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3 things to watch as the Mavericks visit the Nuggets

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Can the Mavericks win their second game in a row and reach .500 for the first time this season?

Dallas Mavericks v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Editor’s Note on the Editor’s Note: MPJ is out so earlier reports from the Denver Post were wrong

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect MPJ playing tonight

The Dallas Mavericks (3-4) look to reach .500 Thursday night for the first time this season as they go on the road to take on Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets (3-4). The Mavericks have yet to win two games in-a-row this season. They have another opportunity to do so in Denver and will be looking for a bit more consistency as they enter a tough stretch of games on their schedule the rest of January.

Denver, after a rough start to the season, has some momentum after playing and winning their two-game series against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Nuggets will be without Michael Porter Jr. due to health and safety protocols (contact tracing), per Shams Charania (edit: he IS playing), but are led by All-Star center Nikola Jokic who is averaging a triple-double through seven games this season.

Here are three things to watch for:

The Mavericks Starting Five

Rick Carlisle changed up the starting lineup for the first time this season before Monday’s game in Houston, replacing Tim Hardaway Jr. with Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell with Willie Cauley-Stein.

“We felt that we needed to get bigger and more physical to be a better defensive team,” Carlisle explained after the Mavericks 13-point win in Houston.

Bigger and more physical is a must when you play the Nuggets. Cauley-Stein and Kleber are both around 45 pounds lighter than Jokic. For a one game sample-size versus a smaller Rockets team, though, it worked. The Mavericks out rebounded the Rockets 16-7 in the first quarter and that helped pave the way for the Mavericks’ third win of the season. That leads me to my next thing to watch for.

Rebound, Rebound and Rebound

When the Mavericks have won the rebounding battle this season, they have won the basketball game. Here are the rebounding numbers in their seven games so far this season:

Game 1 vs Suns: -11 (L)

Game 2 vs Lakers: -27 (L)

Game 3 vs Clippers: +16 (W)

Game 4 vs Hornets: -10 (L)

Game 5 vs Heat: +10 (W)

Game 6 vs Bulls: -2 (L)

Game 7 vs Rockets: +16 (W)

It can’t be that simple, right? I think it is. Basketball is a simple game and to usually win you need to either shoot a higher percentage than your opponent and/or you need to put yourself in a position to shoot more shots than them. So how do you get more shots than your opponent? Well, you need to get more rebounds.

Per ESPN.com, Denver ranks second best in the league in opponent rebounds per game only allowing 40.3. Whereas Dallas is very much middle of the pack when it comes to opponent rebounding.

Luka Doncic, coming off a 16-rebound game, has proven to be one of the best rebounding guards, but can the Mavericks big men help Dallas win the rebounding battle against one of the better rebounding centers in the league?

Tim Hardaway Jr.

Tim Hardaway Jr. came off the bench for the first time this season Monday in Houston and responded with one of his best games as a member of the Dallas Mavericks. He scored 30 points (11-of-14 overall, 8-of-10 from three) in 31 minutes of play. The man was absolutely on fire. Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, he became only the fifth player in Dallas Mavericks history to score 30+ points off the bench shooting 14 or fewer shots.

Was this simply just one of those good shooting nights some shooters have or can he truly thrive for this Mavericks team in the 6th Man role?

Hardaway has been clear in the past that he very much prefers starting, but when asked about coming off the bench he gave a very professional answer: “It’s coach’s decision and you got to be a pro. I’ve said since day one I’m here to help this team any way I can. Coach called someone else’s number so I had to stay engaged in the game and make sure when I got in the game to make an impact.”

We’ll see what kind of impact Hardaway can continue to make in this new 6th Man role off the bench for the Mavericks.

How To Watch

9:00PM CT on TNT, Fox Sports Southwest - Dallas

If you're one of those living locally with FSSW problems, you can listen live on ESPN 103.3 FM / 1270 AM (ESP).