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Game 52 Preview & Thread: Mavericks at Nuggets (7pm MST)

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76102_hornets_nuggets_basketball_medium_mediumIt's too bad the NBA All-Star break doesn't take place a week or two earlier, because the banged up Nuggets are sorely in need of some rest and recuperation right now.

Remember the good old days when the Super Bowl was played on the last weekend of January rather than the first weekend of February? This is important because the NBA All-Star break - not wanting to conflict with the Super Bowl - seems to be taking place later and later each year. The halfway mark of an NBA season is after 41 games played, and yet the Nuggets will have played 53 games before the All-Star break this season. Not only is this late break unfortunate for banged up teams like the Nuggets, but it hurts the All-Star Game itself as a number of participants might not be able to play, including the Nuggets own Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.

Among the NBA's elite teams, are any as battered and bruised as our Nuggets right now? Starters Melo, Billups and Arron Afflalo all have bad ankles and will be game-time decisions against the Mavericks on Tuesday night. Starting center Nene, also a game-time decision, supposedly can't run thanks to an injured foot. And J.R. Smith "tweeted" today that his sore shoulder might need to be X-ray'd. When the previously oft-injured Kenyon Martin is your only guaranteed starter on a nightly basis, you know something is wrong.

Does this mean the Nuggets will trot out a lineup of Ty Lawson at point guard, Anthony Carter at shooting guard, Joey Graham at small forward, K-Mart at power forward and Chris Andersen at center against one of the Western Conference's better teams? In fact, knowing how Nuggets head coach George Karl doesn't like to disrupt the rhythm of his "rotation," I suspect Johan Petro will start if Nene can't play, meaning the Birdman will fill in off the bench alongside Malik Allen. I'm also assuming that even if the Nuggets only go with eight players against the Mavericks, Renaldo Balkman will still get DNP-CD'd for the 30th consecutive game. But maybe - just maybe - the Nuggets health situation is so dire that Karl will let Balkman out of the doghouse, albeit briefly.

While a lineup of Lawson, Carter, Graham, K-Mart and Andersen probably wouldn't beat any NBA team (ok, they could take the Nets...no problem), they certainly aren't beating the fourth-seeded Dallas Mavericks, in spite of that team's recent struggles and the fact that they'll be playing the second of a back-to-back. (On a side note, when did it become mandatory for all Nuggets home opponents to be playing the second of a back-to-back?) The Mavericks, once such a hot team that it was presumed that their coach - Rick Carlisle - would coach the All-Stars in his hometown, have cooled off considerably since beating the Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 27th. From that point forward, the Mavericks have basically been playing .500 ball, losing 10 times in 19 tries, including embarrassing losses to the Timberwolves, injury-depleted Trail Blazers and 76ers (hey, kind of like the Nuggets!...sorry, I had to).

But without knowing which Nugget players will actually dress on Tuesday night it's hard to forecast how they'll fair against a deep and talented, if suddenly underachieving, Dallas Mavericks team. That said, we can still scout the opposition...

SCOUTING THE MAVERICKS

Mavericks Stiffs

-Josh Howard: Even though he hasn't turned 30 yet, Howard has been on the decline for two consecutive seasons. Once an All-Star caliber player, Howard is shooting a career low 39.3% from the field to go along with a career low 3.7 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.3 blocks per game. The Mavericks have been able to weather Howard's poor production thanks to the addition of Shawn Marion, but Howard - whose contract is a team option for next season - may have played himself out of a Mavericks jersey.

-Erick Dampier: Dampier and his $10.1 million salary (which goes up to $13.1 million next season) is an easy target for anyone's Stiff List. In fact, you can trace much of the Mavericks struggles straight to Dampier who has only grabbed double-digit rebounds three times since the Mavericks bested the Nuggets back in December.

-Tim Thomas: A colossal waste of a roster spot, Thomas isn't doing much better than Balkman in the DNP-CD category. Give Thomas credit, though; he's milked a decent outside jump shot combined with a lazy (understatement) work ethic into a 13-year NBA career that's paid him over $90 million. The NBA: Where the Guaranteed Contract Ruins Everything.

Mavericks Non-Stiffs

-Dirk Nowitzki: Nowitzki is such a supremely great player that he's taken for granted. Starting in all but two games this season, Nowitzki has scored less than 20 points just nine times, and one of those games he was pulled early due to injury. Those of us who saw Nowitzki close up in the playoffs last season know exactly how dangerous Dirk is...as long as he doesn't have cougars trying to extort him on the side.

-Jason Kidd: I've always labeled Kidd as "The Poor Man's Fat Lever" but you have to hand it to the guy; at almost 37 years old his production remains on par with his last three seasons. Kidd is currently dishing out more than nine assists, pulling down over five rebounds and stealing the ball almost twice per game. At this point in his career, he's just padding his Hall of Fame resume.

-Shawn Marion: Marion has looked flabby and out of shape all season long, and yet he's been instrumental to the Mavericks surprising success this season. Marion remains a generalist - he'll score a few points, grab a few rebounds, dish out a few assists, play stingy defense and throw in a block and steal per game for good measure. When we last saw Marion he frustrated Melo into an atrocious 5-of-19 shooting night and even fouled out after being pestered by Marion all night. Maybe the Mavericks aren't the team Melo should come back against, after all...

Opposition's Take: Mavs Money Ball

Photo Courtesy of AP: David Zalubowski