The Mavericks, fresh off an uninspiring loss to the Rockets, take on the Nuggets at the AAC on Monday. Needless to say, Dallas will have to play with a lot more energy if they expect to defeat a surging Denver team that’s won three in a row. The last time the two teams faced off in early January, the Mavericks won a thriller in overtime, finally shedding their clutch-time woes.
A lot has changed since then. The Mavericks are still missing four of the key players from that victory, and while they’ve been able to tread water in their absence, cracks are starting to show. Dallas gave up 70 points in the first half and got outrebounded by 16 boards against Houston. The shallow depth chart and grueling schedule are taking their toll, but that’s how this season will go.
Here are three things to watch for against the Nuggets:
Protecting the Paint
The Mavericks have made a concerted effort protect the rim this season, and that’s been made really tough lately due to missing two front court rotation players, Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber. Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap will make it even tougher. The Nuggets are currently fifth in the league in points in the paint. Powell wasn’t exactly on track to make the all-defensive team, but he’s a big body that plays with energy, something the Mavericks desperately need right now. Missing Kleber will be the real problem, here, as he shut down Millsap in the Mavericks first meeting, guarding the Nuggets power forward for 21 possessions and holding him to 0-2 shooting.
But there’s hope, as the Mavericks will have Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis missed the first game against the Nuggets, and while he’s struggled against Jokic in the past, his presence in the paint will at least deter drives from Jamal Murray and other Denver wings. Willie Cauley-Stein will spend most of the game on Jokic, though. He did just fine in the first game against the Nuggets, as Jokic only shot 35% when guarded by Cauley-Stein. Maybe Porzingis or Cauley-Stein will approach this game with an intense focus, and the Mavericks end up with a block party reminiscent of the show Dirk Nowitzki put on against the Nuggets in 2006.
In the early January game against the Nuggets, the Mavericks struggled early on offense, but their defense kept them in the game until their scoring got back on track. Two of their best perimeter defenders, Josh Richardson and Dorian Finney-Smith, will miss this game. Will the Dallas defense be able to frustrate Denver again? If not, the efficient Nuggets offense might put the game out of reach early. Denver is currently third in net offense. Jokic’s production is almost a given. If Murray gets hot as well, the Mavericks will almost certainly lose. Someone will have to step up and replace the capable defense of Richardson.
The Nuggets are second in the league in second-chance points, trailing only the Lakers. Giving up offensive rebounds and allowing too many second-chance points has been a problem for the Mavericks for some time. They don’t have to win the rebounding battle, but they can’t get absolutely annihilated on the boards. If the Mavericks can just limit the Nuggets’ offensive rebounds to a minimum, it’ll negate one of Denver’s biggest scoring advantages.
How to Watch
Tip-off is at 7:30 CST at the American Airlines Center. You can watch locally on Fox Sports Southwest or NBA League Pass elsewhere.