Basketball is back. The long All-Star break is over and the Dallas Mavericks are hitting the court once again. Unfortunately for the Mavs, they don’t have a chance to ease back into the season. Instead, they hit the ground running from now until the end of the month. Tonight, they face the Denver Nuggets.
Denver has the second best record in the Western Conference and a cast of characters that you may not be familiar with outside of Nikola Jokic. If ever there was a roster built around playing team basketball, this is it. Outside of Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris care much of the offensive load. However, Denver has seven players averaging double figures in scoring this season. They can hit you from everywhere.
So, let’s take a look at what may play out tonight.
For all intents and purposes, the Mavericks really don’t have a center. After shipping off DeAndre Jordan before the trade deadline, Dallas has used a rotation of Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, and even Salah Mejri to fill the vacancy in the middle. The results have been understandably mixed.
That trio is in for a challenge going up against Jokic, one of the best bigs in the league who is also in the MVP discussion. Jokic may look unassuming, but he’s a complete player. This season, he’s averaging 20.4 points on 50.5 percent shooting and 30.8 from deep. He’s also grabbing 10.6 rebounds and dishing out 7.7 assists per game. He’s a walking triple double and it’s not out of the question that he notches one tonight.
Preventing him from doing so will be the primary job of Kleber because, let’s face it, Powell is not a good defender. Kleber emerged as a defensive force for Dallas this season, but grinding with Jokic all night will be a tall order. If he gets in foul trouble early, the Mavericks could be in for a long night of watching Jokic shred them on every possession.
Triple double watch
As mentioned, Jokic is a threat to drop a triple double every time he hits the floor. Not to be outdone, though, the Mavericks have one of their own. Luka Doncic, who is now the team’s alpha and omega, is just as likely to reach that bench mark.
Since the trade deadline, Doncic is averaging 21.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. In his last two games, he came within an assist or two of notching a triple double. Now that he is the focal point of almost everything the team does, expect to be on triple double watch midway through the second quarter—if not sooner—on a regular basis.
OK, I just wanted to use that header title. Sorry. No one wants to hear about Mason Plumlee. Moving on.
Are the Nuggets for real
When you look at their league-wide statistical averages, Denver is reapeatedly middle of the pack. That’s somewhat hard to believe for a team that is nestled up next to the Golden State Warriors for the best record in the West.
They don’t hoist many shots, they’re okay at rebounding, and they can’t get to the charity stripe or block shots to save their lives. On paper, this team has no business being as good as it is. Yet, here they are.
What Denver has going for it is the ability to move the ball and play unselfishly. It’s a testament to head coach Mike Malone’s system that so many players can score the ball and do the little things to help the team win. Take Malik Beasley for example. He’s a few free throw percentage points away from a 50/40/90 season and has an effective field goal percentage of .617. That’s incredible and no one is talking about it.
The Nuggets’ lack of star power outside of Jokic might play to their favor come the playoffs. They aren’t dependent on any one player to do everything for them (like the Mavericks) and can look to multiple players to lift them up at various points in a game. That depth has kept them rolling all season and the Nuggets don’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.
Last July, I spent a week in Las Vegas covering Summer League. As always, it was a great experience. This time, however, there was an added element that I didn’t foresee. Every person that lives, breathes, writes, talks, or in anyway covers the Nuggets descended on Vegas. Not only did they overrun the town, they took over the house than many of us were staying in. You couldn’t move without someone telling you about Tyler Lydon, whoever he is. I’m honestly surprised a shrine to Jokic wasn’t erected in the house. It was a bit overwhelming.
Their primary concern was who would be the backup point guard this season. Endless discussions were had on the matter and I swear that they were just making up names at one point as an elaborate inside joke. But, all of it seems to have worked out and Monte Morris seems to be filling the role well.
I say all this in the hopes that you will follow some of the fine folks who cover the Nuggets. They’re good people and passionate about their team. Besides, you’re going to need a team to root for in the playoffs so you might as well pick Denver. They’re fun and they have a real chance at making a deep playoff run. What more do you want when you hop on a bandwagon?
How to watch
7:30 p.m. Central, FSSW or NBA League Pass