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3 things to watch for as the Dallas Mavericks face off against the Denver Nuggets

The Mavericks attempt to win three in a row, otherwise known as a “winning streak.”

Dallas Mavericks v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks return to the American Airlines Center in Dallas to take on the Denver Nuggets Monday night.

The Mavericks (18-18) are fresh off a 95-86 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night. They’ve won three of their last four games. The Nuggets (18-16) are on the second game of a road trip and won against the Houston Rockets on Saturday evening. It was their third consecutive win.

It’s the second game of a back-to-back for the Mavericks. They’re 3-2 on the second night of a back-to-back this season. If Dallas can pull of the win, it’ll be the first time they’ve been above .500 since December 13.

Here are three things to watch for:

Contain Nikola Jokic

The game plan against the Nuggets starts and ends with Jokic. He’s the engine that powers their offense, and there’s no way to shut him down. But if the Mavericks can bother him enough to slow him down, they should be able to pull of a win.

Jokic is elite at passing out of double teams. He’s averaging seven assists per game this season, and is a big part of the reason the Nuggets are fifth in the league in assists with 25.6 per game. The Mavericks should avoid doubling Jokic and make him a scorer. They can afford the big man getting 40 points. What they can’t survive is Jokic scoring 30+ and dishing out double digit assists. Throw several different defenders at him (having Maxi Kleber available will be huge) and make him a scorer first. Don’t let the Nuggets secondary players break the game open with wide open 3’s off of Jokic passes out of double teams.

Keep the Nuggets off the free throw line

The Nuggets are last in the league in free throw attempts with 17.4 per game. They’re not great at making free throws, either, sitting at 20th in the NBA at 76.2%. The Mavericks should play smart and not give Denver free points, because the Nuggets don’t force the issue and draw many fouls. No one on the team has double digit drives per game. Will Barton leads Denver with 6.2 drives per game. They are able to manufacture some action in the paint through clever plays like this one, which they run a lot:

It’s a clear example of why the Mavericks should make Jokic a scorer and avoid letting any of the Nuggets role players get going. They’re not going to draw fouls on their own, period, so the Mavericks should play conservative and continue to make the Nuggets the jump shooting team they have been all year.

Dominate the paint

The Nuggets are mediocre at scoring in the paint, scoring 44.7 points in the paint per game. That make sense, because as mentioned above, they rarely drive. They’re also bad at defending the paint, giving up 48.2 points per game in the lane. The Mavericks, are terrible at scoring in the paint, preferring instead to hoist ill-advised midrange jumpers and 3-pointers. If they can penetrate the paint and take advantage of the Nuggets’ poor interior defense, they should be able to escape with a win without worrying about their 3-point shots falling.

How to watch

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. CST, and can be seen on Bally Sports Southwest and NBA League Pass. You can also listen to the radio broadcast at 97.1 The Eagle.