The Nuggets have not faced the Mavericks since eliminating them from the playoffs last season. Dallas is playing very good basketball and their roster has undergone some dramatic changes that have improved the team with more offense and better defense.
The particulars ...
Denver: 20-10 (13-1 at home, 7-9 on the road)
Dallas: 21-9 (11-5 at home, 10-4 on the road)
Denver: Chauncey Billups (groin) is out.
Dallas: Drew Gooden (back spasms) is questionable.
When these two teams faced off in the playoffs last season, the Nuggets were by far the superior squad and proved it in just five quick games. But this season, Mavs owner Mark Cuban once again opened up his wallet and brought in Shawn Marion, Tim Thomas, Drew Gooden and Kris Humphries.
Gone from the Mavs are former mainstays Jerry Stackhouse and Brandon Bass and Melo's favorite defender Antoine Wright. Dallas was sort of tricked into losing out on Bass as they had restricted free agent Marcin Gortat of the Orlando Magic signed to an offer sheet, but the Magic decided to match the offer and sign Bass away from the Mavs in a brilliant front office ploy.
Even though the Mavs lost out on Gortat, the prized big man in free agency from the offseason, their team is drastically improved and they sit in second place in the Western Conference thanks to their new additions and a healthy Josh Howard.
Howard and Marion give the Mavs a couple of premier perimeter defenders and bigger bodies to guard Carmelo Anthony. Each guy also contributes on the glass and brings a unique offensive game to the table. Howard is exceptional at taking the ball to the rim and Marion is the ultimate "moves without the ball" guy.
Tim Thomas gives the Mavs an outside threat when he is on the floor, but so far he's missed 16 games this season and is slowing working his way back into the lineup. Jason Terry still gives Dallas instant offense off the bench and just turned in one of his finer performances recently with 23 points yesterday against the Grizzlies.
Jose Juan Barea (6'0'') has worked his way into the starting lineup alongside Jason Kidd to give the Mavs an undersized, but effective backcourt. Barea can be a pain in the ass if you are not aware of him on the floor or if he gets some confidence taking the ball inside.
Kidd hasn't been the kind of scoring threat that he was in previous years, but he still runs the Dallas offense to near perfection and has all the weapons in place to allow him his 9.2 assists per game (which is good for 5th in the NBA). We've discussed all these players without accounting for the Mavs biggest scoring threat ... the long blonde haired German.
Dirk Nowitzki is playing with probably one of his most potent lineups to date. If you could turn back the clock on a few of Dallas' players, namely Thomas, Kidd, Marion and Terry then this would be an all-star filled lineup. But this Mavs team is an older one and one that seems to sense that their window for a championship is closing, but with their effort this season ... still open.
The Mavericks did have a game last night against Memphis (they won 106-101) in Dallas, so the Nuggets are fortunate to get that back-to-back break and they'll need all the help they can get with Chauncey Billups scheduled to sit this one out.
The Nuggets have to find a way to win tonight as they did against the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 23rd when they were without their floor general. The friendly confines of the Pepsi Center should have the Nuggets (13-1 at home) ready for some Maverick Christmas leftovers.
Photo courtesy of AP Photos