 17, 2018
The Nuggets have had inconsistent play from the point guard position, but Jamal Murray has been hot his last three games, scoring 30, 38 and 18 this week. Look for a compelling battle against two fun young point guards.
The Nuggets’ young core
This season has played out different than expected for Denver up to this point, with the injury to Millsap back in November. But the Nuggets have also assembled a couple of very solid young pieces that have kept them competitive (and at this point, a playoff team). Yes, it centers around the explosion of 22 year old (23 next month) Nikola Jokic, a second-round draft pick. But add to that the growth of 23-year-old Gary Harris (picked 19th), and the emergence of 20-year-old (21 next month) Jamal Murray, picked seventh.
And they get contributions, at times, from Emmanuel Mudiay (21) and Trey Lyles (22). It isn't a perfect, or even top-tier, team. But they are building an interesting young core. It has taken time, years of draft picks and patience. But something is forming with that young group. And once they get Millsap back and start meshing, this could be a fun postseason squad.
The Board Battle
The Denver Nuggets are the second-best offensive rebounding team in the league, with a rebounding percentage of 26.6, while the Mavericks at 17.1...are dead last. Perhaps surprisingly, the Mavericks are sixth in the league in defensive rebound percentage, and Denver comes in at eighth.
In the two previous matchups, the team that won the rebound battle won the game. It's not often that Dallas out-rebounds any team, so those numbers may also be an outlier. But there's no doubt that Jokic and Mason Plumlee will attack the glass all night. The Mavericks will need to back up their defensive rebounding numbers to limit Denver’s second chance scoring opportunities if they want a shot at the Pepsi Center tonight.
How to watch
Tip off is set for 8:00 p.m. Central tonight, and can be watched on FSSW, the FoxSportsGo app, or NBA League Pass.